Louis Clarizio

"I'm telling you, I wasn't that good."
--Louis Clarizio

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Negro Leaguer of the Month

October, 2008

Louis Clarizio

Born: 1932 in Chicago, IL
Living in Schaumburg, IL
Ht: 5'-10", Wt: 175
Position: outfield
Years Played: 1948-1952
Batted and threw right
Teams: Armour Stars (Chicago Industrial League), Chicago American Giants, Peducha (minor leagues)

About 18 years ago, I had the good fortune to interview Louis Clarizio, one of a handful of white players to play in the Negro Leagues. I'm happy to report that Mr. Clarizio is still alive and well in the suburbs of Chicago.

In 1946, Eddie Klepp became the first white player to play in the Negro Leagues when the Cleveland Buckeyes signed him. Klepp didn't turn out to be a great player, and he was soon out of the league, and out of society (he went to jail!).

A few years later, in 1950, the Chicago American Giants' owner, Abe Saperstein, told his manager, Double Duty Radcliffe, that he could sign white players if he felt they could help the team since some of the best young black players were going directly into the Majors and Minors. Also, there was a hope that if the Negro Leagues provided a place for some good young white players to play, they could be sold to Big League clubs.

The problem, as it turned out, was that the Majors were already so far ahead in the recruiting of good white players, that not many slipped through the cracks.

In 1950s, however, Radcliffe signed a handful of white players: Louis Chirban, Louis Clarizio, Al Dubetts, Frank Dyle, and Stanley Mierko.

Radcliffe really wanted Chirban, a 19-year-old pitcher, and Chirban agreed to sign if his buddy, 18-year-old Clarizio, was signed too. Clarizio's goal, like that of a million kids, was to play in the Majors, and he viewed his shot with the American Giants as a step toward that path.

Clarizio grew up in the Italian neighborhood of Chicago near Harrison Street and Homan Avenue, and was a great athlete at Chicago's Crane Tech High School. Clarizio batted .500 for a local amateur team, and upon graduation got a tryout, along with Chirban, with Paducha, Kentucky's Class D team. Both players made $125 a month during spring training, but before the season started they both were cut from the team.

Clarizio and Chirban returned to Chicago and were recruited to work in the stockyards and play baseball for the Armour Stars in the Chicago Industrial League, one of the toughest in the country. The Armour team was predominantly black, and most of the team's opponent's were Negro League teams and black semipro clubs.

While he was a star in the industrial leagues, the jump to the American Giants was just too much.

"I was good in the league I was in, but [the Negro Leagues] was just too big of a jump," said Clarizio.

Clarizio's Negro League debut came on July 9th, 1950 at Comiskey Park.

"There were 10,000 people at that game," recalled Clarizio. "9997 black people, and my mother, father and brother."

Clarizio remembered that Double Duty was like a father figure, but he didn't remember much about the manager's playing skills.

"He did so much that I didn't notice his playing. He was the manager, the third base coach, drove the bus. He did everything," remembered Clarizio.

While Clarizio didn't get much playing time with the American Giants who still had stars Lester Lockett, Art Pennington and Bubber Hyde in the outfield, he did get a great education on life.

"Restaurants wouldn't serves us, so I would go in and buy hamburgers for everyone. It was unbelievable! This wasn't in the south, it was in Southern Illinois!" said Clarizio.

In one of Clarizio's first games, against the Indianapolis Clowns, he recalls having a firecrackers go off while he was batting, and after missing a pitch he was given a huge novelty bat as a joke (implying that he needed a bat that big to hit!).

Though not a star, Clarizio does remember those days fondly.

"Kids would want my autograph! That was something," said Clarizio.

After the 1950 season, Clarizio again played in the industrial leagues, but he was soon drafted into the army and his baseball career was over by the time he was 22.

Clarizio has lived in the Chicago area since high school, and he looks back on his Negro League stint with pride.

"I did better than a lot of people. I just never made that transition [to the Majors]," said Clarizio.

*Some information acquired from the article "Clarizio was first white in Negro League," by Julie Hanna in the "Red, White & Green" newspaper.