Card: 2020 Hollywood Stars PCL – Carl Aldana Art
"`Oh yeah, yessir. I loved it." - Rugger talking about his baseball career.
“Ronald Reagan — he used to hang out with us,” Rugger to the New York Times in 2015.
The steamship S.S. Colombo arrived in New York from Naples, Italy, on December 6, 1921, bearing a boy who had just turned two years old, Rinaldo "Rugger" Ardizzoia, accompanied by his mother, Annunziata, a tailor from Oleggio, in northern Italy, where Rinaldo had been born on November 20, 1919. The mother and son were on their way to Port Costa, California to join husband and father Carlo, who had sailed to the United States thirteen months earlier.
Twenty-six years later, that same boy pitched in the Major Leagues for the New York Yankees. In a February 2010 interview, he was asked what brought his father to the United States, and he replied, “The man who owned the brickyard in Port Costa, he was from my home town and he invited a bunch of Italians over to come to America and have a job.”
In 1923 the family moved to San Francisco. Rinaldo had lost his mother two months after his sixth birthday to double pneumonia. He thought he picked up his nickname around this time. “I was all by myself. My father was working and I was only six years old. I lived across the street from a playground and I used to go over there and play marbles and fool around and get in fights. Guys would chase me. We had a bunch of thistle back there that wasn’t cleared and I’d run into the thistle and they wouldn’t chase me. They’d say, ‘You’re a rugged little bugger.’ (Interview by Ed Attanasio on November 21, 2006.)
In 1939 and 1940 Rugger pitched for the Hollywood Stars of the PCL. He first became associated with the New York Yankees in December 1939. Rugger, described as the best pitching prospect in the Pacific Coast League, had finished the season 14-9 with a 3.98 ERA.
In 1941 the Yankees sent him to the Newark Bears of the International League, but early in the season a problem cropped up. The International League included two clubs from Canada, Montreal and Toronto. Rugger was 0-1 with Newark before the Bears general manager realized he was not a U. S. citizen.
A trip to Ellis Island affirmed that he was legal in the United States, but Canada wouldn’t let him into the country. They were at war with Italy, and that made Rugger an enemy alien. “So I got sent to Kansas City. In those days, you had to wait two years and go before a judge and all that stuff. In the meantime, I got trapped in World War II and even though I wasn’t a citizen, I accepted the induction (into the U.S. Army),” he said. Rugger served in the army air force from May 1943 until he was discharged in November 1945.
In 1947, he went to spring training with the Yankees again. He stuck with the big-league team for a while and finally had his opportunity to play in a Major League game. It was the last day of April. The Yanks had just arrived in St. Louis for a game against the Browns. When he was brought on to pitch the bottom of the seventh - it was his only Major League appearance.
Rugger died on July 19, 2015 at 95 years old after a stroke suffered one week prior. At the time of his death, he was the oldest living former member of the New York Yankees, as well as the oldest in a group of nearly 1,500 players who have appeared in exactly one Major League game.
Rugger is part of the Born in Italy Tour – Go to the Next Stop
Rinaldo is also part of the Military Service during Wartime Tour – go to the Next Stop
Rugger is also part of the New York Yankee Players Tour – Go To the Next Stop
“Rugger” is part of the Great Italian American Player Nicknames Tour – Go to the Next Stop
You can see all Rugger’s baseball cards at TCDB
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