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Bob Aspromonte: A Boy From Brooklyn

Bob Featured

by Mark Jent

Bob Aspromonte was born in Brooklyn in 1938. He’s the grandson of Italian immigrants and the youngest of 3 sons to Angelo and Laura Aspromonte. The Aspromonte brothers grew up playing on the sandlots in the Bensonhurst neighborhood and their parents would take them to the nearby cathedrals known as Yankee Stadium, the Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field, which was only 15 minutes away from their house. A young Bobby Aspromonte grew up watching Joe DiMaggio become the Yankee Clipper, Willie Mays roam centerfield and Jackie Robinson run the bases. 

And like most boys, he dreamed of one day being like them – putting on a uniform, stepping up to the plate and taking his position in the field. 

After graduating from Lafayette High School in the summer of 1956, that day came for this 18 year old when Dodgers GM Buzzi Bavasi signed him to a $3,000 contract. While his classmates were working summer jobs or getting ready for college, Bobby Aspromonte was reporting to work as a ballplayer for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

On his first day as he walked through the concourse and made his way to the clubhouse, he was hit with a surreal wave of emotion. His father, Angelo, had been a diehard Brooklyn Dodgers fan since the 1920’s. As a boy, Bobby had been to this ballpark many times with his father, mother and two older brothers, just as a young fan in the stands watching the famed boys of summer. 

When he got to the dugout he was met by Manager Walter Aston who instructed him to go take infield. This was no regular infield practice. In what seemed like a blink of the eye, he had been transported from a cheering boy in the stands to a young man jogging out to meet baseball royalty.

Mr. Bob said, “Alston told me to go take infield, I look up and I’m running towards Gil Hodges, PeeWee Reese and Jackie Robinson. I could not believe what was happening. I took a few ground balls and Jackie took a look at my glove and said, “Bobby, that’s an outfielder’s glove you’ve got there, take mine and keep it.” 

That was Bob Aspromonte’s first day as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball club.

Aspromonte kept that prized glove in his possessions for over 50 years. That was until Tommy Lasorda asked him to borrow it to display in a museum.  With Tommy being a long-time friend, Aspromonte kindly obliged. “I never saw that glove again!” says Aspromonte laughing.

*See video below of him telling the story of that day and eventually what happened to the glove! 

Meeting Mr. Bob
I traveled to Houston in May 2021 to meet then 82 year old Bob Aspromonte. As has been the case with most of my Brooklyn encounters, I made a cold call a few days in advance to invite myself over! No matter how many times I make that first phone call, I always find myself nervous of rejection. That actually happened once, but I eventually got a yes!

Since these older gentlemen don’t know me at all, I usually just make it a simple introduction of “Hello, I’m Mark Jent and live in Nashville. I’m a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers Nostalgia Society and trying to meet as many Brooklyn ballplayers as possible,” then I start name-dropping all of their former teammates to hopefully keep the cold call going longer. 

To clarify, there are over 5,000 members of the Facebook group called the Brooklyn Dodgers Nostalgia Society, but I don’t provide details surrounding my esteemed no-cost membership that is just a click of a button away from anyone joining the group.  

Mr. Bob was kind and gracious from the outset. I left him a voicemail and he called me back almost immediately and invited me over to his place later that week.

When I arrived at his Houston residence, he and his wife Karen were so incredibly warm and welcoming. I had done some general research to be prepared for our visit, but I was not prepared for the breadth and depth of the ground we would cover over the next three hours! We walked into his home office and I felt like I was entering the Bob Aspromonte wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame. There were pictures of him with Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio, Gil Hodges and Yogi Berra. There was a picture of him with dozens of other Dodgers Alumni at the 100th Anniversary Reunion celebrating the franchise’s rich history. As I kept panning the room, I found myself in awe.

During our time together that day Aspromonte kept telling story after story, in his still thick Brooklyn accent he would occasionally say, “Mark, it’s unbelievable what this boy from Brooklyn has been able to experience all because of baseball, things I never would have imagined.” From our two visits to our countless phone calls, text messages and emails exchanged the past three years, Mr. Bob exudes humility despite his many notable accomplishments. Out of all 11 Brooklyn Dodgers I’ve met, he and I have developed a friendship that goes beyond our brief stints of time together. We call each other on birthdays, holidays and random days. Being a sentimentalist, I have saved so many voicemails he’s left me over the years!

Chasing Brooklyn
As a long-time Dodger fan who appreciates the rich history of the franchise, there is a unique aura about the team’s tenure in Brooklyn that will forever remain frozen in time on the corner of Bedford Avenue and Sullivan Place. A few years ago my curiosity collided with my passion when I wondered “How many Brooklyn Dodgers could I meet before it’s forever too late?” 

Since then my Chasing Brooklyn journey has taken me from restaurants to living rooms across the country. The 11 Brooklyn Dodgers I’ve met have shared stories that have painted me a picture about the golden era of our national pastime through the lens of being a Brooklyn Dodger and having played on the hallowed grounds of Ebbets Field. This is how I came to know Bob Aspromonte. A few years ago I cold called Mr. Bob, told him about my quest and cordially invited myself over to his place in Houston. He said yes! This is a man who accomplished so much during his distinguished 13 year career, but who I tracked down because of his lone at bat as an 18 year old Brooklyn Dodger in 1956.

At the bottom of the story you’ll find the complete list of all 11 Brooklyn Dodgers I’ve met along with links to the stories I’ve written about them.

Major League Debut
After spending a couple of months in the minor leagues he was called up to be on the big league roster for the final month of the season. On September 19, 1956 in the bottom of the 8th inning, Bob Aspromonte was called on to pinch hit for Brooklyn LF Sandy Amoros. After a couple of foul balls, he struck out on three pitches against the Cardinals Don Liddle. Throughout the history of the game not many players can say they shared a box score with 7 future Hall of Famers from their debut! 

It would be his only at bat as a Brooklyn Dodger, but it was the beginning of a tremendous 13 year career.

Chasing Brooklyn Rewind: Leading off that 8th inning was Don Demeter, one of the other eleven Brooklyn guys I’ve met. This was Demeter’s second big league at bat as he was called on to pinch hit for pitcher Don Newcombe, who had just thrown 7 innings and hit two home runs that day. On the first pitch he saw Demeter told me he swung as hard as he could and deposited the ball in the left field seats. As he rounded first base, Cardinals legend Stan Musial said, “Welcome to the big leagues, kid.” To read about my story about meeting Don Demeter, click here: One Swing

Aspromonte would step up to the plate 5 batters later and end the inning with this three pitch strikeout. Oh what I would give to go back and be a fan in the stands for that game! Here is the box score if you wish to peruse it. 

1956 World Series
His debut was within the final week of the ‘56 season and, although he only stepped in the batter’s box that one time, he received a doctorate degree in Dodgers baseball as he found himself on the 40 man roster for the entire month with the legendary team – Jackie Robinson, PeeWee Reese, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, Carl Erskine, Don Newcombe and others. 

The Dodgers won the National League pennant 1 game ahead of Hank Aaron’s Milwaukee Braves. This gave them a chance to defend their 1955 World Series title, the first and only in Brooklyn history. To repeat, they would have to take down the mighty Yankees once again in the Fall Classic in what was their 6th matchup in 10 seasons against the American League powerhouse. Aspromonte and other September call-ups were not on the World Series roster, but they had the best seat in the house watching their teammates from behind the Dodger dugout. He vividly recalls witnessing history in Game 5 as the Yankees’ Don Larsen threw the first and only perfect game in World Series history. The Yankees would prevail 4 games to 3 in what author Michael Shapiro would later write about in The Last Good Season.

Military Service and Minor Leagues, 1957-59
In 1957 Aspromonte entered the army on a new initiative that allowed recruits to serve for six months then be in the reserves for seven years. Upon his discharge from the Army, he began his minor league career in the vast Dodgers’ farm system. He would spend 1957, 1958 and 1959 making his way through the ranks, finding success along the way.

Los Angeles Dodgers, 1960-61
With a solid spring training the 21 year old Aspromonte made the Los Angeles Dodgers Opening Day roster in 1960. On May 5th at the LA Coliseum Aspromonte started at 3B which was only his fourth big league start. He went 4-5 at the plate, including his first major league home run and won the game with a 10th inning walk-off single!

In 1961 Aspromonte spent the entire season on the Dodgers roster, but saw limited playing time behind Junior Gilliam at 3B and Maury Wills at SS. He was a valuable utility player off the bench for the Dodgers, but he found himself fighting for playing time against more experienced ball players.  

Expansion Draft
On October, 10, 1961, Major League Baseball held an expansion draft to fill the rosters for two new franchises, the New York Mets and the Houston Colt 45’s. Bob Aspromonte was the third pick of the draft, chosen by the new ballclub out of Houston. Although grateful to have been drafted so high, he was initially disappointed that he was not going back home to New York to be near his family in Brooklyn. The decision of Houston to draft Aspromonte forever altered the rest of his career, along with his personal and post-career professional life for the past 60 years.

Houston Colt 45s / Astros, 1962-68
As the leadoff hitter and starting 3B for the Colt 45’s on Opening Day 1962, Aspromonte forever etched his name in the team’s history books with the first at bat, followed by the first hit and then scoring the first run in team history. Later in the game, he would draw the first walk and steal the first bag in team history. Aspromonte would be the Opening Day starting third baseman in Houston for seven consecutive seasons.

In 1965, the newly branded Houston Astros opened the Astrodome. Every member of the starting lineup was on the receiving end of a ceremonial first pitch from an astronaut. Aspromonte lined up to catch his first pitch from Alan Shepard, who also had a notable first of his own as the first American in space! This would be the beginning of a lifetime friendship between Aspromonte and Shepard.

Aspromonte continued to add accomplishments to his collection of firsts as he became the first Astro to hit a homerun in the Astrodome on April 24, 1965. 

He hit 54 home runs in his seven seasons with Houston, but six of them were grand slams! This stood as the team record for over 40 years until broken in 2011 by Carlos Lee. Aspro the Astro was also a slick fielding third baseman as he set a National League record in 1962 with 57 consecutive errorless games. In 1962, 1964 and 1966 he led all National League 3B in fielding percentage. He was a vacuum at the hot corner!

In addition to his many firsts and accomplishments for Houston, Bob Aspromonte is also the last member of the original Houston Colt 45’s to suit up for the Astros (1968).

Atlanta Braves, 1969-70
Aspromonte was traded to Atlanta after the ‘68 season and played two years for the Braves alongside the likes of Hank Aaron and Dusty Baker. In 1969 when the Braves won the first NL West division title, it was Bob Aspromonte who caught the final out of the game to clinch the division that would give them a date with those ‘69 Miracle Mets in the NLCS. 

New York Mets, 1971
In 1971, Mets manager Gil Hodges, was instrumental in bringing Aspromonte home to New York to play his final season for the Mets. This was a fitting end to his career as Hodges was not only just a former teammate, but more importantly a good friend and a mentor. “One of the greatest relationships I had in the game was with Gil Hodges. He and Joan meant so much to me,” said Aspromonte. “Gil took me under his wing as an 18 year old in Brooklyn, then he traded for me 15 years later when he was managing the Mets. He was an exceptional man.”

Aspromonte played the final game of his career for the New York Mets on September 28, 1971. When he stepped off the field that day he gained the distinction of being the last Brooklyn Dodger to appear in a major league game.

Reverence for Gil Hodges 
Bob Aspromonte developed a really special relationship with Gil Hodges. What started off as teammates in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, became so much more over the years as Hodges became a friend and a mentor to a young Aspromonte along with his manager.

Over 50 years after Gil Hodges unexpectedly passed away in April 1972, Aspromonte still talks about Gil Hodges with enormous reverence, admiration and respect. He tearfully recalls receiving the news of Hodges’ death and the funeral. He refers to it as one of the saddest times of his life. 

On the contrary, in December 2021 when the Hall of Fame results were being announced on MLB Network, we Facetimed each other to celebrate the moment of Gil Hodges’ long-overdue election into Cooperstown. Mr. Bob had tears in his eyes as he was overcome with joy as he had advocated for this moment for over 50 years.

There have been many neat stories that have come out of my interest in the Brooklyb Dodgers and one of those took place last year when I was able to reconnect Mr. Bob with Gil Hodges’ daughter Irene. The two had not talked in decades and both shared with me that they enjoyed their conversation.

His Hall of Fame Teammates
Throughout his 13 year career in the big leagues, Bob Aspromonte was a teammate with an impressive 18 future Hall of Famers – Hank Aaron, Walter Alston (Manager), Roy Campanella, Orlando Cepeda, Don Drysdale, Nellie Fox, Gil Hodges, Sandy Koufax, Eddie Matthews, Joe Morgan, Phil Niekro, PeeWee Reese, Robin Roberts, Jackie Robinson, Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Duke Snider and Hoyt Wilhem. 

He is the only former major league player still with us who played with both Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron.

The Bush Family
Being a prominent sports figure in the city of Houston brought Aspromonte opportunities off the field that he never would have imagined. In 1964 when he was invited to campaign for a promising politician, George H.W. Bush, who was running for US Senate for the state of Texas. Bush would lose the race, but a friendship was born. Whether it was on the campaign trail, attending ball games together, playing a round of golf or just visits between two friends, Aspromonte and Bush would remain close. 

This boy from Brooklyn, who remains humble to this day, still finds it hard to believe that he was invited by the Bush family to attend all five Presidential Inaugurations they were part of – 1980, 1984, 1988, 2000, 2004.

Life Following Baseball
After retiring from baseball, Bob Aspromonte returned to Houston where he became a successful businessman and entrepreneur. His many contributions to the local community and throughout the state of Texas has led to him being revered not only as an Astros legend, but as a citizen and philanthropist.

In 1995 Aspromonte was recognized with the prestigious Ellis Island Medal of Honor, an award presented annually to an individual who has shown outstanding commitment to serving our nation professionally, culturally or civically. 

In 2005 he was inducted into the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame. In 2011 Aspromonte and his brother Ken were both elected to the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame. In April 2012 on the 50th anniversary of the franchise’s first game, Aspromonte threw out the ceremonial first pitch wearing a Colt 45’s jersey. Also in 2012 outside of Minute Maid Park the Astros made Bob Aspromonte the first recipient of the team’s new Walk of Fame. 

In 2019 Bob Aspromonte received an orange jacket as a member of the inaugural class of the Astros’ Hall of Fame alongside other Houston legends including Nolan Ryan, Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Phil Nierkro and more. You can watch the full ceremony here: 2019 Astros Hall of Fame. (*he’s the first inductee recognized at the 3:30 mark)

New York State Baseball Hall of Fame: Class of 2023
In 2021 I was invited by my friend Jim Denny to attend the New York State Baseball Hall of Fame (NYSB HOF) Ceremony in Troy, New York as two Brooklyn Dodgers were being inducted – Gil Hodges and Carl Erskine. Jim had nominated Erskine and this planted a seed with me that finding ways to honor our Brooklyn Dodger friends was possible. I came home and let the idea simmer of nominating Bob Aspromonte. Although his career itself is worthy of induction, it was his growing up in Brooklyn that qualified him as a candidate.

In early 2022 I contacted the NYSB HOF President Rene LeRoux to ask about the process. He told me to compile his case for induction and send it to him for the board to consider.  Later that year I received an unexpected call from Rene telling me that he had just gotten off the phone with Mr. Bob and delivered the news that he would be inducted with the Class of 2023!

When Rene called to tell him about his nomination and induction into the New York State Baseball Hall of Fame, it literally moved him to tears. Mr. Bob called me the next day to let me know how much it meant to him. If I’ve heard him say it once this past year, I’ve heard him say it a hundred times “Mark, I’m just a boy from Brooklyn and I can’t believe everything this game has given me. It is an incredible feeling for an 18 year old kid from Brooklyn to be recognized for my baseball career by the New York State Baseball Hall of Fame,” said Aspromonte. “I’m proud to have grown up in New York and played for two New York franchises in the Dodgers and Mets. This is a really special honor and I am very grateful.”

Regarding Bob Aspromonte’s selection, LeRoux said, “He was selected based on two major factors. First, he qualifies by being a New York state native during his formative childhood years. Second, he had a distinguished 13 year major league career. Bob Aspromonnte is greatly loved and respected as a quality gentleman by everyone in the game.”

On November 11th Bob Aspromonte was inducted into the NYSB HOF along with the likes of Darryl Strawberry, Chris Chambliss, Todd Zeile, Curtis Granderson and more.

Mr. Bob is 85 now and still lives in Houston with his lovely wife Karen. It has been decades since he played 3B for those Colt 45s & Astros, but he is still revered for what he accomplished on the field and in the community. He continues to answer fan mail, stays active in his neighborhood, often travels with his family, and enjoys faithfully watching his Astros from home and occasionally visiting Minute Maid Park. More than anything he enjoys hanging out with his brother Kenny, 92, who played seven seasons in the big leagues and managed the Cleveland Indians in the 70s. 

Through all of his accomplishments, Mr. Bob continues to repeat that he cannot believe how a boy from Brooklyn could be afforded so many opportunities through the sport he loves.

I am grateful for the relationship that I’ve formed with him and always look forward to what the conversation holds when I look down at my phone and see a picture of us as he’s calling me to chat. 

Below you will find an outstanding 5 part series called “What About Bob” that was produced in 2013 by Comcast Sports Houston. It is a great 32 minute highlight reel of his entire career with amazing footage and pictures from throughout his entire career.

When I started the quest there was a roster full of 25 men who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers. As of this writing, there are now six still with us – Bob Aspromonte, Tommy Brown, Carl Erskine, Jim Gentile, Fred Kipp and Sandy Koufax. Here are the 11 gentlemen I’ve met during my Chasing Brooklyn journey.

Don Newcombe (met June 2009), Meeting Don Newcombe
Tommy Lasorda (met July 2013)Lunch with Tommy Lasorda
Carl Erskine (met Feb 2017)Breakfast with Carl Erskine
Chris Haughey (met Sept 2017)
Joe Landrum (met Oct 2017)
Tim Thompson (met Sept 2019), Finding Tim Thompson
Don Demeter (met Nov 2020)Don Demeter: One Swing
Bob Aspromonte (met May 2021), Bob Aspromonte: A Boy From Brooklyn
Jim Gentile (met July 2021)
Bobby Morgan (met July 2021)
Fred Kipp (met July 2021) 

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