Gino Cimoli dies, first West Coast batter

Gino Cimoli, the first Major League batter to appear in a game on the West Coast, has died at age 81. Cimoli, the Dodgers leadoff man in the opening game of the 1958 season in San Francisco, on April 15. The game was inauspicious for the Dodgers, losing 8-0 to the Giants.

Along with being the first batter in Los Angeles history, Cimoli scored the final run at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn and in a round-about way, he helped bring the Dodgers first World Championship to Los Angeles in 1959.

Cimoli was born December 18, 1929 in San Francisco to an Italian immigrant father and an Italian-American mother. He attended Galileo High School in San Francisco but never played baseball until his senior year.

Dodgers scout Howie Haak signed him with a bonus of about $15,000 and he opened his pro career in Class B Nashua where he hit .370, then jumped all the way to Triple A Montreal in 1950 season and hit .275 the last couple of months.

The Brooklyn outfield was manned by Duke Snider and Carl Furillo, with a couple seasons of Andy Pafko and George Shuba thrown in, making it tough for a young outfielder. Despite a blazing start, he was moved around for the next four seasons, playing a AA Ft. Worth in 1951, in AAA St. Paul in 1952 and 1953 and in 1954 and 1955 he was returned to the Montreal.

He finally cracked the Brooklyn roster in 1956 but had only 36 at-bats. He played in 73 games, most of them was as a defensive replacement late in the game.

After the 1956 season, the Dodgers took a goodwill tour to Japan and Cimoli finally got some playing time. During the trip, Roy Campanella told Cimoli, "You can hit and you've got a good arm, but if you want to make this ball club you've got to change your attitude. You get mad too easy. You've got to stop griping and grumbling. Make up your mind to hustle your way on to this club and you'll do it."

Cimoli took his advice to heart. He had a great tour of the Far East and came out in spring training of 1957 on fire. Later Cimoli would say, "He talked to me like a Dutch uncle and in a way no rookie could resent. And it all made sense."

Cimoli slugged a game-winning home run on Opening Day in 1957 off future Hall-of-Famer Robin Roberts. In May, he came up with another game-winning homer to defeat the Milwaukee Braves 5-4 in 12 innings. Cimoli had seven clutch hits, second only Frank Robinson who had eight in 1957.

The Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in the off-season and Cimoli hit only .246 while playing about half the games. The team barely struggled out of the league cellar on the final game of the season to finish seventh.

In December of 1958, Gino Cimoli was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for one-time rookie of the year Wally Moon, a left-handed batter, who perfected hitting against or over the 256-foot fence in the left field of the Coliseum. His 19 home runs were called "Moon Shots" and helped the Dodgers to the N.L. pennant and a World Series title over the Chicago White Sox.

Cimoli played 10 seasons in the major leagues ad finished with a career .265 batting average. He started with the Brooklyn and played in St. Louis, Pittsburgh (on their 1960 World Series championship team) as well as for Milwaukee, Kansas City, Baltimore Orioles before finishing his career with Anaheim in 1965.

With the Pirates down 7-4 in the seventh, and final game of the 1960 Series, Cimoli pinch hit for Elroy Face and singled off Bobby Shantz to ignite a rally that put the Pirates ahead 9-7. The Yanks tied it in the ninth, and, of course, Bill Mazeroski won it for Pittsburgh with a Series-ending homer.

Cimoli had planned to attend the 50-year anniversary of the 1960 Series but the trip never materialized because of Cimoli's failing health.

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