To baseball fans who might look him up on the internet, Michael Angelo LiPetri might seem to be just another pitcher who had had a “cup of coffee” in the majors: no wins, no losses, a 5.40 ERA and nine strikeouts in a total of 10 games for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1956 and 1958.
To an 8-year-old growing up in Farmingdale back in 1960, however, only one fact was significant: My Uncle Mike had been a Major League Baseball player!
He continued to live in Farmingdale until his death at 87 in November. My sadness about his passing was tempered by fabulous memories of the man who had married my Aunt Jean 60 years ago.
Growing up on Long Island, my friends and I played stoop ball, box ball and stickball. Sometimes, Uncle Mike, by then out of the game, would coach us in baseball skills our fathers had instilled.
“This is something Satchel Paige showed me when I played for Miami with him,” he’d say, referring to the baseball great and their time together in the minor leagues.
We were fascinated, though my interest in baseball far exceeded my ability to play it. We futilely tried to catch the incredibly high “Spaldeen” pop-ups Uncle Mike would hit with a fungo bat on Yoakum Avenue. Our pre-teen male egos were bruised by the fact that our best player was Anne DiPrima, who, now in her late 60s, still plays softball and has had a hall of fame career as girls volleyball coach at Bethpage High School.
When I had Uncle Mike to myself, I would show him my newest baseball cards. As we examined each cardboard treasure, my uncle would tell stories about major leaguers he played with or against. Something he never did, though, was express any bitterness about the injury that limited his major league career to a mere 10 games.
Forced to retire at 30 because of “a sore arm” — what today might require only some routine treatment and a stint on the disabled list — Uncle Mike never developed a “Why me?” attitude. He was proud of his achievements and often spoke of his two big-league highlights.
The first was striking out the side against the Pittsburgh Pirates, one of his victims being the immortal Roberto Clemente. The other came in the third inning against the New York Giants on April 29, 1956. My uncle would laugh and say, “Without me, Willie Mays would have retired with only 659 home runs.” (Mays finished with 660 total.)
He did express one regret: that manager Casey Stengel refused to grant him a tryout before the Mets’ inaugural 1962 season. “I had played with two original Mets, Richie Ashburn and Eddie Bouchee, who tried to talk Casey into taking a look at me,” my uncle said. “Though my arm had come back and I was only 32, Stengel said I was too old. I’m pretty sure I would have been better than some of the pitchers they used that year.”
Of course, many players whose careers were brief are remembered only by relatives or baseball fanatics. But at least they had a taste of “The Show.” To Uncle Mike, who passed along his knowledge and love of the game to another generation, I say simply, thanks. You’re a big part of why we’re excited about another baseball season.
Reader Peter, formerly of East Northport, lives in Vero Beach, Florida.