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Barre Baseball Legend Louis “Crip” Polli to be Honored July 8 in Montpelier

First Italian Born Ballplayer to Play in the Major Leagues

Lou Polli is considered one of the greatest pitchers in minor league history. Photo courtesy of the Polli family.
By Brian Zecchinelli

A celebration to recognize Louis Polli’s legendary baseball career and official designation by the National Baseball Hall of Fame as the first Italian-born ballplayer to play in the major leagues will take place Saturday, July 8, when the Vermont Mountaineers baseball team in Montpelier will host a Louis “Crip” Polli Night. This long overdue recognition will be a proud day for the Louis Polli family, the city of Barre, the state of Vermont, and Italians worldwide.

The Italian American Baseball Foundation will be recognizing the life and career of Louis Polli with a plaque commemorating his baseball achievements. A Barre granite plaque with a rendering of Polli, to be permanently displayed at Montpelier recreation field, will also be unveiled. The award and the plaque rendering will be presented to Polli’s family at the First Pitch Ceremony.

Born in Baveno, Italy on July 9,1901 and raised in Barre, Vermont, Polli was a standout Spaulding High School player and transferred to Goddard Seminary prep school (still in Barre). During his senior year, Polli attracted national attention, striking out 28 batters in a ten-inning game against Cushing Academy on June 3, 1921. After a football injury at Goddard, his teammates began calling him “Crip,” a nickname that friends called him the rest of his life.

At a recent 45th Spaulding High School class reunion, Mary Caccavo Federico was reminiscing with classmates about her grandfather Lou Polli. Her friends were reminded that in addition to playing professional baseball, Polli enjoyed playing bridge with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. 

A Wikipedia article on Lou Polli recognized him as the “First Italian born baseball player to play in the major leagues.” Cassidy Lent, library director at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., verified that Polli was the first of only seven Italian born ballplayers to ever play in the major leagues. 

Polli began his professional baseball journey with the New York Yankees organization in 1927. He roomed with Tony Lazzeri for a short time, “He snored so hard that he kept me awake half the night,” Polli reported. During his off-the-field time, Polli enjoyed playing bridge with Lou Gehrig and his wife, Eleanor Grace Gehrig, among others. He also had fond memories of shooting pool and playing a lot of golf with Babe Ruth. Polli had major league stints with the St. Louis Browns (1932) and the New York Giants (1944).

During his professional ball-playing days, Polli’s wife Mary and daughters Mary and Margaret often traveled with him. During his long playing career, Polli played for teams in Harrisburg, Penn.; St. Paul, Minn. (New York Yankees); Louisville, Ky. (St. Louis Browns); Milwaukee, Wis.; Montreal, Canada (Montreal Royals); Chattanooga-Knoxsville, Tenn.; and Jersey City, N.J. (New York Giants). During many of the off seasons he would return to his home in Graniteville, Vermont, and work in the granite quarries. 

Polli is considered one of the greatest pitchers in minor league history. He compiled a lifetime minor league record of 236 wins against 226 losses, and threw three no-hitters in his 18-year minor league career. In his last career start at the age of 42, the lanky right-hander was on the mound for the Jersey City Giants and threw a no-hitter against Newark, ending their 14-game winning streak in 1945.

In the Barre Industrial League’s 1948 official program, Lou Polli was credited as being, “Undoubtedly the greatest baseball player to represent Barre and Graniteville in organized baseball.” In the spring of 1948 Polli became the manager of a team in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

A night out on the town with his Italian teammates in Milwaukee. Lou “Crip” Polli, in the center, with Lin Storti and George DeTore. Photo courtesy of the Polli family.
At the time of his death in the year 2000, Polli (then age 99) was the oldest living Major League Baseball player.

There will be a permanent exhibit featuring photos and recognition plaques at the Mutuo Soccorso Italian-American Club on 20 Beckley Street in Barre. Baseball fans and the public are encouraged to visit the exhibit to learn more about Lou Polli’s professional baseball career. He was a member of the Mutuo for well over 50 years. 

Brian Zecchinelli is a baseball fan and co-owner of the Wayside Restaurant, a sponsor of the Lou “Crip” Polli Night at the Vermont Mountaineers North Adams/SteepleCats Game on July 8 in Montpelier.