Reno Bertoia, 1935-2011

I just heard that Reno Bertoia passed away in April.

Unless you’re 50 or older, the name may not mean much. Reno was a big league infielder for all or parts of 10 seasons, including two - 1959-60 - with the Senators. He’d been a bonus baby with the Tigers in 1953, which meant, under the rules in effect at the time, that he had to spend two seasons with the major league club before he could be farmed out. So Bertoia got some experience as a teenager with Detroit.

The Tigers never really found a regular spot for Bertoia, and following the 1958 season, they sent him, along with outfielder Jim Delsing and shortstop Ron Samford, to the Senators for veteran third baseman Eddie Yost, shortstop Rocky Bridges and outfielder Neil Chrisley.

Washington traded Yost to open up third base for a young Harmon Killebrew, so Bertoia ended up playing a lot of second base in 1959. When Killebrew got hurt in 1960, Bertoia got his chance, playing 112 games at third, and batting .265. It would be the only season he’d get regular duty. His big league career would end after five pinch-running appearances back with the Tigers in 1962, and a season in the minors in 1963, where he hit .322 in 52 games at Syracuse. All done at 28 years of age.

One of the reasons I remember Bertoia so well dates back to my early days in radio at WTOP, working with the legendary, late Jamie Bragg. Bragg had been at 1500 since 1957, when the Senators games were broadcast by Bob Wolff and Chuck Thompson. Jamie used to tell the story of another WTOP announcer who’d always be muttering to himself “Reno Bertoia, Reno Bertoia ...”

The other Bertoia memory involves former Orioles’ outfielder and current Yankees’ broadcaster Ken Singleton. I got to know Singleton pretty well his first season in Baltimore in 1975, and I think the reason we hit it off is that we had so many common memories of the game from our youths. After the final game of the 1975 season, I was standing in the Baltimore clubhouse at Memorial Stadium chatting with Singleton and out of nowhere he looked at me and said “Y’know, I bet we’re the only people in the room who could identify Reno Bertoia.” Safe to say he was probably right.

Born in Italy in 1935, Bertoia was 76 when he passed away April 15. In 612 big league games he batted .244 with 27 home runs and 171 RBIs.