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Sunday, December 4, 2016

Ernie Fazio's Meteoric Rise to a Major League Baseball Career

In baseball, young players are rushed to the majors all the time for a variety of reasons. This can be especially true for expansion teams, who are attempting to stock their rosters with any semblance of big league talent. Sometimes it ends up working out for the player and other times, like in the case of infielder Ernie Fazio, things just don’t up clicking and leading to a lengthy career.

Fazio was a slight (5’7” and 165 pounds) second baseman who starred for Santa Clara University. He was signed by the fledgling Houston Colt .45s in 1962 as a 20-year-old and made his big league debut by the end of the year, collecting a long single in 12 at-bats.

In 1963, Houston lost 96 games but gave Fazio extended playing time. Unfortunately, he was just not ready for primetime. Appearing in 102 games (228 at-bats), he hit just .184 with two home runs and five RBIs. However, a significant highlight was hitting a home run on August 18th against future Hall-of-Fame Warren Spahn.

Fazio spent the next two years in the minors, hitting a combined .263 with 35 home runs. Although that production put him back on track for a promotion, it would not come with Houston, as following the 1965 season he was the player to be named to complete a trade that had occurred earlier that brought slugger Jim Gentile over from the Kansas City Athletics.

Appearing in 27 games, primarily off the bench, for Kansas City in 1966, Fazio managed just seven hits in 34 at-bats and drove in two runs. He continued playing in the minors through 1969 for several organizations but never realized the potential that had brought him to the majors at such an early age. He wound up appearing in 141 big league games, hitting .182 with two home runs and eight RBIs.

A number of years ago, Fazio answered some questions about his career. Keep reading for more.

Ernie Fazio Interview:

How did you first become interested in baseball?: I started when I was really young. I kept playing, and my dad helped me along the way. Before you knew it, I played for a real good American Legion team in Oakland, California. A coach there; he coached guys like Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, and Curt Flood; and so I stayed. I worked out every day, and so that’s how I got started.

Did you have a favorite team or player while you were growing up?: Not really. I just loved baseball and followed everyone.

What was your signing experience like with Houston?: I was playing very good baseball, and played against all the top teams. Then I went to Santa Clara University, and we had a great team; I mean the best they ever had at the university. We went to the College World Series and we lost the championship game in 15 innings, which is a world record.

Right after the game, I came home, and Houston was there, and I signed with them. That was it. They had a bunch of other ball players that signed at the same time.

What was it like being part of the inaugural Houston team (1962)?: I met a lot of good guys, but overall they were jealous. I was making big money at the time, and they weren’t making that much money, so they kind of took a little back seat to me.

What is your favorite moment from your baseball career?: It was hitting my first major league home run, off Warren Spahn. Willie Mays hit his first home run off Warren Spahn too. I really respected Willie Mays, so that felt kind of great.

If you could do anything differently about your career, what would you do?: Not really. If I had to do it again, I would probably sign with the San Francisco Giants, because Houston, they had their pick of three ball players from every major league team. When I signed, I was the first rookie, and being a small guy, they said, ‘How did you ever sign with someone?’ So, I think I would have probably signed with the San Francisco Giants, or one of those teams from around here.

I would probably work just as hard as I did to get there. Once I got there, I got swamped by everything else. I would have worked twice as hard, looking back, because I wish I was still in baseball in some capacity. 

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