Joseph T. Cascarella, 94, pro pitcher

May 24, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Joseph T. Cascarella, a former pitcher with the Philadelphia Athletics and last surviving member of the 1934 U.S. All-Star team that toured Japan with a roster that included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmy Foxx, died of pneumonia Wednesday at Sinai Hospital. He was 94 and lived in Northwest Baltimore.

In a major league career that lasted only five years during the 1930s, and ended because of an arm injury, Mr. Cascarella, a right-hander, earned a reputation for a remarkably sharp curve ball and an ability to change speeds and keep hitters off stride.

"Why, that little Italian can bend a pitch around a lamp post," said a stunned Babe Ruth after being struck out by Mr. Cascarella.

"Watching [Ruth] hit was like experiencing a dramatic moment in the theater, or put another way, it was as if the pitcher facing him was nothing more than a mere puppet," Mr. Cascarella said in a 1998 interview in The Sun.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, the son of a prominent importer, Mr. Cascarella began his baseball career in Pittsfield, Mass., in the Eastern League.

In the early 1930s, with the International League Orioles, he was described by a Sun sportswriter as having an "air of nonchalance on the rubber. Nothing apparently rattles him and he has that winning spirit."

"I went up to Shibe Park in 1934 and Connie Mack came out dressed in a dark suit, high collar and wearing a boater. He looked at me and said, `Hey, kid, show me what you can do.' So, I threw a few pitches and then was signed to the Philadelphia A's. That was it," Mr. Cascarella told a reporter several years ago.

After winning 12 games his rookie year, he earned a place on the postseason all-star team that was coached by Connie Mack and toured Japan. Other members included Moe Berg, Lefty Gomez and Charlie Gehringer, one of the greatest second basemen of all time. He died in 1993 --the next-to-last member of the team that went unbeaten in 16 games.

Tumultuous crowds jammed Tokyo streets trying to catch a glimpse of Ruth.

"Well, there will never be a man to fascinate the American public like Babe Ruth. The Babe mesmerized me," Mr. Cascarella told The Sun in 1995. "If people knew he was in a restaurant or hotel lobby, they would come in off the street to see him. On the trip to Japan, over a million spectators were waiting when we got off the ship to welcome us, but it was because of Ruth. He was astonishing."

After injuring his arm, Mr. Cascarella continued playing -- for the Boston Red Sox, Washington Senators and Cincinnati Reds -- before ending his career in 1938.

He also sang on nationwide radio, earning the sobriquet "Crooner Joe."

Mr. Cascarella married Gertrude Schapiro in 1936 and settled in Baltimore. He went to work for his brother-in-law, John D. Schapiro, owner of Laurel Race Course, and as its vice president helped to promote the track's Washington International turf race first run in 1952.

A dapper man with movie-star good looks, Mr. Cascarella favored bowler hats, tailored suits and velvet-collared Chesterfield overcoats.

"He was the most unusual former athlete I ever knew. He'd show up wearing spats and a bowler. He was a real bon vivant, very charming, and a legend as far as we were concerned, " said Vince Bagli, veteran Baltimore sports broadcaster.

In 1958, Mr. Cascarella went to Moscow and arranged to bring the first Russian horses to participate in the International.

Joseph B. Kelly, retired Washington Star racing editor, said, "He was connected with Laurel during its heyday and was a big factor in the success of the International. Being a former major league player, he also had lots of contacts."

Mr. Kelly also recalled appearances at embassy parties in Washington, where Mr. Cascarella's formal tailoring and refined manners fit right into the refined surroundings of the Mellons, Whitneys, Vanderbilts and du Ponts mingling with the diplomatic set.

"He could be pretty formal but had a million stories and was always welcome in the racing press box," he said.

Retired for more than 20 years, Mr. Cascarella enjoyed playing golf and meeting friends over lunch to discuss and laugh over the old days.

His wife died last year, and the couple had no children. Survivors include three nieces, Barbara Katz of Pikesville, and Marjorie Testa and Jacqueline Testa, both of Philadelphia.

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