In 1997, the Cooperstown Hall of Fame honored the Acerra family, an all-Italian, 12-brother semi-pro team that played .700 winning baseball from 1938 to 1952.
Between 1860 and 1940, 29 baseball teams were made up entirely of brothers; the Acerras played longer than any other.
Honored isn’t the same as inducted, so the brothers didn’t join the powerful Italian-American contingent that has Hall of Fame plaques, which includes Joe DiMaggio, Tony Lazzeri, Yogi Berra and Phil Rizzuto.
Among the Italian-American baseball standouts born too soon to benefit from today’s watered-down Hall of Fame standards were Sal “the Barber” Maglie, a New York Giants, Brooklyn Dodgers and Yankees pitcher, and Rocco Domenico Colavito, a nine-time All-Star with 374 career home runs.
The Acerras’ wonderful story is one of strong family ties and exceptional baseball skills. Louis “Pop” Acerra coached his sons, part of his family of 17 children. The team consisted of Alfred and Edward as catcher, James and Robert on the mound, Charles at first base, Louis Jr. at second base, Fred at shortstop, Richard at third base and sharing outfield duties, Paul, Joseph, William and Anthony.
Back then, girls didn’t play baseball, so Pop’s five daughters rooted from the sidelines along with the family dog “Pitch.” Neighbors couldn’t remember a time when the brothers weren’t out in their yard playing catch or hitting fungos to each other.
The age difference between oldest brother, Anthony, to the youngest, Louis Jr. was 25 years. While being scouted by major league teams, their playing ages were as young as 17 and as old as 40. For 22 consecutive years, the Long Branch High School baseball team fielded an Acerra brother.
Officially formed in 1938, the team played throughout the East Coast for 14 years. In 1948, the sibling squad challenged the New York Yankees to an exhibition game, an offer the Bronx Bombers rejected.
During World War II, the team temporarily disbanded. Defending America’s freedom was more important than baseball. At different times, six brothers enlisted; when they all returned, the team resumed playing. The brothers turned down college scholarships and offers to play professional baseball.
Alfred, the catcher, continued to play after losing sight in one eye. Attempting to bunt, the ball bounced off Alfred’s bat, and struck him directly in the eye. Within months, Alfred was back behind the plate. Brother Freddie said: “He was a pretty good catcher for a guy with one eye.”
In 1946, the Acerras joined the Long Branch City (New Jersey) Twilight Baseball League, and during the next six years, won the championship four times. When the Acerras played, the stands were always packed with fans.
Along their road to success, the Acerras became the talk of the town. In 1947, Life and Look magazines and Ripley’s Believe it or Not ran features on the brothers. The Acerras also appeared on the popular “Once in a Lifetime” nightly radio program.
By 1952, the brothers had married and were raising children. The team’s playing days were over. But 45 years after their last game, the seven still-living brothers accepted the Hall of Fame's invitation to participate in its annual ceremony. James M. Accera, pitcher Jimmy’s son, donated his Dad’s uniform and glove which now are in the same museum with the artifacts of the lives of Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Willie Mays.
Acerra said, “This just touches the surface of a family that stayed a family, behind all the baseball and athletic achievements. A family that never allowed sibling rivalry and infighting or success to tear them apart. Their team was a reflection of something greater, something that 14 years, many hardships, the lure of professional contracts, and even a World War could not destroy.”
Acerra’s loving memory stands as a reminder that the team’s accomplishments were more about family values than baseball, and how the national pastime unified them in brotherly love.
Copyright 2022 Joe Guzzardi, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
Joe Guzzardi is a Society for American Baseball Research and Internet Baseball Writers’ Association member. Contact him at [email protected]