SSTN Interviews Richard Cuicchi
SSTN: Today we are here with Richard Cuicchi of New Orleans. He was an information technology professional for 40 years. After his retirement, he began in earnest to research and write about baseball. His first publication was a book titled Family Ties: A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia About Baseball’s Relatives. Richard is currently a contributing writer for Crescent City Sports. Richard has been a SABR member since 1983 and has contributed to numerous SABR publications. He maintains his own website The Tenth Inning which contains links to all his work.
Thanks for coming to Start Spreading the News. It is great to have this discussion with you.
Thanks for the opportunity, Paul. I’m impressed with the depth and breadth of content on your SSTN website. I can relate to the amount of effort it takes to maintain a site such as yours, so congratulations to you and your contributors. It seems like every day, you have something new. I’m happy to share my experience and interest in the Yankees and baseball in general.
To begin, please tell us how you became a baseball fan.
I grew up in the Mississippi Delta in the 1950s and 1960s. My older brothers played baseball, so it was natural that I would too. As youngsters growing up on a farm, our dad gave us an option during the summers: play baseball or go work with him in the cotton fields. That was an easy decision. A local radio station was an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals network, so I was first introduced to major-league baseball by listening to Jack Buck and Harry Caray. I was enamored by Latino names like Julian Javier and Diomedes Olivo. Collecting baseball cards was another avenue to learn about the game. My dad used to tell me if I knew my catechism as well as I knew the back of the baseball cards, I’d be a lot better off.
You have taken a great interest in baseball playing brothers and families. Which baseball family do you consider baseball’s greatest?
In my Family Ties book, I wrote a chapter titled Baseball’s “First Family,” in which I asserted the Hairston family should have this designation because there were ten family members over three generations that were drafted and/or played professionally. The family remains one of only a handful of families that had three generations (Sam, Johnny, Jerry Sr., Scott, and Jerry Jr.) in the majors. But if I had to pick a baseball family based on production, I think brothers Paul and Lloyd Waner are the greatest. They are both Hall of Famers. If you were to ask me 15 years from now, the Guerreros (Vlad Sr. and Vlad Jr.) just might my pick. For players who have a Yankees connection, the greatest would have to be brothers Phil and Joe Niekro who played for the Yankees in 1985.
Please tell us about your books and any current projects you are working on.
I authored the book Family Ties, A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia about Baseball’s Relatives in 2012. I had never previously written anything of a serious nature. It came about as a result of twenty years of compiling information about the many relatives who had participated in major-league and minor-league baseball. The book is organized more like a reference book, but also has a lot of than interesting tidbits about the participants. I believe it was different from other available compilations of baseball family trees because it contained information about minor-league players; it included relationships in addition to fathers, son, and brothers (e. g., cousins, uncles, nephews, in-laws); and it covered more than just players (e. g., managers, coaches, scouts, front office, broadcasters, umpires). Of course, the book was out of date after the 2011 season, since there are new baseball family ties entering the game each year. I addressed this by creating a website Baseball’s Relatives that features annual updates of the current players, managers, coaches, etc. who have relatives in baseball. My Family Ties database currently has over 8,000 entries (including all roles in the major and minor leagues), representing over 12,000 relationships. The website also serves as a clearinghouse for current news articles available on the internet, as well as my own, that have a family ties subject.
Family Ties sparked my interest in research and writing about more general baseball topics. One of my ongoing efforts involves regular contributions to SABR’s BioProject and Games Project. Collaborating with other SABR members, I have contributed to over 20 SABR books that included player biographies and game accounts. This gives me an opportunity to do in-depth research on specific players and games. I especially enjoy interviewing former players or their relatives to learn about their personal backgound, in addition to their on-the-field memories.
I am also a contributing writer for Crescent City Sports, a New Orleans-based website that covers all sports for the New Orleans metropolitan area and other parts of Southeast Louisiana. I’m a regular contributor of articles that primarily focus on New Orleans baseball history, including high school, college, and professional levels.
As I understand it, you are, at heart a Yankees fan. As we look towards the (hopeful) 2022 season, what do you believe the Yankees strengths are. Are the 2022 Yankees a potential World Series team?
I started following Ron Guidry in the mid-1970s, and that triggered my deep interest in the Yankees. I love the history and lore of Yankees baseball. When I get a chance to research and write about the Yankees, whether for SABR or my other work, I’m all in. (Did you know the Yankees conducted spring training for a number of years in New Orleans before Florida and Arizona became the primary sites; or that the Yankees played spring exhibition games for several seasons in the early days of the Louisiana Superdome when it was attempting to attract a major-league team as a tenant?)
As you know, the Yankees have been in a World Series drought since 2009. Every year since, I kept thinking “this is the year.” I’d like to think 2022 will be the year. But I have some concerns at this point. I like their bullpen, but I’d like to see more starter depth after Gerrit Cole. Hopefully Severino is back to his form from the 2018 season. I like the Yankees’ power production. Stanton finally got back on track after injury-prone seasons. Judge was phenomenal in 2021. The Yankees need to make dang sure they re-sign him. I’m a big LeMahieu fan–one of the best pure hitters in the game, although last year was a downer. I liked the versatility of the roster, with players who could move around to multiple positions. However, the Yankees need better long-term solutions in the middle of the field–at catcher, shortstop, and centerfield. If they look within the organization to fill these next year, then 2022 will likely result in one more year in the drought.
You contributed to a comprehensive book about Babe Ruth focusing on his three-homer game in the 1928 World Series. What did you learn about Babe Ruth in your research for that project?
Ruth garnered most of the attention in the 1928 World Series for hitting the historic three home runs in the Game 4 sweep by the Yankees over the Cardinals. Yet Ruth pushed the attention toward Gehrig by saying he thought Gehrig was the hero of the Series for getting on base in nine consecutive at-bats. Ruth said, “We think he’s the greatest coming player in the business. Watch him and see.” Indeed it was Gehrig who arguably had the better overall Series (four home runs, a .545 batting average, 1.727 SLG, and 2.433 OPS), but I thought it was a first-class, humble endorsement by Ruth.
You have contributed to a number of books about baseball stadiums and ballparks. How many have you been to? Among the stadiums today, which are your favorites?
My son Lee and I have been on a mission for about 10 years to attend a game in every current major-league stadium. I’m up to 21 out of the 30 ballparks in use in 2021. However, I’ve also been to 11 stadiums that have been decommissioned. The old Yankee Stadium, Fenway, and Wrigley definitely have the charm from days past–made you think about the long history of the game. But I’d have to say Pittsburgh’s PNC Park is my favorite (so far) of the current ballparks. The walk across the bridge to the stadium, the view of the city within the stadium, the player statues outside the stadium, some carryover features from Forbes, and the Primanti Brothers sandwiches made it special for me.
Why, do you believe, are people so drawn to baseball and its stories, legends, and people?
I’ve always liked Bob Costas’s perspective on baseball. He said, “What is there in your life besides your love of family, maybe, that carries all the way through from almost your earliest recollections till the day you die, and you care about it in one way or another? There are very, very few things that make that list. We come to things at various times in our lives, when we can comprehend them, when we have an interest in them. But we have a child’s interest in baseball–in my case, from the time I was five. I can’t imagine never having an interest in baseball. So it will be one of the few things in my life that I have cared about in one way or another all the way through.” I think there are still a lot of people like Bob Costas in the world.
There’s a lot of talk about baseball needing to be “fixed.” Is baseball broken? If you were the Commissioner of Baseball what change(s) if any would you make to the current game?
Baseball is broken only when players strike or owners enforce lockouts. But it does need some tweaks to address the pace of play and to better level the playing field between pitchers and hitters. As commissioner, I would take several actions. Speed up the game at the plate by instituting and enforcing a pitch clock and keeping batters in the box. I don’t have a problem with games that take 3 hours and 15 minutes, as long as there is elimination of dead time during the game. I would continue checking pitchers for foreign substances, eliminate the use of shifts, and limit the number of pitchers on the active roster. I would reduce the season to 154 games and expand the playoffs to keep more fans engaged throughout the entire season.
In looking at the history of the Yankees, or baseball in general, what person or event would you like to see a book written about?
Gosh, what hasn’t already been written about the Yankees? I’d be interested in a book about Yankees Old-Timers Games–the first game and its evolution throughout the years. There are likely some good back-stories surrounding those games and the participants. The book would feature lots of photos of the old-timers.
In the book and the movie The Natural, the main character wants nothing more than to walk down the street and have people say, “There goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was.” Who was the best baseball player you ever saw?
I’m going to assume you mean the best player I ever saw play in person. I’d have to say Nolan Ryan. I saw him play a couple of times with the Astros. “Menacing” would be the adjective I’d use to best describe him.
Our final question is really just a collection of short answers…
What was your favorite baseball team growing up?
Because I listened to many St. Louis Cardinals games growing up, I’d have to say they were my “first” favorite team as a youngster. But later I got Yankee fever and I’ve never considered another team a favorite since.
Who was your favorite player?
I really liked Will Clark. He was from New Orleans, where I’ve lived for almost 50 years. He went to Mississippi State, where I attended college. I think I’ve collected practically every newspaper and magazine article written about him. My only regret about him is that if he hadn’t played hurt in the latter half of his career, he’d be a Hall of Famer. BTW, I wrote a nine-part series about his career for Crescent City Sports and his biography for SABR BioProject. I maintain that there was no one more prepared to enter professional baseball than Clark. My favorite Yankees player is Derek Jeter. He’s right up there with Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra, and Rivera for his impact with the franchise.
What is your most prized collectible?
I have a collection of New York Yankees player photos. The Yankees media guide lists about 1700 players who ever suited up for the team. I have an individual photo of 75% of them, plus a lot of team and group photos.
Who is your favorite musical group or artist?
I’m a fan of the Classic Rock era. The Who is my favorite group. Saw them perform at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. They were well past their prime, but it was still an awesome performance.
What is your favorite food (if it is pizza, what is your favorite pizza restaurant)?
Anything Italian, except pizza. On our annual baseball stadium trips, my son and I have a secondary goal to dine at as many authentic Italian restaurants as we can. My wife Mary and I make our own meatballs and gravy, pasta, and ravioli, which I have to say is pretty good.
Richard, thank you so much for joining us today. We all appreciate your kindness.
Thanks, also for contributing an article on families a few weeks ago. Please feel free to send more articles and please keep in touch.