Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Card #137: George Cappuzzello

Who Can It Be Now?
George Angelo Cappuzzello was born on January 15, 1954, in Youngstown, Ohio. He attended Ursuline Catholic High School in Youngstown/Girard, but he apparently is not famous enough to be listed as part of the "Notable alumni" on Wikipedia. For what it's worth, perhaps that is because Cappuzzello's Wikipedia article does not mention his high school affiliation. 

Also for what it's worth, George's Wiki entry is wrong in saying that he played baseball at Florida State. If he played at FSU, then FSU was fielding an ineligible player. I say that because Cappuzzello was drafted by the Tigers in the 27th Round of the 1972 June draft directly out of high school. 

Cappuzzello signed with the Tigers for the 1973 season and was assigned to Anderson in the Western Carolinas League. According to the "Fun While It Lasted" website (which chronicles "dead" teams), Cappuzzello was one of just three players on that Anderson team to make it to the big leagues. Indeed, Cappuzzello is called Anderson's staff ace for his 9 wins and 2.85 ERA. 

Anderson was just the starting point of a baseball odyssey for Cappuzzello that is chronicled on the back of his card. He played there at the age of 19, and it took him until 1981 -- at the age of 27 -- to make it to the big leagues.  Over that time, Cappuzzello bounced from Anderson to Lakeland (Single-A Florida State League in 1974) to Dubuque (Single-A Midwest, 1974) back to Lakeland (1975), then to Montgomery (Double-A Southern, 1975-1976) and all the way up to Evansville (Triple-A American Association, 1976-1977). He apparently spent enough time in Lakeland, though, to meet a local girl who attended my alma mater, Vanderbilt, and married her in 1979.

Over that time, the once bereft-of-talent Tigers system had reloaded. Cappuzzello was overtaken in the system by higher draft picks and better prospects such as Pat Underwood, Jack Morris, and Dan Petry, among others. Thus, Cappuzzello became expendable to Detroit and was one of two minor leaguers whom the Tigers sent to the Cincinnati Reds for Jack Billingham in a spring training trade in 1978.

Cappuzzello pitched reasonably well in his two seasons in the Cincinnati system. He injured a hamstring in 1979, however, and ended up being demoted to Double-A Nashville as a result. When the Reds wanted to send him back to Double-A in 1980, however, he asked for his release and the Reds complied with his wishes. He hooked back up with the Tigers (ironically at Double-A Huntsville) after he made sure that the Tigers were going to give him a fair chance to move up in the system. 

A funny thing happened in Cappuzzello's career, then: he started pitching far better in 1980 than he had before. In a 1982 interview, Cappuzzello chalked it to using his fastball more: 
All through my career, I had been told to throw my breaking pitches. I almost never threw my fastball. Nobody ever said much about it, and I thought that was because everybody thought I didn't have a good one. So I'd throw the breaking pitches, miss the corners and get behind, and then have to come right down the middle with the fastball, and they'd hit it.
Cappuzzello started 1981 in Triple-A at Evansville. There, he shut down hitters to the tune of 1.76 ERA in 46 innings. When a pitcher was needed to replace the struggling Howard Bailey at the end of May in 1981, Cappuzzello finally got his chance in the big leagues. He was hammered in his first start -- leaving with the bases loaded and no one out in the second inning -- and his second appearance ended with Cappuzzello getting stitches after igniting a benches-clearing brawl by hitting Milwaukee's Ben Oglivie (though it's pretty likely that Cappuzzello got the stitches due to friendly fire from his own catcher, Lance Parrish).  He wrapped up his first major league season with a 1-1 record and a 3.48 ERA (4.03 FIP) over 33-2/3 innings.

Coming into 1982, Cappuzzello was penciled in to the Tigers' starting rotation as the Number 4 starter behind Dan Petry, Jack Morris, and Milt Wilcox. By the end of spring training, however, Sparky Anderson used his pencil's eraser to replace Cappuzzello with "anyone but George Cappuzzello." The Tigers released him on March 28, 1982. 

A week later, Cappuzzello signed as a free agent with the Houston Astros. Once again, Cappuzzello pitched well in Triple-A -- this time in Tucson -- and pitched in the majors from May 25 through August 5 for the Astros. He was strictly a mop-up reliever, as the team's record in his appearances was a ridiculous 1-16. His ERA was a respectable 2.79, but that hid peripheral stats that made his FIP 4.27.

As far as I can tell from the various stat websites, Cappuzzello did not pitch anywhere in 1983. He made a minor-league comeback in 1984 in the Yankees organization, but he was not recalled to the majors. After 1984, George Cappuzzello did not pitch in organized baseball.

Mustache Check: Yes, George has a mustache. It's not bushy at all, but he's got one.

Don't You Want Me?
Cappuzzello getting cut at the end of spring training must have had him humming this tune. I'm using it here because there isn't much else to say about George.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
I recall nothing of George Cappuzzello's career.  He pitched a total of 53 innings in the major leagues over two seasons more than thirty years ago -- there's no reason TO remember him as a player without some personal interactions.

I'm not alone in not remembering George. Back in 2010, fellow set-blogger Night Owl wrote a Cardboard Appreciation post of George's 1983 Topps card in which he mentions that he too never really knew that George Cappuzzello existed thirty years ago. Neither did I.

These days, George Cappuzzello is an executive recruiter at Key Alliance Staffing according to his LinkedIn page. He finished up a marketing degree at Florida State in 1984 -- which is probably why he did not pitch in 1983 -- and settled in Windermere, Florida (suburban Orlando) not far from where his wife's family was from in Lakeland.

No comments:

Post a Comment