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In The Baseball Encyclopedia: The Complete and Official Record of Major League Baseball is the name Anthony Michael Lazzeri, nicknamed "Poosh 'Em Up," and thereby hangs a tale. Lazzeri (or Lazerre, as he spelled it) has been the subject of Utah baseball folklore for as long as most fans can remember--and those stories all seemed to start in the 1920s at The Salt Lake Tribune with Sports Editor John C. Derks, for whom the community baseball field was named (and for whom, many fans still stubbornly believe, it should continue to be named).
Young Tony strolled into the Salt Lake Bees training camp in Modesto, California, in 1922 as a wide-eyed 18-year-old, "a green kid off the lots," according to Derks, who was known to readers and denizens of the sports pages simply as JCD. He was green, Derks recalled, but even experienced players could tell right off that the kid had it in him to make a ball player. He had the size, the hands, some speed, the aggressiveness and perhaps the best arm in baseball (Lazerre was a shortstop).
So team president H.W. Lane signed him and, with an eye to the future, brought the infielder along slowly, first with the Peoria baseball team in the Three I League, for a couple of seasons, and then with Lincoln in the Western League. By then Lazerre was thought to be ready to play with the Pacific Coast League. The year was 1925.
By the end of the season, Lazerre was the sensation of the minors. He had a nickname that would, as mentioned earlier, go down in the baseball annals with his performance statistics, and he would have earned the devotion of baseball fans in the West. Lane said of him, "Tony looks better striking out, than lots of players look hitting home runs." And Derks (JCD) wrote that in the eleven years Salt Lake had been in the league, there had not been a major league prospect to compare with Lazerre. Just what did young Tony do to deserve this adulation? Well, he Poosh 'Em Up, is what he did.
In the Utah business community there never was a more devoted fan of Lazerre than Cesare Rinetti, co-owner with Francesco Capitolo of the Rotisserie Inn, in downtown Salt Lake City. Rinetti took a liking to the young infielder from San Francisco; his Italian progenitors probably had a lot to do with it, but Tony and his San Francisco bride were a likable couple. According to current Tribune sports editor emeritus John Mooney, Rinetti "adopted" Lazerre and fed him good Italian food to build him up. Rinetti also was an avid baseball fan.
So it came to pass on a fine spring Saturday, the Bees were facing the Seattle Indians. Rinetti was in the stands at Community Baseball Park, as was JCD. (The field would not be named in his honor until 1940.) Rinetti, always the rabid rooter, shouted out, "Poosh 'em up, Tony," and the crowd picked up the chant. Lazerre then drove a terrific wallop over the center-field fence. The crowd went wild. Lazerre added a double to his average that day for three runs batted in. The final tally was Seattle 2, Salt Lake 12.
Derks, who had a penchant for getting more into a headline than in the story, wrote this eight-column banner the following morning. (Incidentally, for years sports writers have been quoting this headline--but no one would own up to actually having seen it or could say when it appeared.) After a careful search through two years of daily Tribune sports pages, the Bees' story of May 24, 1925, finally surrendered:
'Poosh Um Up, Tone,' Yella Da Fan, an' Tone She Poosh
From that day forward Lazerre was known as "Poosh 'Em Up" to the fans and "Our Tone" to John C. Derks.
The next day was a double-header for the Bees against the Indians. Lazerre collected just one hit for five trips to the plate and a stolen base in the first game (Seattle 4, Salt Lake 5), but he cracked two triples in the second game, which Salt Lake also pulled out (Seattle 8, Bees 11). Derks must have thought to himself, it worked once, why not again? The morning headline, eight columns:
Tone She Poosh Um Down an' Den She Poosh Um Up
The subhead below (in slightly smaller type) explained:
Lazerre's Great Work
Afield and With Club
Factors in Twin Win
That was the last time for several months that Derks fell back on the dialect. But in July he was able run a separate story saying "They're After 'Our Tone' " and report a campaign in which the New York Americans (the Yankees) planned to spend $250,000 to develop their team from selected minor-league players. Among them was Lazerre, Salt Lake's hard-hitting shortstop.
By August, Derks, who by the way never used his full byline, and only on rare occasions signed his stories simply JCD, noted (without byline) that the boy, who had been scouted and sought by the New York Yankees, the New York Giants and the Washington Senators, had been dealt to the Yankees by owner Lane for an undisclosed sum of cash and five players! Derks in his story said the cash was estimated all the way from $1,000 to $200,000. No doubt, he added, "when the New York lads get their figures all compiled, it will be at least $250,000. Regardless, it is a fairly substantial sum."
At that August writing, Derks pointed out that Lazerre was leading the Pacific Coast League in home runs with thirty-three, only ten behind the league record of forty-three established by Paul Strand. He led also in stolen bases with twenty-six, and in triples with thirteen. How Lazerre did during the remainder of the season, Derks remarked, would help him set his salary when he "goes up" to the big club.
Well, young Tony bent to the task. The Bees were in contention for the pennant, but their chances were slim. Through August and September they battled, and finally came October. The major leagues wrapped up their season and The Salt Lake Tribune's front pages were devoted to the pending seven-game confrontation between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Washington Senators.
On the inside pages, JCD would have none of it. The locals were just as important and hark! On October 3, 1925, a Derks headline roared:
Our Tone She Poosh Um Oop for da Feefty-seex
The details? Lazerre sets minor-league mark; he needs three to tie Babe Ruth's record. On October 12, another Derks special:
Our Tone, She Poosh Um Oop Two Time, Maka da Feefty-eight
Lazerre now is but one homerun behind Ruth. The World Serious (Derks' words) had come and gone (Pittsburgh in seven) while the tale of Tony continued. On October 18 the clincher:
The Bambino, He's Got Nothin' on Our Tone Now
Lazerre knocks out 59th homer; ties world record
October 19th would be the fateful day:
Gooda da Tone, She Poosh Um Up for Beat Bambino
Lazerre hits his 60th home run for the record.
The mighty Bees, however, did not win the Pacific Coast pennant that year; San Franciso did. But Lazerre went to the Yankees, and somehow, someway, his name picked up a "z," dropped an "r" and turned an "e" to an "i" to become Lazzeri. He was on the batting order with Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. He stayed with the Yankees for twelve years. Tony (Poosh 'Em Up) Lazerre (Lazzeri) died Aug. 6, 1946. John C. Derks, dean of baseball, died April 8, 1944.