Robert Caracciolo, a Marine Corps veteran who captivated his family with stories of playing sandlot ball with future New York Yankees manager Joe Torre’s two older brothers, died of congestive heart failure April 11 at the Long Island State Veterans Nursing Home in Stony Brook. He was 85.
Growing up in Marine Park, Brooklyn, Caracciolo would push a baby carriage carrying Joe Torre while racing to play ball with the Hall of Famer’s older brothers, Rocco and Frank.
Decades later, Caracciolo reconnected with Joe Torre in 1998 on the field at Yankee Stadium, sharing a big hug, while his daughter, Diane, stood in the stands awe-struck.
“I always thought he made up the story,” said Diane Caracciolo, 58, of West Hempstead, a professor at Adelphi University in Garden City. “But there he was — Joe Torre standing there like an angel appearing out of the dugout.”
Robert Caracciolo was born in Staten Island, but his family moved to Brooklyn. His father, Frank, worked in elevator construction — a business Robert would soon take up — while his mother, Concetta was a homemaker.
Caracciolo graduated from James Madison High School in Brooklyn and in 1947 enlisted in the Marines. Assigned to the USS Tarawa, he served as a player-manager for the ship’s baseball team.
He was honorably discharged from the Marines in 1951 with the rank of corporal, and moved back to Marine Park. The New York Giants baseball team scouted Caracciolo after watching him play in the military, but he decided he needed a more secure career to raise a family.
In 1951, he met Violet Carlson at a Christmas dance at Brooklyn Hospital, where she was training to become a registered nurse. The couple, who wed in 1954, were married 62 years, living in Freeport, Brentwood, Baldwin, and finally in Hauppauge, where they remained more than 20 years, raising two children, Diane and Richard, 60.
“I am a quiet person, but he had this outsized personality,” said Violet Caracciolo, 86, who now lives in Lake Grove. “He was as big as life.”
Caracciolo spent his career working at Dover Elevators, first as mechanic and later as a district construction manager overseeing Long Island, the five boroughs and Westchester County.
The couple would travel often to Italy, where Robert would sing Frank Sinatra tunes in his silky crooner’s voice. Caracciolo would run marathons, was an avid gardener and coached a Little League team where he liked to pick underdog players.
“He had an enthusiasm for life and did everything with a gusto,” said Diane Caracciolo. “He taught us all to never give up.”
Even in failing health only weeks before his death, Caracciolo would serenade the nurses at the nursing home.
Caracciolo is also survived by a sister, Frances; a brother, Edward; and two granddaughters.
The family will hold a celebration of Caracciolo’s life on April 30 at Maloney Funeral Home in Lake Ronkonkoma.