Obituary: Frank Cipriani (1941-2022)

RIP to Frank Cipriani, whose brief career as a professional outfielder was followed by long careers as a firefighter and restaurateur in New York. He died on June 7 at the age of 81. Cipriani played for the Kansas City Athletics in 1961.

Frank Dominick Cipriani was born in Buffalo on April 14, 1941. He was a talented multi-sport athlete at Bishop Timon High School in Buffalo. In 1958, he was one of two Timon students selected for an All-Buffalo basketball All-Star team. He was also part of a tremendous baseball team that, between 1955 and 1960, compiled a 40-4 record under coach Bob Barrows. The entire 1958 squad was inducted into the Bishop Timon Athletic Hall of Fame. Cipriani, an outfielder, also was named to the All-Catholic team in 1960. He was given a full ride to Fordham University on basketball scholarship after graduating from high school. However, after he had completed his freshman year in June of 1960, the Kansas City Athletics signed him for a bonus estimated to be between $25,000 and $35,000. Two weeks after signing his contract, the 19-year-old Cipriani was in the minor leagues.

Cipriani with the Shreveport Sports. Source: The Shreveport Journal, June 7, 1961.

Cipriani won a batting title in his first professional season, with the 1960 Sanford Greyhounds of the Florida State League. He had a slash line of .335/.416/.442, with 8 doubles, 6 triples and 2 home runs in 69 games. He remained in Florida and played winter ball there, where he continued to pile up base hits. He cracked a ninth-inning, bases-loaded triple off White Sox prospect Joe Hoerner to win a 5-4 game that December. After working out with the A’s during spring training in 1961, he impressed A’s manager Joe Gordon, who indicated that Cipriani might make the team in spite of his inexperience. The A’s were a going-nowhere team, and Gordon was looking to young players. “We might as well begin building for the future,” Gordon said.

See Frank Cipriani at Baseball Almanac

Cipriani ultimately was assigned to the Double-A Shreveport Sports for the start of the 1961 season. He got off to a red-hot start with the Sports, and though he cooled off to a .285 average by the end of August, he showed more pop. He hit 4 home runs and drove in 36 runs. The Athletics, who were headed toward a 100-loss season, decided to bring the prospect to the majors in September.

The A’s had their troubles offensively in 1961, and right field was a particularly troublesome spot. A total of 13 players spent at least one game in right field, from 39-year-old Jim Rivera to “Marvelous” Marv Throneberry, and nobody performed particularly well. Manager Hank Bauer, who replaced Gordon midway through the season, gave 20-year-old Cipriani a fair chance over the final month of the season. His first game came on September 8 against the Minnesota Twins and starting pitcher Jim Kaat. Cipriani got 2 singles off the future Hall of Famer and scored a run on a bases-loaded walk to Bobby Del Greco. That run sparked a 4-run rally that eventually turned into a 6-4 victory for the A’s. Cipriani drove in 2 runs against the Twins on September 10, with a pair of RBI singles off Jack Kralick in a 13-1 thrashing.

After getting hits in his first three starts, Cipriani endured a dry spell and went hitless for a few starts and pinch-hitting appearances. He also showed a little inexperience in the outfield, misplaying a fly ball off the bat of Detroit’s Bill Bruton for a triple on September 12. He hesitated off the crack of the bat, allowing the ball to drop in, and then he lost his balance as the ball rolled past him. That play helped Detroit rally to a 3-1 win, giving pitcher Frank Lary his 20th win of the season. As the season wound down, Cipriani was placed back in the starting lineup and broke up a no-hitter by Washington’s Pete Burnside with a fifth inning single on September 29. On the last day of the season — October 1 — Cipriani singled twice off the Senators’ Claude Osteen to give him a .250/.289/.250 slash line in 11 games on the season. He had 9 hits — all singles — in 36 at-bats, drove in 2 runs and scored twice.

Cipriati did not return to the majors. He played a little with Kansas City’s Triple-A affiliate in Portland in 1962 but spent most of the year with the Double-A Albuquerque Dukes of the Texas League. He drove in 79 runs and had 7 home runs, including one that set a record. His fence-clearing shot in the second inning of a game on September 1 against El Paso was the 57th homer of the year hit at Albuquerque’s Tingley Field, establishing a new team record. Unfortunately, Cipriani’s career started moving backwards. When he hit .161 for Double-A Binghamton in 1963, he was demoted to Class-A Lewiston of the Northwest League. He missed most of 1964 due to military obligations, a broken leg and a separated shoulder and was limited to winter ball in Florida. When he came back in 1965, he battled both injuries and ineffectiveness. He left baseball for good after 1966, after he had been released by Kansas City and finished the season with the Class-A Tidewater Tides in the Philadelphia Phillies organization. All total, Cipriani batted .288 over 6 seasons in the minor leagues, with 28 homers.

Haywood Sullivan, left, manager of Kansas City’s Florida winter ball team, talks with prospects Chuck Dobson, Bob Meyer and Frank Cipriani. Source: The Bradenton Herald, November 23, 1964.

Cipriani served as a lieutenant in the Lackawanna Fire Department for 35 years. He and his brother, Mario, also operated several restaurants, including Big Wheel in West Seneca, N.Y., and Macaroni Company and Garcia’s Irish Pub in Buffalo. He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Margaret, and five children.

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