Former Pirate Bobby Del Greco remembered as ‘hero,’ ‘bigger than life’
One of Bobby Del Greco Jr.’s best memories of his father involves a fried bologna sandwich, the Three Stooges and an overturned newspaper delivery truck in the river near the Fort Pitt Bridge.
Del Greco Sr., who grew up in the Hill District and played in the major leagues for six baseball teams (including the Pittsburgh Pirates), died Sunday at Fair Oaks Personal Care Home in Beechview. He was 86.
About 30 years ago, Bobby Del Greco Jr. was working out at a health spa with a friend when he heard a disturbing report.
“It came over the news that former Pittsburgh Pirate Bob Del Greco was missing and, possibly, dead,” his son remembers.
(After he retired from baseball, Del Greco Sr. drove a newspaper delivery truck, a job he held part-time during his player career while raising eight children with his wife, Catherine.)
The news report was sparked after his truck was found tipped over in the river.
“I ran down and called him and he said, ‘Hello,’ Del Greco Jr. said.
“Dad? Is it you?
“What are you doing?”
“I’m eating fried bologna on pita bread, watching the Stooges.”
“Are you sure.”
Father and son then shared a laugh and a memorable moment, one of many in their lifetimes.
After the accident, the police arrived, Del Greco Sr., who was unhurt, answered a few questions and was permitted to leave.
“He went home and followed his Sunday morning ritual,” his son said.
It wasn’t the first time Del Greco’s death was reported prematurely.
“I have two other instances when people said he passed away,” Del Greco Jr. said. “Sadly, on Oct. 13, it did happen.”
When Del Greco Sr. was 17 years old, he signed with the Pirates for $500. He was discovered on the Pittsburgh sandlots by Hall of Fame third baseman Pie Traynor.
Before his 19th birthday, he made his major-league debut starting in center field for the Pirates, going 3 for 4 in a 6-5 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. That season, he homered against the Milwaukee Braves’ Jim Wilson and became one of only 88 players of the 20th century to hit a home run prior to his 20th birthday.
He played for five other teams before retiring in 1965 with a lifetime batting average of .229 and 42 home runs over nine seasons. When he was with the Kansas City A’s in 1962, he led the American League in being hit by a pitch (13 times).
After retirement, he stayed active in the game, pitching batting practice for the Pirates for three decades and even throwing to batters at the Home Run Derby when the All-Star Game came to Three Rivers Stadium in 1994.
Del Greco Jr., a prominent Pittsburgh attorney, holds many memories of his dad, both during and after his playing career.
“He was bigger than life and a hero,” he said. “I can remember waiting after games for seemingly hours for him to sign autographs, being mobbed in public places.
“The beauty of my dad was he didn’t bring any ego or hubris to him. He was a humble guy.
“The perfect dad in all regards, provided for the family, nurturing, supportive, non-judgmental. With limited resources and minimal education, he and my mother raised eight children, and I don’t have a recollection of wanting for anything.”
Del Greco Jr. said his dad encouraged his five sons to play baseball, but was not pushy.
“My sense was his love was unconditional,” he said. “We didn’t have to play center field for the New York Yankees to have his love.”
Del Greco Sr. is survived by his wife, Catherine, of Baldwin Township and eight children: Robert Jr., of Whitehall; John, of Baldwin Township; Terese Stokan, of Atlanta; Denise, of Uniontown; George, of Baldwin Township; Jim, of Baldwin Township; Rita Sherry, of Whitehall; and Bill, of Beaver County. Also, 17 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 2-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday at the Frank F. DeBor Funeral Home on Brookline Boulevard. The funeral will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at Church of the Resurrection, Brookline.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .