Brooklyn Boro

Al Ferrara: From Lafayette High to the big leagues

June 15, 2021 Andy Furman
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OK, pay attention. Here are the rules.

If California, he’s The Bull – but if you’re from Brooklyn, he’s Ki Ki.

These are the rules set by Al Ferrara, the grad of Lafayette High who fulfilled his lifetime dream – to play for the Dodgers.

The Ki Ki, he claims, comes from the streets of Brooklyn. The Bull came from Los Angeles sportswriter Bob Hunter.

It was a rough road – almost as rough as the fields he played on as a kid in Brooklyn.

Ferrara attended St. Athanasius grade school and played his first organized baseball there on a field that had no grass and was loaded with rocks, he wrote in his book, “Buzzie and the Bull.”

“We played our championship game against Our Lady of Perpetual Help at Erasmus Field,” the 82-year-old Ferrara told the Eagle from his California home.  “They (OLPH) had a giant as a pitcher,” he said. “He looked like he was about 22, and he probably shaved 10 times a day.”

Ferrara struck out his first time up.

When he faced him again, he hit a shot through the football goal posts – the longest home run at Erasmus Field – and St. A’s won, 2-0.

A baseball career certainly looked promising.

Not so fast.

The teachers at St. Athanasius were all nuns, he says, “tough Irish women. They’d whack you with a ruler. In seventh grade I had Sister Georgina. She was a participant in this ruler stuff.”

It was Sister Georgina who assigned the class to write an essay on the topic, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” 

“I wrote that I wanted to be a baseball player,” Ferrara said.

Lafayette High School in Brooklyn, alma mater of Al Ferrara and other baseball greats.
Wikimedia photo by Mrkid37

He read the essay, and Sister Georgina pulled his ear and told him to put his hand out – whack!

“I remember I asked, ‘What did I do wrong,’” he said, “and she said, `You’ve got to get reasonable. Get your priorities straight.’”

Fast forward to 1963 in the Polo Grounds – Ferrara’s first year in the big leagues, he was playing against the Mets.

“Before the game I came out to warm up and heard a voice call, “Alfred.” I looked up. At the edge of the dugout, wearing the same black habit, was Sister Georgina.”

Ferrara says he walked up to her, and she hugged him and said, “I’m so proud of you.”

And she cried.

The kid who lived at 1431 East Second St, – and later moved to 1833 18th Ave. – learned his baseball on the streets of Brooklyn.

That East Second Street apartment had one bedroom that housed three kids and his mom and dad. There was no air conditioning, which forced Al to sleep on the outside fire escape to keep cool.

All summer Al and his friends Bobby Wiese and David Gutfeld would play stickball and punchball, dodging cars and even horse manure when the watermelon man would park his wagon in the street and deliver melons.

And he practiced the piano – yes, Al Ferrara was an accomplished piano player.

“I never wanted to play the piano,” he now admits, “but a first-generation Italian woman like my grandmother—she was born in Campobasso, Italy — didn’t know anything about baseball, so I had to play the piano, when I was eight. I learned the classics.”

Ferrara’s teacher, Guido Morvillo, insisted he play the music of Beethoven and Bach.

And the wheeling-and-dealing Alfred had a deal with grandma. “After playing for an hour,” he said, “she would give me a quarter to go to Bat-A-Way at Coney Island. You could hit about 25 balls for a quarter back then,” he remembers.

Finally, the clincher with grandma. If young Al were to become Guido Morvillo’s number one student, he could give up piano and play baseball. He would have to showcase recitals at Carnegie Hall, and the number one student would play last.

“When I was 16,” he said, “I went on last as the number one student, kissed my grandmother and never touched the piano again.”

As a student, Ferrara admits he was, “OK” in high school. “I had trouble in shop,” he admits. And that was ironic, since later in life he owned the Major League Construction Company.

In history and math, he admits, “I was above average.”

And he was way above average playing baseball for that Brooklyn baseball machine at Lafayette High – the same school that produced Sandy Koufax, Bob and Ken Aspromonte, Mike Fiore, Johnny Franco, Bob Turzilli and Pete Falcone.

He had a super junior year batting over .350 – but as a senior he went four-for-48 at the plate for a dismal .083 average. 

That senior team lost the city championship to New Dorp High School, 1-0 at Ebbets Field.

Yet, he made the All-New York City team, which was selected by the late sportswriter Phil Pepe – who, by the way was a Lafayette product. A coincidence? Perhaps.

He had a scholarship to Fordham, decided to work on an assembly line and, as luck would have it, a co-worker convinced him to try out for the Dodgers at Ebbets Field.

“I go try out,” he recalls. “I was shagging fly balls for the other guys, but at the end of the tryout, I was called into the batter’s box to take five swings.”

Perhaps the most important five swings of his life, because Al Ferrara, in his first three at-bats hit the ball out of Ebbets Field.

He was called back the following day – by the way he went 0-for-four – but he got a call inviting him to play for the Dodger Rookies in Cape Cod and Montreal.

It was July 23, 1963 – that’s the date Al Ferrara made his major league debut in 5-1 Dodgers’ loss to the Mets at Dodger Stadium. His first hit as in his third game, off Dick Ellsworth and his first homer, the next day, off Bob Buhl.

Al Ferrara was a member of two World Championship teams with the Dodgers – in 1963 and 1965. He was a big leaguer for eight seasons – five with the Dodgers, three with the San Diego Padres and one with the Cincinnati Reds. 

In 1966, he had one of his best seasons hitting .270 and in 1967 in 384 plate appearances he hit 16 home runs – a career high – with 50 runs batted in and a .277 average.

And the loveable Al Ferrara had “L.A. in my hands,” he said, as he appeared on episodes of Gilligan’s Island and Batman, through show business connections. He even was a contestant on Match Game ’74, listing his profession as a “freelance piano buyer.”

These days, he serves as an independent contractor with the Dodgers, talks and reads to kids, visits schools with Dodger players as well as hospitals.

But deep inside, Al Ferrara is a “dedicated horse player,” by his own admission.

“I walk about three times a week,” he said, “and play the horses at Santa Anita from home.”

But you won’t see him anywhere near a piano.

Andy Furman is a Fox Sports Radio national talk show host. Previously, he was a scholastic sports columnist for the Brooklyn Eagle. He may be reached at: [email protected]. Twitter: @AndyFurmanFSR

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