Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Edo Vanni

There's talk about naming the Northwest SABR Chapter after Edo Vanni, who died in May this year. When you think about it, that's probably about as good a name as any for it, though I'm partial to long-forgotten cross-border slugger Charlie Swain.

Most fans in these here parts who have heard of Edo will likely associate him with the Seattle Rainiers (the photo to the right is from 1946), but he spent time in a bunch of cities in the Western International League, including Vancouver and Victoria.

You know the story. Edo was a college football star who signed with the Rainiers in 1938. The signing had some controversy, as L.H. Gregory's story in The Sporting News of Feb. 24 that year reveals:

When the Seattle Rainiers reached into the freshman class at the University of Washington to sign young Edo Vanni, field goal kicking specialist and baseball outfielder, they stirred up a terrific outcry through the Pacific Northwest over "raiding" by professional leagues of varsity ball players, already quite a sore point with the colleges.
Vanni was signed, oddly enough, by Torchy Torrance, vice-president of the Rainiers, who formerly was assistant graduate manager at Washington, and the pressure from his old college chums became so hot that Torrance agreed to tear up the contract if Vanni said the word. The youngster, however, who had previously given an option on his services to Dutch Ruether, ex-Seattle manager, after first saying he would stick to college and football, later changed his mind and stood pat on his baseball contract.

TSN talks a bit more about Edo on July 14th.

Leading the talent parade [for the Rainiers] are two home-town youngsters, both of them only a year out of high school [mention is made of Freddie Hutchinson].
The other youngster who is earning the plaudits of the critics and fans is Edo Vanni, a speedy Italian boy who patrols right field and who swings from the left side. Vanni gave up a promising football career at the University of Washington this spring to make his bid in pro ball. During a spring training tussle, he suffered a torn muscle in his left thigh while trying to beat out a bunt. For nearly two months, he was on the shelf. Then on May 28, Jack Lelivelt pulled out Al Marchand and inserted Vanni. The former football drop-kick artist came through with three lusty base hits. The following night, he blasted three more, and after that he kept up a steady tattoo of blows to win a regular berth. A short, compact swing and an eagle batting eye are reasons for young Vanni's steady stickwork.

That's all I can find about him in TSN for that year. There was an interesting Canadian connection mentioned in an AP national sports column, dated August 22, 1938:

Edo Vanni, a sophomore back who learned the game playing Rugby up Vancouver way, is one of the biggest reasons they're tabbing Washington as the dark hoss of the coast conference.

Sounds to me he was still playing football.

I first saw Edo's name going through some Vancouver Mounties game stories. He was taking part in a cow-milking contest before the game at Cap Stadium. I couldn't figure out why they'd have a visiting coach do that, but it's obviously because Edo had a reputation. The Seattle P.I. mentioned in his obit:

He'd often pull a red handkerchief out of his back pocket and wave it in the outfield in ways to incite fans on the road and inspire home supporters.
He once wrestled a black bear before a game in Wenatchee to draw fans to the ballpark.
In Seattle, he got tossed before a game for bringing a friend's St. Bernard, supposedly the biggest "seeing-eye" dog he could find, to home plate while delivering the lineup card, a comment on the previous night's disagreements with the umpiring crew.
Faced with an empty ballpark for a doubleheader in Wenatchee, he instructed his players to start a huge brawl in the opener and, with word spreading fast because of the radio description of the slugfest, fans filled the place for the second game.
While managing the 1964 Rainiers ... Vanni caught Rainiers pitcher Jim Lonborg, another eventual Red Sox standout, breaking curfew. Lonborg's punishment was to run until he vomited under the manager's watchful eye and sarcastic tone.
"I see you had Chinese food last night," Vanni quipped while the pitcher was doubled over.
As Angels general manager, Vanni observed that his manager, Bob Lemon, the Hall of Fame pitcher, repeatedly smelled of alcohol when he came to the ballpark. Others might have looked the other way, considering the baseball pedigree involved. Vanni firmly told him to quit drinking before games or lose his job, and Lemon complied.

Why wouldn't you name a SABR chapter after a guy like that?


Anonymous said...

I am Edo Vanni's daughter. I just happened to discover this website today and read with pleasure about my baseball-loving dad. While I am not totally well-read about your organization - I personally applaud any recognition of dad's continual efforts to promote the sport and love of baseball. He lived and breathed this sport until his last day. He hd a fire and passion for baseball - particularly his beloved Seattle Rainiers. Thank you for your consideration.
Sincerely, Joanne Vanni Furgason

Anonymous said...

Edo was my great uncle. My sister was named after his sister, Anna Vannie (later Anna Manini). He came to my sister's wedding, pulled her husband aside, and told him that if he ever hurt Annie, that he would have the mafia come after him and get him!