DARIO LODIGIANI: 1916-2008
The San Francisco Chronicle
(02-12) 22:10 PST -- Dario Lodigiani, a San Francisco native who played six years in the major leagues and worked as a scout for the Chicago White Sox for 42 years, has died at the age of 91.
He died Sunday night at Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa of complications from pneumonia, according to his daughter, Diane Lodigiani of Napa.
Lodigiani was part of a pipeline of great Italian-American ballplayers who came from the Bay Area in the 1930s, led by his childhood pal, Joe DiMaggio. The list also included DiMaggio's brothers, Vince and Dom, Tony Lazzeri, Ernie Lombardi, Frankie Crosetti, Babe Pinelli, Dolph Camilli and, later, Billy Martin.
Lodigiani grew up with Joe DiMaggio, and both honed their skills on the playgrounds and sandlots of San Francisco. They attended junior high and Galileo High School together, although DiMaggio didn't stay in high school for long before turning pro. Lodigiani was a three-sport star at Galileo.
Years later they would literally cross paths in a game at Yankee Stadium. DiMaggio hit a ball into left-center field, and Lodigiani was covering second base.
"When I caught that ball, I thought a train hit me," Lodigiani said. "You know, I tagged him and he plowed into me and knocked me over on my back and everything. And I got up and I said, 'Hey, Joe, what's going on here?' He didn't say (anything). He just brushed his pants off and ran over in the dugout. And I thought, well, if that's the way he plays ball, you've got to be careful when he gets on base."
Proficient at third base or second, Lodigiani spent six years in the minor leagues before breaking into the majors in 1938. He played three years for the Philadelphia Athletics and two for the White Sox before serving nearly three years with the Army Air Corps, servicing B-17s in the South Pacific during World War II. He returned to the White Sox in 1946, but an elbow injury hampered his comeback.
He played his final big-league game at age 30, finishing his career with a .260 batting average and 156 RBIs.
He then played eight more years in the minor leagues, most of them with the Oakland Oaks and the San Francisco Seals. He was one of the most popular players in the Pacific Coast League, which inducted him into its Hall of Fame in 2006.
Following coaching stints with the Cleveland Indians and the Kansas City A's, he began his long tenure as a scout for the White Sox in 1963.
In 2001, he said about retirement, "This has been my life forever, so I don't even think about it anymore." He did retire five years later.
After the White Sox won the World Series in 2005, their first title since 1917, Lodigiani was presented a World Series ring by club executive Roland Hemond at a gathering of family and friends in St. Helena.
"Good night, I waited 50 years to get one of these," the longtime Napa resident told The Chronicle that day. "I was surprised to see all my friends there. It kind of shook me up." The ring, he said, "looks as big as a belt buckle."
His daughter, Diane, said Tuesday, "For the White Sox to win the championship and for him to receive that ring was a topper on his entire career. That meant so much to him. He was so proud of that team."
White Sox general manager Ken Williams, who went to high school in San Jose and attended Stanford, was among the many players Lodigiani signed or discovered while scouting Northern California, Oregon and Washington.
Lodigiani's wife, Marie, died in 1989. Besides his daughter, he is survived by two brothers, Aldo of Petaluma and Eddie of Oroville; his granddaughter, Julie Paniagua, and her father, Jon.
A rosary and vigil service will be held at 7 p.m. Friday at Claffee and Rota Funeral Home, 1975 Main St., Napa. A funeral Mass will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Apollinaris Catholic Church, 3700 Lassen St., in Napa.