Remembering Dino Restelli: The Pirates brightest flash in the pan
Over the 130-year history of the Pittsburgh Pirates, there have been many players who have set the world on fire for a brief time, only to come crashing down just as fast. In just the past 20 years alone, players such as Zach Duke, Warren Morris and Oliver Perez flashed across the sky like beautiful comets but were never be able to maintain that success.
In earlier years, guys like Mike Dunne, who Pittsburgh shipped off to Seattle less than two years after finishing second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting, fitted into the same boat. But of all the stars who could not keep their shine, one man stands above the rest.
Dino “dingo” Restelli played in 93 major league games. His career stat line reads like a mediocre season; 12 home runs, 40 RBI and a .358. On-Base Percentage. His Wikipedia page is previously
170 words long, and when he left the game of baseball, he became a police officer in San Francisco. Yet in June of 1949, Restelli set the baseball world on fire with a historically hot start to his big league career.
Restelli’s career began in the city by the bay, where he grew up. In 72 games with the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League, Restelli hit .351 with ten homers and 65 RBI. Restelli performed well enough to get promoted to the big leagues, as he was sold to the Pittsburgh Pirates in time to debut on June 14, 1949.
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At this point, the Pirates were in the midst of a woeful run that climaxed with an 110-loss campaign in 1952. At the time of Restelli’s call-up, the Bucs were a poor 19-32, and manager Bill Meyer was desperate to get something going. So, despite never having played a big-league game, Meyer placed Restelli in the third spot of the batting order, one place ahead of future Hall of
Famer Ralph Kiner.
Dingo made his big-league debut against the Boston Braves, going 0-4 in a 4-3 Pirate win. The next game, the hot streak would begin.
It didn’t seem to be an ideal game for Restelli to break out, as Boston’s starting pitcher that day was none other than the great Warren Spahn, who was on his way to 363 career wins and a first ballot Hall of Fame induction. Spahn was on his way to a 21-win season when he set foot on the Forbes Field mound June 15.
Restelli torched Boston, going 3-5 with two homers and five RBI as the Pirates came back from a 3-run ninth inning deficit to win, 8-7. This would be the beginning of a torrid first month that still ranks among the greatest in baseball history.
Although Restelli went 2-3 in the series finale with Boston, the Bucs dropped that one 7-2. Next on the Forbes Field horizon were the New York Giants. After splitting the first two games, Restelli went off in the series finale, going 2-5 with three RBI and his third homer of the season in a 9-4 Pittsburgh win.
The 13-game homestand continued as the Philadelphia Phillies came to Oakland for a four-game set. The Bucs would lose three of those games, but on June 22, Restelli had his second multi-homer game of his young career, going 2-5 with three RBI in a 12-3 Bucco rout. Restelli would hit his sixth home run a day later in a 9-3 loss.
Restelli’s next blast came on June 25 with a fifth-inning homer off of Ralph Branca in a wild 17-10 loss to the Brooklyn Dodgers. So after ten big league games, Restelli already had seven home runs. It would take nearly 70 years for anybody to match that feat again, as Trevor Story of the Colorado Rockies accomplished that feat in 2016, and Baltimore’s Trey Mancini has since done the same.
Restelli was big news. So much so that Time magazine felt compelled to write about him. Here is some of what they had to say;
“Dino Restelli is a rawboned young man with powerful arms, bushy eyebrows, and a sunny disposition. Like baseball’s famed DiMaggio brothers, he comes from San Francisco’s sandlots. A fortnight ago, upped to the majors from San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League, Dino pulled on a Pittsburgh Pirate uniform, got into the lineup as an outfielder, and began cannonading the fences as few pea-green rookies ever had before.”
Sadly, the good times would not last.
Restelli would hit just five home runs in his remaining 62 games of 1949- and 0 after that. Less than two years after being featured in Time, Restelli played his last big league game. So, what led to Dino’s quick washout?
It certainly doesn’t seem like attitude was the problem. According to Kiner, who was quoted in that article, Restelli was “always willing to learn” and kept “asking for advice.” It doesn’t seem likely that Dino had obvious holes in his game, as Kiner is also quoted as saying;
“Dino’s a great hitter. He has a good stance at the plate, good wrist action, and a good follow-through. He takes a short stride and isn’t fooled too often. He has shown he can hit every kind of pitch, too.”
What appears to be a more likely cause for Dino’s downfall is something rather odd; glasses. Restelli was one of the rare non-pitchers to play baseball while wearing glasses, and this might have ended up hurting him in the end. Restelli’s glasses would fog up due to the summer east coast heat. This was a major distraction and led to Dino often calling time to clean his glasses with a handkerchief. Restelli’s habit led to a horrifying experience with Reds hurler Ewell Blackwell.
After calling time to clean his lenses, Blackwell beaned Restelli in the back of the neck. According to Danny Murtaugh, the legendary Pirates manager who at the time was a second baseman with the club, Restelli “never knew what hit him,” and was “never the same.”
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The 15-minutes of fame being over so fast could have ruined Restelli. But instead, he decided to make a difference in the world, returning to his native San Fransico and becoming a police officer.