What’s more American than Baseball? Americans truly love the game and the boys of summer. The smell of the grass, the sound of the crack of the bat, the 7th inning stretch, and, of course, the taste of a hot dog and a beer on a hot summer night. It is the pageantry of the game, the excitement of a double play or grand slam homerun. It is a game of statistics and strategy. Especially now, in October, when the World Series is underway do Americans glue themselves to the television to watch history being made. And Greeks have been there from almost the start.
Greek-Americans in the early years of professional Baseball were far and few between, but there were some that did make it to major leagues.
Miltiades Stergios Papastergios (Milton Steven “Milt” Pappas), was born on May 11, 1939 in Detroit, Michigan. He played 17 years in the majors, pitching for the Baltimore Orioles, Cincinnati Reds, Atlanta Braves, and Chicago Cubs in 520 games. He had a record of 209 wins, 164 losses, 43 shutouts, 1,728 strikeouts, and an ERA of 3.40. On September 2, 1972, while playing for the Chicago Cubs, Pappas pitched a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres, 8-0.
The “Golden Greek,” Aristotle George (Harry) Agganis, was born April 20, 1929, in Lynn, Massachusetts. His Greek roots come from Longanikos near Sparta, Greece. Agganis became a star football and baseball player in high school and an All-American in football at Boston University. Passing up a professional football career, Agganis signed with the Boston Red Sox and made his MLB debut on April 13, 1954 playing first base. Known as the “Golden Greek,” he played for only a year because of his sudden death of a pulmonary embolism on June 27, 1955. His career statistics included a batting average of .261, 135 hits and 67 RBIs. Baseball great, Ted Williams, commented that he cried only twice in his life – when his mother passed away, and when Harry died.
Alexander Sebastian Campanis (Al Campanis) was born on the island of Kos, in the Dodecanese Islands of Greece on November 2, 1916. At age 26, on September 23, 1943, he began his major league career with the Brooklyn Dodgers as a second baseman. After his baseball career, he became general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He had once stated, “There are two times in my life the hair on my arms has stood up: The first time I saw the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the first time I saw Sandy Koufax throw a fastball.”
Alexander Peter Grammas started on April 13, 1954 for the St. Louis Cardinals, and went on to play for the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs. He was born on April 3, 1927 in Birmingham, Alabama, and his family was from Agios Dimitrios, near Sparta, Greece. After his baseball career ended, he became manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates and then the Milwaukee Brewers. He also coached for the Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers, and Atlanta Braves.
Louis Peter Skizas, born June 2, 1932, in Chicago, Illinois and played outfield and third base for the New York Yankees in 1956 season, making his debut on April 19, 1956. He also played for Kansas City Athletics in 1956-57, Detroit Tigers 1958, and Chicago White Sox in 1959. His nickname was “the nervous Greek” because of his antics at the plate. He was traded in 1957 which involved another Greek, John Tsitouris.
Gus Triandos made his debut in the major leagues starting for the New York Yankees on August 3, 1953, and then played for the Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers, Philadelphia Phillies, and the Houston Astros. He was a four-time All-Star 1957-59. Constantine Gregory “Gus” Niarhos played as a catcher for the New York Yankees starting in 1946, and then went on to play for Chicago White Sox, Boston Red Sox, and Philadelphia Phillies, and retired in 1955. He had a batting average of .252, 1 home run, and 59 RBIs. On April 21, 1954, Chris Kitsos played one inning for the Chicago Cubs.
Today, many Greek-Americans play in the MLB, although their names do not divulge their Greek ancestry, including Bobby Kingsbury, Clay Bellinger, Eric Karros, Nick Markakis, Constantino “Tino” Martinez, Aaron Miles, and Clint Zavaras.
The Greek-American community is proud of the early pioneers in American baseball and those that have followed.