“Running! turning! leaping! like little Al Gionfriddo—a baseball player, Doctor, who once did a very great thing.”
The great thing novelist Philip Roth described in Portnoy’s Complaint was Gionfriddo’s racing, twisting catch to rob Joe DiMaggio of extra bases or a three-run homer and save Game Six of the 1947 World Series for Brooklyn. Alas, the twentyfive-year-old Gionfriddo never played in the Major Leagues again. Yet more than sixty years later, his spectacular grab remains a potent memory. Red Barber’s exciting radio call, a classic action photo, dozens of writers, and thousands of fans all helped the play live on. At root, though, is the appeal of a hard-working little guy’s moment in the sun.
Albert Francis Gionfriddo (pronounced Gee-onFREE-doe) was born March 8, 1922, in Dysart, Pennsylvania. Dysart is northwest of Altoona, about ninety miles east of Pittsburgh. Al’s father, Paul Gionfriddo, was a coal miner. The family’s roots are Sicilian. Paul (originally Paolo) was born in the town of Solarino in Siracusa province and learned the trade of stone mason. He immigrated to the United States in the early 1900s.
Paul and his wife, the former Rose Rametta, daughter of a fellow coal miner from Calabria, had thirteen children, of whom Al was the seventh. Only ten reached adulthood. The Gionfriddo parents conversed in Italian, but they wanted their children to speak English. “Al could speak some broken Italian,” his second wife, Susan Jacobsen Gionfriddo, recalled in 2008. “He could understand it better.” The youngsters also grew up American thanks to sports. Sue notes that the Dysart baseball team “was half Gionfriddos, between his brothers and cousins.” Al played center field for the nearby American Legion team, the Cresson Juniors, and Jim played left field.
Al Gionfriddo came to the Dodgers from Pittsburgh as part
of the May 3 trade that sent Kirby Higbe to the Pirates.
Al also attended high school in Cresson, roughly twelve miles south of Dysart. As a running back in football, he won a scholarship to nearby St. Francis University, but his calling was on the diamond. At age nineteen, in 1941, before graduating from Cresson High, Al signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He had been discovered in August 1940 in the Legion’s Pennsylvania state tourna-