On Thursday, former three-term Governor of New York and political icon Mario Cuomo died at the age of 82.
As the New York Post wrote it, during his time in office, Cuomo stepped to the forefront of politics in America with a commanding and compelling public presence. At the 1984 Democratic National Convention, Cuomo had a signature moment when he delivered the famous “tail of two cities” speech, which criticized then president Ronald Reagan’s policies and the disparity between the rich and poor living in different parts of the United States. You can read all about that here.
The speech was viewed as a home run and a launching pad for a potential presidential run that never materialized. But what many people may not realize is that Cuomo hit a home run or two long before that night, and that his life nearly took a different direction when he was only 20 years old. As a collegiate athlete at St. John’s University, Cuomo was a standout in baseball, which led him to pursue a professional career.
This was back in 1952, well before the days when Major League Baseball held a draft. Getting discovered and ultimately signing a contract was a entirely different process and a far more difficult task. However, Cuomo ended up catching an all-time break that put him squarely on the Pittsburgh Pirates radar.
According to an MiLB.com article written in 2007, Cuomo received $25 to play in an exhibition game in Bridgeport, Conn. which was essentially a showcase for future Hall of Fame pitcher Whitey Ford. Cuomo, who played under an assumed name because he was still playing for St. John’s University and didn’t want to lose his eligibility, made the most of his opportunity, collecting a bunt single off Ford. That caught the eye of top Pirates’ scout Ed McCarrick and led to Cuomo signing a $2000 contract.
“The only reason McCarrick saw me is because I was playing against Whitey Ford,” Cuomo said. “Whitey was from north Queens and I was from south Queens, and I had played against him before. That didn’t mean I could hit him, but I was comfortable against him and got good wood on the ball.
“I struck out once, but I also got a bunt single off him and I think the scout was impressed. You can say it was luck or fortuitous. But, if I hadn’t been in Connecticut, and it hadn’t been against Whitey Ford… You have to be very, very lucky to be selected from the sandlots to go to a Major League organization. I never thought of pursuing a Major League career. I never thought of anyone offering me anything.”
Cuomo would report to the Brunswick Pirates in the Class D Georgia-Florida League. Here’s the team’s photo.
And here’s an excerpt from an early scouting report on Cuomo.
A below average hitter with plus power. He uppercuts and needs instruction…Potentially the best prospect on the club and in my opinion could go all the way…He is aggressive and plays hard. He is intelligent…Not an easy chap to get close to but is very well liked by those who succeed in penetrating his exterior shell. He is another who will run you over if you get in his way.
A few things needed work, but that comes across as a strong endorsement for the rookie outfielder.
Of course, not all were in agreement. Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle, who signed for $1100 around the same time as Cuomo, simply said “He couldn’t hit a barn with a paddle.”
Cuomo would go on to hit .244 with one homer and 10 doubles in 81 games with Brunswick. Unfortunately, we never found out for sure what Cuomo’s upside might be. His season and career were ultimately cut short after he suffered a concussion after being hit in the head by a pitch.
An unfortunate way to end that chapter, but after his retirement Cuomo moved on to a career as a lawyer, which led to greater opportunities and chapters in his fascinating life story. A life where opportunities had a way of popping up at the right times, but let there be no doubt that Cuomo always made the most of the opportunities that mattered most.
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