Father Damian’s Family Tie to Baseball Pioneer

 Professional baseball and Benedictine monks are two topics that are not often brought up in the same conversation unless the conversation involves the Abbaticchio family of Latrobe. Father Damian A. Abbaticchio’s father, Ed, was recently featured in an article by Larry Baldassaro in NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Social Policy Perspectives.

Baldassaro, who is in the process of writing a history of Italian Americans in major league baseball, wrote to Father Damian that “obviously Ed Abbaticchio will play a major role in that study.”

Ed Abbaticchio was an infielder who played for four Major League teams between 1897 and 1910, and, according to Baldassaro, was very likely the first Italian-American to play in the Major Leagues. Born in Latrobe in 1877, Ed’s father, Archangelo, had come to the United States in 1873 before the large wave of Italian immigration that began in the 1880s. After initially working as a barber, he became the proprietor of a hotel and tavern in Latrobe and acquired other property in the area. His wife and their four children immigrated in 1875. Ed was the first of four additional children to be born in America and, unlike most children of immigrant families, he and two of his brothers attended college. Ed was enrolled at Saint Vincent College, taking classical courses in three academic years, 1891-1892, 1892-1893, and 1895-1896. He received a Master of Accounts degree in 1895 from St. Mary’s College in North Carolina, according to Baldassaro. This college is and was Benedictine, and is now known as Belmont Abbey College.

After playing semi-pro ball in Greensburg, Abbaticchio began his Major League career with a brief, three-game stint with the Philadelphia Phillies at the end of the 1897 season.

“However, even before he appeared in his first Major League game with the Phillies, he had already made his debut as a professional athlete – a football player,” Baldassaro writes, effectively becoming the first two-sport professional athlete. “In 1895, Latrobe fielded what is generally acknowledged as the first professional football team in the country. Ed Abbaticchio was its star fullback and kicker. According to coaching legend Fielding Yost, Abbaticchio also made an historic contribution to football – the creation of the spiral punt.”

He played in 25 games for the Phillies then returned to the Major Leagues in 1900 to play for Milwaukee and Connie Mack. It was back to the minor leagues until Boston purchased his contract in 1902, and from 1903 to 1905 he started at shortstop and second base for the Boston Nationals of the National League.

He retired in 1905 when his father offered to turn his hotel over to his son, but in 1907, he was lured out of retirement to play with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who traded three players to Boston for him and offered him the extraordinary salary of $5,000. That was $1,000 more than teammate Honus Wagner, who had been a Pirates star since 1900, according to Baldassaro. He wrote that “in 1908 he was the Pirates’ starting second baseman, forming the double play combination with Wagner, and drove in 82 runs, tying ‘The Flying Dutchman’ for second place in the National League. And, according to the Total Baseball clutch hitting index, he ranked first in that category in the National League.”

Abbaticchio was a role player in 1909, the year the Pirates won the World Series. He operated his hotel in Latrobe until 1932 when he retired to Florida. He died in Fort Lauderdale on Jan. 6, 1957.