This article was written by John Cizik.
Ronald Michael Diorio was born in St. Mary’s hospital in Waterbury, Connecticut, on July 15, 1946. His parents, Charles and Gilda (Follachio) Diorio, were first generation Americans, with roots in the Calabria and Abruzzi regions of Italy. Charles, a Waterbury native born in 1906, worked as a plumber. Gilda worked in the shop as well. There were four other children in the Diorio family: Charlie, Geno, Evelyn, and Madeline.
Ron began to display his baseball skills in the Waterbury Little League and in the Parks and Recreation Department’s Father Shea League. Those skills didn’t blossom early. “I was cut from Little League at age nine and ten,” Diorio recalls. “I made the team at eleven, and platooned at age twelve.” At that point, the future major league pitcher was seeing things from the other side of the battery. “I was a catcher, right through high school.” By age fourteen, others were seeing the potential in the rangy Diorio. He was given the Martin Ippolito Award as the outstanding athlete attending Sacred Heart Parochial (Elementary) School. He didn’t take the mound until he was fifteen years old, in the Father Shea League.
Waterbury lies at the geographic midpoint between Boston and New York City. A survey of its residents would likely show a split between denizens of the Bronx Bombers and Red Sox Nation, with a smattering of Mets fans thrown in. So how did Ron become a Pittsburgh Pirates fan?
“My parents used to listen to 1010 WINS out of New York City,” said Diorio “This was before they were an all news station.” WINS was the home of New York Yankee baseball, the “Milkman’s Matinee,” and rock & roll DJ Alan Freed. “But at night, you could get KDKA at 1020 loud and clear. My friend and I got one taste of [Pirates broadcaster] Bob Prince and that was it.” Roberto Clemente joined the Pirates in 1955, became Diorio’s favorite player, and cemented his love of the Bucs. His first favorite pitcher was Pittsburgh’s Vern “Deacon” Law, an admiration which led to Diorio sharing his nickname through high school and college. The nickname didn’t stick in the minors. “How can you go up to a guy and say ‘Hi, my name is Ron Diorio, but please call me Deacon?'” “I was a Yankee fan too,” says Diorio. “My brother and my father rooted for the Yankees, so it was kind of inherited.” His favorite Yankee was Mickey Mantle, but he had a special admiration for Andy Carey. “For some strange reason, you emulate certain people, and I just used to love the way he played third base.”
By the time he entered Sacred Heart High School, a private parochial school in Waterbury, Ron had grown to over six feet tall. He didn’t play baseball his freshman year, choosing to play football and basketball instead. As a sophomore he was joined by freshman Dave Wallace, another future major league pitcher. They first played together on the football field.
At Sacred Heart, football was Diorio’s best sport. “My highest recognition in high school was in football.” Diorio says. A newspaper reporter described him as “Big and rangy — deceptively fast. Especially effective on long down-and-out patterns.” Another called him “One of the finest pass receivers in the [l]eague.” As a senior, with five-foot nine, 165 pound junior Wallace as his quarterback, the six-foot three, 175 pound tight end scored forty-four points on seven touchdown catches and one two-point conversion. Diorio was named All-City and All-Naugatuck Valley for his grid exploits. He lettered twice in football. He was a center on the Sacred Heart basketball team, and lettered there as well.
Though he didn’t play high school baseball as a freshman or sophomore, Ron continued to play baseball for Jim “Big Daddy” Spann in Waterbury’s Twi-Met (now Dave Wallace) League. It was Spann who gave Diorio his first real chance to pitch. “He’s got a great arm and a natural delivery,” said Spann at the time. “Ron just needs a little more confidence.” Diorio gives Spann a lot of credit for his development as a baseball player: “He gave me my first chance. He’s a very special person to me. He’s the man who called me when I was fifteen and gave me the ball. He believed in me before I believed in myself.” It was a relationship that continued until Spann’s death in 1985. “I pitched with Jim until I turned pro, and he taught me a lot more things than baseball, like fair play and work ethic.” Diorio said in an interview after Spann’s death. “He came along at a good time in my life. I was proud to play for him.” Spann’s influence was cultural as well. “Here it was, the sixties, and I was one of the only white guys on the team. This was real life.” says Diorio.
Back at Sacred Heart, Coach Pete Morcey convinced Ron to join his buddy Wallace on the baseball team for Diorio’s junior year. He lettered that year, spending his time behind the plate and at first base. He finally pitched as a senior, taking the mound for three starts during another season as a letterman.
Although a fine athlete and described in a local paper as “a fine scholastic student,” no colleges came calling upon his graduation from high school. He applied at Central Connecticut State University, and was accepted as a probationary student. If he maintained a certain grade point average, he would be admitted as a full-time student the following year. As an unfortunate side effect of his probationary status, Diorio was prohibited from playing college sports. “I majored in pool,” he says. Ron kept in shape playing in various Waterbury city leagues, and pitching for Spann in the Twi-Met League.
As the 1965 academic year approached, he applied and was accepted into New Haven College, now known as the University of New Haven. He was a walk-on center on the basketball team, beginning a relationship with another man who would become an important part of his life. Frank “Porky” Vieira was the assistant basketball coach and head baseball coach at the college. Diorio told the New HavenRegister in 1984: “I remember when our basketball season was over in my freshman year, I went to Vieira and said I’d like to join the baseball team. Vieira told me he had no interest. After three more attempts, he finally said, ‘Okay, but the first time you get in my way, you’re gone.'” Coach Vieira is a very unique person,” says Diorio. “Not everyone is meant to play for him. I don’t know how I survived his program.” Some players didn’t. Future major leaguer Joe Lahoud didn’t last a year on Vieira’s team. “He gave me some lip after I had benched him, and I said to him ‘You’re cut.'” Vieira told a reporter on the occasion of his 600th victory in 1986. At the time, Lahoud was batting .180, and had struck out 16 times in 14 games. He left the field and got into his father’s car, never to return.
Diorio excelled on the New Haven basketball team, scoring 507 points in a career that spanned 57 games over four seasons, an 8.9 points-per-game average. He had 420 rebounds (7.4 per game) and shot 51% from the floor, 73% from the line. In his senior year, the Charger cagers went 22-3 and advanced to the NAIA nationals in Kansas City (The Chargers third appearance in the NAIA finals in Diorio’s hoop career.) The six-foot-five-inch center was described as having “a nice touch for a big man” in the 1968-69 New Haven College basketball program.
Ron’s collegiate baseball career began in an intrasquad game on a dank, rainy afternoon in May 1966. “[Coach] didn’t want any of his regular pitchers out there in that junk,” Diorio remembers. “So he had me pitch.” Vieira asked his regulars what they thought of the right-hander. “He gets the ball over the plate,” said one. “Fine. He gets a uniform,” Vieira decreed. It was an adversarial relationship, but “He got the best out of me,” Diorio admits. “No other person would have had that effect. You spent four years saying ‘I’ll show you!'” Sharing the experience with Ron was high school teammate Dave Wallace, who had been offered a full baseball scholarship at NHC.
Pitching mostly in relief, and usually in the 8th and 9th innings, Diorio pitched 21 innings in his freshman year, giving up 17 hits, and striking out 16 while walking only 7. He gave up 11 runs, 5 earned, for an ERA of 2.14. He won one game, and lost none. Wallace went 8-2, throwing 88 2/3 innings, striking out 96 while walking 51, with a 2.24 ERA. The 1966 baseball team made it to the NAIA Nationals, held in St. Joseph’s, MO.
As a sophomore in 1967, Diorio was given a partial scholarship to play basketball and baseball. It was this baseball season that turned him around. “I began to throw sidearm about 25% of the time, and that’s probably the main reason for my improvement.” Diorio said at the time. One of the starters from his freshman year went down with an injury, and Ron was added to the three-man rotation with his buddy Wallace and freshman John Krawiecki. It was the beginning of his transition from “suspect to prospect.” He went 7-1 that season, going 72 innings, giving up 45 hits, whiffing 72, walking 28, and posting a sparkling 1.50 ERA. Wallace kept pace with a 5-3 record, 65 2/3 innings, 41 hits, 92 K’s, 45 walks, and a 2.21 ERA. In a letter to the “Deacon” after the season, Vieira praised his development, seeing a “100% improvement over freshman year. I will also be expecting more improvement in the coming two years.” He would get what he expected.
Meanwhile, Diorio continued to pitch in Waterbury in the off-season, guiding Gleem Painters to their fifth consecutive North Atlantic Regional Stan Musial title, and a berth in the amateur AABC World Series in Battle Creek, Michigan.
For the 1968 Charger baseball season, Dave Wallace was the number one, and Ron Diorio the number two starter. It stayed that way until Wallace found himself a home in Vieira’s doghouse after a game against the coach’s alma mater, Quinnipiac College. New Haven led the game 3-0, and Wallace needed just one out to seal the victory. He never got it. He walked six batters, threw two wild pitches (each of which scored a run) and was victimized by two passed balls. He lost the game. Diorio, the two-sport athlete now on full scholarship, became the ace of the staff. In eleven games, he went 7-1, pitching 64 2/3 innings, giving up only 42 hits, striking out 87, and walking 37. He allowed only 11 earned runs, for an ERA of 1.53. Wallace wasn’t too shabby himself, going 6-1 with 74 strikeouts in 47 2/3 innings, and a 1.69 ERA.
Diorio’s 1968 performance earned him the team’s Most Valuable Player award. Vieira was impressed with his ability to get the ball over the plate in “crucial spots.” The coach told a local reporter that Ron was a “money pitcher for us” adding that “An interesting note about Ron is that he came into the school mainly as a basketball player and just tried baseball for the fun of it, and now has become our No. 1 pitcher.” The transition from walk-on to All-American was almost complete.
In the 1968 off-season, Diorio pitched yet another Twi-Met team to the Stan Musial Amateur World Series in Michigan. His NHC basketball team rolled to wins in the Bluenose Classic Basketball Tournament in Nova Scotia, and the Hampden-Sydney Tournament in Virginia. The season ended with his third trip to the NAIA Tournament in Kansas City. With his body still aching from the hoop season, he reported a few weeks later to Coach Vieira for his senior baseball season. The Chargers, as usual, opened the year with a spring training trip to Florida for three games against Miami Dade North, and three against Miami Dade South. They would also scrimmage with Colby College of Waterville, Maine, also on a spring training trip. The regular season would open in New York City on April 8, 1969, against St. John’s.
In his senior year, Ron became more aware of the major league scouts following the New Haven team. “Dave [Wallace] attracted a lot of them,” he recalls. “He was well-known, and the team was good. They ended up seeing me because of the program, and because of Dave. By senior year, they were trying to gauge whether you had an interest in playing pro ball, and what kind of head you had on your shoulders. I kind of felt like I might have been being looked at.” Indeed he was, as Indians scout Jim Broderick, who lived in Milford, Connecticut, Bots Nekola, a Red Sox scout from Hyde Park, New York, and Dick Teed, another Connecticut resident who scouted for the Phillies all took a look at the Chargers that year.
“There were two or three scouts who would say hello to me.” Says Diorio. “Playing in the Northeast, you don’t have as much exposure. The scouts don’t concentrate on you as much because you’re only playing 12 times a spring. It’s raining or snowing the rest of the time.” This could work as an advantage for Northeast players, Diorio says. “An 18-year-old from the South or West, sometimes what the scout sees is all there is, because he’s played a thousand games. But a 20 or 21-year-old in New England isn’t used up — he still has a lot of baseball in front of him.”
At the end of New Haven’s 23-game regular season, Ron had lived up to expectations. His eleven games included nine starts, six complete games, and two shutouts. He threw 77 1/3 innings, gave up 43 hits, 19 runs, 13 earned runs, walked 37 and struck out 87. He was 9-1, with a miniscule 1.51 ERA. Dave Wallace dropped to third-starter status, going 5-1 over seven games with a 2.85 ERA. For the third time in four years, New Haven won the NAIA District 32 championship. Ron was named an All-American following his senior season.
His four-year college stats read like a great major-league starter’s season: 24-3, 235 innings pitched, 148 hits allowed, 65 runs allowed, 41 earned runs allowed, 109 walks and 262 strikeouts. His college career earned run average was 1.57. Diorio graduated from New Haven College in the spring of 1969 with a degree in marketing. Based on his performance and his contact with the scouts, he thought he might have a chance in professional baseball. “It would not even matter what degree of professional ball I play as long as I have the opportunity.” He said back in 1969. “I would do the best I could.” Coach Vieira also thought he had a chance. “He came in nothing, and developed up to this point. If he gets a little more speed, he could be another [Don] Drysdale. He’s that kind of pitcher.” The coach told a reporter.
The major league draft had started in 1965, and in 1969 it fell on June 6th. “Even after the year I’d had, I went out in New Haven that night,” Ron remembers. “It’s not like I sat around to see if somebody would call me.” He was with friends at a New Haven watering hole when he saw the news on television — he had been drafted in the 16th round, the 364th overall selection, by the Philadelphia Phillies. “I didn’t really expect it to happen — it wasn’t like it was a slam-dunk — it was more of a pleasant surprise.” he says. He was picked just after future major-leaguers Buddy Bell and Jim York and four rounds ahead of his future battery mate, Bob Boone. Friend and teammate Wallace went undrafted, but soon signed as a free agent with those same Philadelphia Phillies.
After the draft, scout Dick Teed came to the Diorio home to negotiate his signing. Coach Vieira was there as well. The Phillies offered $5,000, and Diorio was ecstatic. “Are you kidding? Come to my house, tell me I can play pro ball? They could keep the money, that’s how I felt.” Diorio recalls. Vieira added his opinion to the discussions. “He said, ‘you know, that’s not enough money. This guy’s a college graduate, and if he doesn’t make it, he’s gotta go to grad school.'” Ron was horrified. “I wanted to say ‘Shut Up! He’s going to walk out of the room! How do you say no to a scout?'” Diorio’s fears were unfounded. Within a couple of days, Teed added $2,000 to the Phils offer, (the $7,000 was called a “substantial bonus” in a newspaper of the day) and Ron signed his first professional contract. It was expected that he would start his career in Pulaski, Virginia, pitching for the Phillies’ Appalachian Rookie League team.
Diorio wrote a letter to the local newspaper sports department, thanking them for “all the fine words and consideration you have shown for me.” Sportswriter Don Harrison, who would continue to cover Diorio throughout his career responded in print, saying, “It is a gesture like this, and a person like Ron, which help make this job rewarding.”
A few days after signing, the Phillies called and told Ron he was going to the Phillies Northwest League affiliate in Walla Walla, Washington, instead of Pulaski. His first thought was “Washington! My God, nobody’s going to see me out there.” The young man from a close-knit family was going to be about as far from Waterbury as he could get. At least if he got homesick, he could compare notes with fellow New Haven star Eddie Goldstone, a first baseman who had been sent to Walla Walla after a fine career at Yale University. “He was just a terrific guy,” Diorio remembers.
He flew out of Kennedy airport on a Friday morning. After landing in Seattle, he took a “puddle-jumper” to Walla Walla. “It was a beautiful little town,” Says Diorio. “Where I stayed, you could walk to the ballpark three blocks away. I can remember people baking apple pies and putting them on their windowsills to cool — it was just like being home.”
Howie Bedell, whose baseball claim to fame was breaking up Don Drysdale’s consecutive scoreless innings streak with a sacrifice fly in June 1968, was Ron’s first pro manager. “A majority of my teammates were younger,” Diorio says. “Because I was older, maybe a little more mature, I think Howie was kind of in my corner a little bit. He used me a lot.” The former college starter was being groomed as a reliever by the Phillies. “Everybody relieved, unless you were making a lot of money.” Ron explains. “I was a natural reliever, because I threw sidearm.” Exclusively sidearm, after the organization saw the sink his motion put on his pitches. In his first three appearances for the Bears, he went 1-1, walking only one and striking out five. His first professional win came against Tri-Cities, an Oakland A’s affiliate. “By the end of the [season,] I was close to leading the league in appearances.”
The hazards of the “bus leagues” became apparent later in his first season as the Bears narrowly escaped disaster on the way to play the Tri-Cities club at Kennewick. Bus driver/trainer/coach Palmer Muench came around a curve and saw a car ahead of them, stopped to make a left-hand turn. To avoid hitting the car, he veered into a ditch at 45-50 MPH. None of the players were hurt, but Muench had cuts and bruises, the bus suffered $250 in damages, and the game started an hour and fourteen minutes late.
Toward the end of the season, Diorio was given the opportunity to start. His first professional start was against eventual league champion Rogue Valley, a Dodgers farm club playing its home games in Medford, Oregon. Diorio gave up five runs over eight innings, walked four and struck out nine. The Bears finished third in the four-team league, with a 37-42 record, 13 games behind the Dodgers. Diorio was 6-8 over 23 appearances, striking out 62 in 66 innings, with a 2.59 ERA, third best in the league.
On August 27, 1969, he was called up to the AA Eastern League Reading (Pennsylvania) Phillies, a second-place ball club, for a road start against the league-leading York (Pennsylvania) Pirates. “Go get ’em, Deacon!” encouraged Dave Wallace in a telegram. “Big Daddy” Jim Spann in another telegram told Ron to, “Do your thing, burn ’em down. Congratulations and good Luck!” Throwing against the likes of future major-leaguers Richie Zisk and Gene Clines, Ron went three innings, gave up six hits, two walks, and three earned runs. He did not pick up a decision in the game.
Diorio’s original plan for the 1969 off-season included teaching at a small parochial school in Ansonia, Connecticut. The Phillies had other ideas. While in Walla Walla, they told him they liked what they saw, and asked if he’d consider going to the Florida Instructional League after the season. This was the Vietnam era, and the draft was in full force. In mid-August, the parent club flew Ron to Philadelphia to join the Army reserves.
They told him to get signed up during the day, then come out to Connie Mack Stadium that night. They had him put on a uniform and throw some batting practice. “I remember I faced Johnny Briggs, a lefty-swinging outfielder who hit .238 that season.He just hit rope after rope. I was just trying not to kill anybody — just trying to throw strikes. I wasn’t out there trying to be impressive. I was just awed by how many ropes he hit!”
Another experience from that trip to Philly stands out in Ron’s mind: The chance to get an up-close look at baseball bad-boy Richie Allen. “I really looked forward to seeing him,” Ron remembers.
“I had finished with BP, they told me to go shower, get cleaned up, and come sit behind the dugout to watch the game. Well, it’s like ten minutes before game time, and no Richie Allen. I’m showered, dressed, walking out the runway, and here he comes. I knew it was him, so I went back down into the clubhouse. It’s like nine minutes before the game now. He walks into the boiler room, because that’s where he dressed, starts taking off his stuff — a beautiful pearl three-piece suit — and he’s hanging it on a rope near the boiler. Then the phone rings, and the clubhouse guys says ‘Richie, it’s for you, it’s long distance.’ So now it’s seven minutes before game time and he’s talking on the phone! I can’t believe this! He comes into the dugout as the game is starting — not so much as a warm-up swing — and [Jim] Bunning is pitching for the Dodgers. He comes up in the bottom of the first, takes a few pitches, and whack! He hit a rope into [left] field and Cadillac’ed into second for a double.”
Quite an introduction to Phillies baseball.
It was off to Clearwater, Florida, for Instructional League baseball after the 1969 season. According to Don Harrison in the Waterbury Republican, the Phils were grooming him as a relief pitcher, and his statistics were impressive: a 2-2 record, 4 saves, 25 innings, 19 hits, 7 runs, 5 earned, 10 walks (2 intentional) and 18 strikeouts. His 1.81 ERA was good for fourth in the league. “The last two times out I did the best off all,” Diorio told the paper, “I was throwing so well then, I wished they had sent me to Puerto Rico (for the winter season.)” He told the New HavenRegister that fellow Phillie Chris Short helped him turn the corner.
“He saw me pitching one day, and noticed I was using a different delivery for my fast ball and curve. The good hitters would pick that up immediately. Now, I’m throwing [both] the same way — basically an underhand motion. Now, I’m also able to throw a sinker, which comes [naturally] off the fastball.”
From Clearwater, it was home to a substitute teaching job in Waterbury, and preparation for his first spring training in 1970. Uncle Sam had another idea that February, however, sending Ron to Fort Ord in California for a different kind of training basic training.
The Peninsula Phillies under Nolan Campbell were not a very good team — finishing the 1970 Carolina League season with a 67-72 record, 13 games behind league-leading Winston-Salem. “A great league, and a great park.” Remembers Diorio. “I had active duty that year, and didn’t get out until July. I was in terrific shape, though. Got out of training one day, and was pitching in a game the next.” That game was on July 2, and physical fitness obviously paid off for Ron. He finished the season with a sparkling 1.84 earned run average, giving up only 29 hits in 49 innings in 21 relief appearances while posting a 1-3 record. His performance impressed the Phillies enough that he was once again sent to the Instructional League after the 1970 season.
Clearwater was home to quite a few future major leaguers that off-season. Joining Diorio on the roster were Oscar Gamble, Greg Luzinski, Bob Boone, Mike Anderson, Mike Rogodzinski, Larry Hisle, and a catcher from Detroit who would become Ron’s “closest baseball friend” and roommate, Jim Essian. Diorio’s 23 appearances led the league, he went 3-1 with 5 saves, gave up 28 hits in 30 innings, walking 6 and striking out 17. He was a little disappointed by his 2.79 earned run average. “It’s the highest I’ve had.” He told a local paper.
His off-season “training regimen,” as usual, consisted of basketball, a lot of basketball, two leagues in Bristol, one in Southington, and a regular spot on the semi-pro New Britain franchise in the New England Basketball Association. Teammate Howie Dickenman went on to make a name for himself as an assistant to Jim Calhoun at the University of Connecticut, and as head coach at Central Connecticut State University.
Substitute teaching at a couple of local high schools was also on the menu for the off-season. “Some of the kids recognize[d] me, but I try to put off their questions until the end of the period. Otherwise, we’d never get any work done.” Says Diorio. In spring training, Ron and Dave Wallace got to see each other pitch for the first time since their senior year in college.
The Deacon expected to start 1971 at AA Eastern League Reading, playing some road games at home in Waterbury’s Municipal Stadium against the Pirates farm club. “I haven’t heard anything officially but it looks like here (the EL) for me.” Diorio told the Republican‘s Harrison. It was not to be, as the Phils sent Ron back to Peninsula and manager Howie Bedell to start the season. It was a good club, winning the Carolina League with help from short reliever Diorio’s 4-2 record, 6 saves, and 2.93 ERA. He was joined on the Pilots roster by Wallace, and the two often appeared in the same game.
Ron wasn’t around to feel the champagne spray in Peninsula. With his brother Charlie and his parents visiting from Connecticut for his 24th birthday, the Phillies gave him a call-up to AA Reading. He caught a ride north with his family. “I hope this is a step in the right direction,” he told the New Haven Register. “They need some pitching help and I think they’re going to use me a lot. That’s all that counts.” He joined Reading on the road in Waterbury. “It’ll be nice to play in my hometown.” Manager Nolan Campbell did use Ron often, he threw 25 innings in 16 games allowing only four runs, pitching to a 1.44 ERA. His teammates included Mike Schmidt, Bob Boone and Andy Thornton.
Ah, to be a baseball player in the 1970’s the Phillies issued a “Public Relations Primer” to players in their system. This guide included advice on dealing with fans, the press (“Walk the middle of the road” was the Phils’ mantra here) and personal appearance:
“In this era of mod clothes, mod haircuts, long sideburns, beards, etc., this becomes a much more controversial area than it formerly was. Simply said, the Phillies issue no direct edict about the length of sideburns, length of hair, the wearing of Nehru jackets and beads, etc., other than to insist that all players stay within the bounds of neatness.”
They point out, however, that no Phillie has worn a beard since the 1900s and, in fact that “no one in baseball wears a beard. Enough said.” It is also made clear that what is acceptable for a player having a good season may not be acceptable for one hitting .150 “or a pitcher having trouble getting the ball over the plate.”
The winter of 1971 included more hoops for Diorio, including a win and MVP trophy in the inaugural YMCA Young Men’s Holiday Tournament at Torrington, Connecticut. Ron scored 13 points in the title game. In January, he told the WaterburyRepublican that he expected to be pitching for the Phillies Triple A affiliate in Eugene, Oregon in 1972. On paper, the Phils gave him the promotion, and he had a AAA contract. “I know in my mind I have the ability,” Ron told Don Harrison of theRepublican. “Having been around the other guys, I know they’re not out of my class. But at the same time, I’ve got to be realistic. There’s guys in front of me with a lot more experience.” Waterburians Wallace and Diorio went to spring training in Clearwater, and one of them did go to AAA. It wasn’t Diorio. After allowing only one run in thirteen innings of spring work, the Phillies decided to make Mac Scarce the short man at Eugene, and keep Ron in the closer’s role at Reading. “I feel good about going to [Reading,]” Diorio told Harrison on April 13. “I hope [new manager] Jim Bunning can teach me a few things.” Reportedly earning $20,000 a year to manage in Class AA, Bunning was called a “player’s manager” by Diorio. He pulled his team out of bad hotels on the road, and even treated them to an occasional dinner. It had to be good for a young pitcher to play for a man with 224 major-league wins, a no-hitter, and a perfect game. “He was a no-nonsense guy. He didn’t get along with a lot of people, and he didn’t care.” Diorio says. “He’d say, ‘If anyone wants to know what I feel about you, you come in and I’ll tell you.’ A lot of people didn’t want to go in there, because they only expected to hear the worst.”
Acting as Reading’s closer, again, Ron had a decent year in 1972. He appeared in 52 games, won 8, lost 4, and saved 8, with a 3.03 ERA. On July 25, he had the longest outing of his young career, going five innings in a thirteen-inning game against Quebec City. He also scored a run in that contest, another first. On a trip to West Haven to play the Yankees EL team, New Haven Register sportswriter Paul Marslano (who compared Diorio’s sidearm delivery to that of former major-leaguer Ewell “The Whip” Blackwell) spoke to Ron about his season at Reading. “I hung [my curveball] a couple of times, and gave up the long ball.” Diorio said, “Bunning told me to junk it.” He planned on going to winter ball in Puerto Rico in the off season to work on his pitches. “I’m 25 years old, so I must make my move soon or it’s all over. I’d shoot myself before I’d play Class AA another year.” Ron said that although he hadn’t had any problems with Bunning, “I haven’t learned anything from him, either.”
Near the end of the 1972 season, one in which Reading finished over .500, but out of the playoffs, Diorio made that trip to Bunning’s office to find out what he thought of him. “He said, ‘you’re a good AA pitcher, maybe you could pitch a little in AAA, but I don’t think you can pitch in the big leagues.'” That did not bode well for Ron when Bunning was made manager of AAA Eugene in the off-season.
In the off-season, Ron attended a sportswriter’s dinner in New York. One of the honorees was a favorite player from his childhood — Roberto Clemente. “I walked into the ballroom, and he was speaking with some other people,” Diorio remembers. “I walked over as the conversations were ending. He couldn’t have been more hospitable.” He met another Pirate hero during spring training. “I was doing my running in center field, and there was Willie Stargell. I said hello, and we ended up talking for twenty minutes. He never made a move to leave — it was like he knew me my whole life.”
Near the end of spring training in 1973, the Phillies considered sending Diorio south. “Yes, we thought about sending Ron and Bob Terlecki to the Mexican League,” said farm director Dallas Green to the Reading Eagle newspaper. Cal Emery recalled that it was only by a narrow margin that Ron survived the cut at the end of the spring. To add insult to insult, his luggage was lost on the trip north. It wasn’t there when the Reading team landed in Philadelphia, and some of it never arrived. “I left spring training disenchanted,” Ron said at the time. “They weren’t counting on me.
“I wasn’t totally surprised when [Bunning] didn’t take me to AAA with him.” Says Diorio, “So I had to go back to Reading, and I said to myself how many times do I have to do it [there?]’ So I went back, and I don’t know if it was an incentive, but there were some pretty good streaks that year.” In the spring, he returned to his pre-Phillies overhand style, and gained a little velocity on his fastball. He and battery mate Jim Essian were named to the EL All-Star Team at midseason. Diorio pitched the eighth inning, giving up a hit and no runs. Kent Tekulve relieved him to pick up the save in an 11-0 National League victory.
On July 9, Phillies minor league and scouting director Dallas Green wrote a letter of appreciation to the Reading reliever. “Because of the strides you have made this year and for the way you have performed so far this season, I am changing your contract to read $1200 per month effective July 15th.” Green wrote, “Keep pushing and improving and winning. Good luck the rest of the year!”
On July 15, Cal Emery got creative after bringing Ron in with two outs in the eighth inning of a 4-4 game against West Haven. Diorio got the third out. “I wanted to keep him in the game, but I didn’t want him to pitch to the lefthander in the ninth.” Said Emery. After getting the first two outs in the ninth, Al Crawford singled off Ron. Emery brought in a lefty to face a lefty Yankee batter, shifting Diorio to third base. West Haven pinch-hit for the lefty with a righty, and Emery moved Ron to first base. “I didn’t want Ron hurt by a smash to third if the right-hander pulled the ball,” explained the Reading skipper. The maneuvering proved unnecessary, as the Phils got the third out, and won the game in the bottom of the ninth.
On August 7, Diorio led the Reading team with 11 saves, and boasted a 5-1 record in relief. His ERA was 1.71. “I never went to the park one day [in the minors] thinking that I’d get called up.” Diorio says. “That day, Cal Emery called me in, and I thought, ‘What does he want?’ I got along well with him — he liked me. He said, ‘You know how happy I am to tell you this? I just got a call, you’re going to the big leagues’ and I said, ‘No!'”
“He told me that the Phillies had called [Jim] Bunning in AAA and said ‘we want a guy who can throw a strike — we don’t care about bonus babies, we don’t care about prima donnas, we don’t care about who got money. We want a guy who can throw strikes.’
Bunning told them, ‘I don’t have any of those guys here.'” The Emeralds’ record in 1973 reflected this — they finished 64-79, in the Pacific Coast League Western Division basement, 16.5 games behind division winner Spokane. “So they called Emery and said the same thing,” Diorio recalls. “Cal told them, ‘I’ve got just the guy for you. I’ll [give] you a guy who can throw a strike.’ That’s all I ever did, really. [Coach] Vieira always emphasized — ‘throw the ball over the plate! Who do you think is hitting, Babe Ruth?'”
Interviewed back in New Haven, Coach Vieira was thrilled for his prodigy. “I was really happy to see Diorio called up,” said Vieira. “But of the three guys I’ve had who’ve made it (Wallace, Diorio and Joe Lahoud) I feel I really contributed to Diorio’s success. [He] didn’t win too many games in high school and he only won one game in his first year here.” Vieira credited Diorio’s success to his sidearm delivery, among other things. “[T]he biggest thing Diorio had was guts. He won all the money games. This year, he developed a slider. That may be the difference.”
Ron would join the Phillies on the road, in San Diego, accompanied by Philadelphia general manager Paul Owens. He would be replacing rookie Dick Ruthven, on the 21-day disabled list with mononucleosis. Diorio thought about what number he would wear. “I’ve always worn number 24, but I know I can’t wear that,” Ron said, acknowledging that slugger Bill Robinson wore that number. “I just hope I don’t get one of those odd numbers.” He would wear number 21, Clemente’s number, in 1973, joining a Phillies team that included Bob Boone, Mike Schmidt, Willie Montanez, Greg Luzinski, Jim Lonborg, Steve Carlton, manager Danny Ozark, and a reliever recently called up from Eugene: Dave Wallace. Ron’s minor league salary was $1,200 a month. The major league minimum salary was $15,000, and would apply to Ron when he was called up. He would earn about $5,400 over the next two months. Meal money was $19.50 per day on road trips.
“We landed in [San Diego in] the early afternoon, and before I knew it, it was time to go to the park.” He remembers, “So I met up with Wallace, who had gotten there [on July 11th.] We were just looking at each other, like, pinching ourselves — ‘is this unbelievable?’ two guys from the same town, same high school, same college, same minor league organization! That’s one for the Guinness Book of World Records!”
On Thursday, August 9, 1973, former Cy Young Award winner Jim Lonborg was scheduled to start for the Phillies against the Padres’ Randy Jones, who would win his own Cy Young Award in 1976. Both teams were on their way to basement finishes in their respective divisions. The Padres would finish the year a whopping 39 games behind National League Western Division Champion Cincinnati. Lonborg didn’t have Cy Young stuff this night, giving up six runs on six hits and two walks before being pinch-hit for in the top of the fourth inning. Dave Wallace came on in the bottom of the fourth, and didn’t fare much better, giving up three runs on four hits in two and a third innings. With one out and runners on second and third in the Padres sixth inning, Danny Ozark signaled for the right-hander warming up in the bullpen — Ron Diorio.
“When I came in, my feet never touched the ground.” Ron remembers. “When I was warming up, I was saying to myself, ‘just don’t throw one off the screen!'” Diorio intentionally walked lefty Johnny Grubb to load the bases, and set up the double play. Third Baseman Dave Roberts, the Padres number one pick in the 1972 draft batted next. “Roberts was the number one bonus baby of that time.” Says Diorio. “My first pitch [to him] was a hellacious sinkerball that ended up about six inches off the ground. [He] hit the ball and smoked it into right field.” Two runs scored, Roberts took second on the throw. Slugger Nate Colbert became Ron’s first major-league strikeout. Leron Lee grounded out to shortstop Craig Robinson to end the inning. Mike Rogodzinski batted for Ron in the top of the seventh. Manager Ozark told the press, “The new kid showed me more than I heard he had.”
Over his first twelve games for Philadelphia, Ron pitched twelve innings. The only blemish on his record was a long Clarence (Cito) Gaston home run on August 21 off a slider Ron described as “right over the plate.” His ERA was 0.75. After fifteen appearances, it dropped to 0.65.
Labor Day 1973 would be a real holiday for the Diorio family, and the people of greater Waterbury. “My family had arranged two buses to be there,” says Ron. “During the day, I remember looking in the stands and seeing my father with the biggest grin on his face.”
Steve Carlton started game one for Philly, squaring off against the Mets’ Jerry Koosman. Carlton didn’t pitch terribly, giving up five runs over six innings, including a home run to Mets third baseman Ted Martinez. Terry Harmon batted for Carlton in the seventh, and the pride of the Brass City came on in the bottom of the seventh. Cleon Jones struck out, and Rusty Staub doubled to left. Jerry Grote singled, and the slow-footed Staub stopped at third. Don Hahn grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning. In the Mets’ eighth, Ted Martinez singled, and Jerry Koosman was called out on strikes. Bud Harrelson flew out to right, and Felix Millan lofted a fly ball to left to end the inning. Willie Mays was the on-deck hitter as Diorio completed two shutout innings. It would be the longest major league outing of his career. Mike Schmidt batted for Ron in the ninth, but the Phillies were shut out in this game, 5-0. Mets announcer Ralph Kiner echoed a sentiment heard before — comparing Diorio’s pitching style to that of another tall right-hander, Ewell Blackwell.
The Phillies’ season was winding down on Sunday, September 23. The Phils faced the Cubs in a day game at Veterans Stadium. The Phils scored four runs early for starter Ken Brett, but the Cubs tied the game, and then went ahead 5-4 in the eighth. Brett helped himself with a bases-clearing single in the bottom of the eighth. Heading to the ninth, Philadelphia led 9-5. Brett stayed in to pitch. With one out, one run in, and a man on second, Ron was called in to face Jose Cardenal. “I love [Danny Ozark],” Ron said at the time. “He just lets you play the game, do the job your own way. He’s giving me the ball what more can I say?” Cardenal lined to right. Lefty Gonzalo Marquez batted for right-hander Carmen Fanzone and singled to center field, scoring Ron Santo. Pete Lacock pinch-hit for Dave Rosello and struck out. Ron Diorio had earned his first, and only, major league save.
Ron pitched in 23 games during the 1973 season, pitching 18 and 1/3 innings, facing 79 batters, giving up 18 hits, 6 walks (4 intentional) and striking out 11. His ERA for the season was 2.33. He was invited to play winter ball in Caguas, Puerto Rico, after the season. He would report in mid-October. “The Phillies invited six or seven players to go down,” Diorio told his hometown newspaper. “One of our coaches, Bobby Wine, is going to be the manager. That will work out well for me, because I don’t want to pitch so much that I will burn out. The league runs until the end of January, so that will give me the month of February to spend at home in Waterbury.”
Cal Emery was asked what he though were the biggest surprises of 1973 for his Reading Phillies. “Ron Diorio,” said Emery. “After all, he’d gone two years here without distinguishing himself. But he didn’t quit. My biggest single thrill was sending him to the majors. He was really the last man to make the club in spring training.”
The Caguas Criollos team was “the best I’ve ever been on” according to Diorio. It was easy to see why. The team’s roster included catcher Gary Carter, (and Diorio pal Jim Essian) infielders Willie Montanez, Mike Schmidt (12 HR) and Felix Millan, and outfielders Sixto Lezcano, Otto Velez, Jerry Morales (14 HR, 44 Runs) and another Connecticut product, Manchester’s Jay Johnstone (46 RBI.) The star pitchers were future Yankee Ed Figueroa and future Met Craig Swan. Caguas finished in second place with a 39-31 record, and won the 1973-74 Puerto Rican League World Series four games to two over Ponce, a 42-28 team during the regular season. Ron was third in the league in saves with 6; teammate Don Demola was second with 9. Ron started one game, lost two, and pitched 41 1/3 innings posting a 3.22 ERA. That ERA is even more impressive when you consider Ron’s worst day that winter. Seven earned runs allowed in a December 16 doubleheader. “It was a good experience,” Ron said at the time. “It’ll definitely help me this year.”
When he came home in February, he married his high school sweetheart, Joanne Mary Moore (a reporter described her as “an attractive, dark-haired woman.”) on the 23rd. The two had been together since July 4, 1965. Older brother Charlie was best man. “The worst thing would have been to marry the wrong woman,” says Ron. “Thank goodness I didn’t! Jo has always loved to travel, she’s just great.” And patient, too — Ron reported to spring training in Clearwater the day after their wedding. Teammate Mike Schmidt was married the same day in Erdemheim, Pennsylvania.
What would 1974 bring? “Being an insecure kid, I hate to say anything,” Ron told the New Haven Register. “But Danny Ozark said that based on what I did at the end of the year, I’m on the squad. He wondered how I was overlooked.” He told the Waterbury Republican‘s Don Harrison that he was “as confident as I ever was about making the ball club, based on my experience from last year and also my success from a statistical standpoint. The thing I’m most proud of is that I broke in as a middle man and progressed to the point when I was able to get a save — a legitimate save.” A possible obstacle loomed — the Phillies held three options on Diorio. This meant he could be sent to the minor leagues three times without having to pass through waivers. There were rumors of a trade to Atlanta, but nothing materialized. “Philly’s a great town,” Ron says. “Lots of paisans! They’d always be inviting me over for pasta.”
Ron would switch numbers, donning 45 for the 1974 season. The Phillies yearbook told of Ron’s “deceiving delivery particularly tough on right-handed batters, a submarine motion.” During spring training, he would battle for, and win, the 11th spot on the pitching staff. A late spring injury to outfielder Mike Rogodzinski opened the door for Diorio.
On opening day against the Mets at Veterans Stadium, Danny Ozark brought Ron in with two on in a tie game in the seventh inning. He faced Cleon Jones, and induced a ground ball to the shortstop, and came out of the game. He pitched the following day as well, coming out of the pen in the ninth inning with two runners on, one out, and the Phils trailing the Mets 5-1. Don Hahn singled, Jerry Grote homered, Bud Harrelson walked, and Tug McGraw hit a grounder back to Diorio, who threw to shortstop Larry Bowa to force Harrelson. Wayne Garrett hit a foul popup to Mike Schmidt to end the inning. Tony Taylor pinch-hit for Ron in the bottom of the ninth, and the Phillies lost the game 9-2. It would be Ron Diorio’s last appearance in a major league game.
He stayed with the club until Mike Rogodzinski came off the DL on April 16. Those three options had come back to haunt him. “Ozark told me it wasn’t through failure,” Ron said at the time. “It wasn’t for any other reason except for my options.” Ozark suggested Reading, because he planned to make a move in the near future. That move ended up being the recall of Dave Wallace. “Ronnie did a good job in spring training and last year,” Ozark told the press. “If one of the other guys could have been optioned out, I’d have kept Ron. He’s a high-class guy, a super kid.”
The May 4, 1974, issue of The Sporting News published Diorio’s demotion to AA Reading in its “Deals of the Week” section. Ironically, that same column also listed the demotion of another Connecticut-born pitcher who would not return to the majors. Pittsburgh’s Steve Blass was optioned to Charleston after walking seven and giving up eight runs in a five-inning April relief appearance.
Ron commuted to Reading from his home in Lindenwald, New Jersey, an arduous hour and a half trip in a 1974 Mustang. The six-foot-six Diorio often arrived at the park with a sore back from folding himself into his car! He pitched well at Reading, posting a 3-3 record in 25 games, with 4 saves and a 2.67 ERA. At the end of June, Diorio was called up to the Phillies AAA farm club at Toledo. He called his father, telling him he’d see him in Pawtucket, Rhode Island (Red Sox AAA affiliate) not Bristol, Connecticut (Red Sox AA affiliate) as planned. His dad said, “We’ll see.” Ron arrived in Ohio the next morning, reunited with manager Jim Bunning. The skipper had bad news — Ron’s father, Charles J. Diorio Sr. had passed away suddenly at age 67. He returned to Waterbury for the funeral on July 2, and was back with the Mud Hens by July 4. He pitched three innings against Syracuse the day he returned. “It was my worst stretch,” Ron says. And his statistics reflected it. In 22 games at Toledo, Diorio gave up 52 hits in 41 innings, walked 21, and had an ERA over five. “Bunning used me in long relief at Toledo unless the other guys were tired. I almost never got a chance to pitch when it meant anything,” Ron said.
Nineteen seventy-four was his worst season, personally and professionally. Interviewed in the off-season, Ron still had hope for the future.
“I know I have the potential — I believe in myself. I know there’s room for me in Philadelphia to get back. Baseball’s such a big part of my life; it isn’t six years, which is as long as I’ve been playing professionally, it’s twenty years. I feel that I have better years ahead of me. And I have the support of my wife and my family.”
Ron would clear his mind with a little basketball, playing for the New Britain franchise in the semi-pro New England Basketball Association during the winter.
Diorio and Dave Wallace were on the Toledo roster to start spring training in 1975. “Our chances of getting with the big club are probably nonexistent in the spring,” Ron said. “But I know they have to feel they have question marks in the bullpen. There’s not going to be anybody who breaks camp with them that feels he has the job locked.” By the beginning of April, the parent club told Ron they had no place for him in the organization. He was allowed to shop himself around and visited Mets camp in early April, to no avail. The Phillies released him at the end of spring training. Phillies coach Ruben Amaro told Ron he could hook him up with a team in the Triple-A Mexican League, so Diorio headed south of the border to play for the Puebla Pericos (Parrots,) in a small town about 87 miles from Mexico City. Friend Dave Wallace didn’t fare much better with the Phillies in 1975, being conditionally traded to the White Sox affiliate in Denver near the end of Spring Training. (He ended up staying with the Phillies organization through 1978.)
Diorio’s Mexican career started well; he retired the first 14 batters he faced in a relief appearance. Travel conditions in the Mexican League were less than ideal — long bus trips were the norm. Ron told the local paper that one road trip “was like going from Waterbury to Miami, but it took 48 hours.” Over his first 13 games, Ron was 3-0, with 3 saves and a 2.65 ERA. He described the competition as “a little shy of AAA ball” but was impressed with the Parrots’ brand-new ballpark. “The fans come out in droves,” Ron said. “Every city draws well, better than any minor league I’ve been in.”
He ran his record to 5-0, with 6 saves, and kept his ERA near 2.50. The team was 17 games up in the standings. And Ron was released in June. “They said they didn’t have enough money to pay my salary.” Ron recalled. “They knew they could win without me, at a much lower price, and sign a native for the minimum salary.” He negotiated with Poza Rica in the Mexican League, but nothing came of it. He decided to return with wife Jo to Waterbury.
He tried out for the AA Eastern League Waterbury Dodgers and did well, the Dodgers weren’t fast enough. Karl Kuehl, manager of the AAA Memphis Blues, an Expos affiliate, had seen Ron pitch in the Eastern League, and gave him a call. Mel Didier, Montreal’s director of scouting and player development worked out a verbal agreement on June 16, and Diorio was off to Memphis. “It’s a great town,” Ron remembers. “They had a nice ballpark, and it was a great league.” Within six weeks, over 31 innings, the 29-year-old righty had his ERA at 1.16 and was the ace of the Blues bullpen. In August, the Montreal general manager came to town. “He came into the outfield while we were shagging before the game,” says Diorio. “He shook my hand, and welcomed me to the team. I asked him to do me one favor — call me up on September first when rosters expand. Give me a month.” The Expos, who ended up 75-87 on the year, in last place in the National League East, didn’t. They released Ron in September of 1975. “They were thinking long term for me winter ball, spring training,” but when farm director Didier left for the Dodgers after the season, it was the end of Diorio’s Expo tenure.
Sporting a full off-season beard in a local news photo, Ron sent letters to 22 major league teams (not the Phillies or the Expos) trying to catch on for the 1976 season. By the spring training reporting dates for pitchers and catchers, he was still unemployed. The Waterbury Dodger ownership pushed for the parent club to sign him, to no avail. His seven-year professional career appeared to be over as he prepared to pitch for the Pearl Street entry in Waterbury’s semi-pro Twi-Met League in early May.
On May 22nd, Diorio became a Yankee. A West Haven Yankee, Eastern League affiliate of the Bronx Bombers. Bobby Cox, manager of the Yanks’ AAA Syracuse club, made the recommendation. Legendary knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm would be Ron’s pitching coach. Teammates would include future major leaguers Jim Beattie, Lamar Hoyt, and Dennis Werth. Nine games into his West Haven stint, Diorio gave manager Pete Ward some good numbers out of the ‘pen, a 1-1 record, and a 1.69 ERA. By the end of the season, he was West Haven’s “Fireman of the Year,” leading the team in appearances and saves, with an ERA of 1.55. The Yankees were champions of the Eastern League, mirroring the success of the big club in the Bronx. Ron’s performance earned him a congratulatory letter and a “Merry Christmas” Mailgram from George Steinbrenner, and an invitation to the Yankees spring training camp for 1977.
In the off-season, Ron was enshrined in the Waterbury Boys’ Club Athletic Hall of Fame. He officiated in several basketball leagues, and played in the Naugatuck Adult Basketball League with, among others, his brothers Gene and Charlie.
Married for three years now, the 30-year-old, eight-year pro reported to spring training in March with a “AAA or nothing” mandate from the Yankees. The promotion of manager Ward and coach Wilhelm from AA certainly didn’t hurt Diorio’s chances. The fact that he was the oldest player trying out for the team might have. “Ronnie wants to play ball as much as anybody on this ball club,” said manager Ward. “We know he can do the job we’ll just have to see how he does.” Ron told a Syracuse reporter, “I never had to worry about my job before. But I love the game even more now. I know I can handle whatever comes up. I know I can still pitch.” He wouldn’t be bitter if things didn’t work out. “If I were to leave tomorrow I’d be leaving with good memories,” Ron said.
“Look at all the friends you went to high school with. Who wouldn’t rather be doing this than what they’re doing?” Except of course for one friend from high school — Dave Wallace — who was headed for another year with the Phillies’ AAA club in Oklahoma City. Until a late-spring trade, there were “14 pitchers for 9 jobs,” according to Diorio. When Lamar Hoyt and Bob Polinsky were traded with Oscar Gamble to the White Sox, Ron made the Syracuse club as its only right-handed reliever.
When the Chiefs were short on pitchers for a game in June, Diorio made his first start in eight years, spanning 296 appearances. Despite running into some trouble in the fifth inning, and giving up eight hits, Ron hung on for the win. It evened his record at 2-2 for the season. Any thoughts about remaining a starter? “It’s nice to know that you can come out to the park almost every day and have the opportunity to play,” Diorio told the Syracuse Post-Standard. “I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’d hate to come out to the park if I were a starter between starts and know that all I was able to do was run or something like that.”
The reliever turned 31 that season, but wasn’t showing his age. By August he was second in the league in saves with 8, had appeared in 43 games and pitched 76 innings. The only blemish on his record was his 4.43 ERA. In one June weekend series against Charleston, he won a game on Friday, saved Saturday’s contest, and won again on Sunday. He also pitched against the parent Yankees in an exhibition game that summer. He had no thoughts of being called up to the World Series winning Yankees that year, a team that included Cy Young Award winning closer Sparky Lyle, and the likes of Dick Tidrow and Ken Holtzman. His Syracuse club missed the playoffs by a whisker. It was back home to Waterbury for the off-season.
For the first time, Diorio had thoughts about the end of his baseball career. “Each year the hassle becomes more and more, the uncertainty greater and greater,” Ron told local sportswriter Don Harrison. “I would give up baseball if the right opportunity presented itself.” That off-season, he took a real estate course at the Waterbury branch of the University of Connecticut. Teaching was also a possibility. If baseball still was, the Yankees were a long shot. “I’d like to play for another organization.” Diorio said, figuring the expansion Blue Jays or Mariners were his best shot. “With their Triple-A teams, everyone’s under consideration.”
On January 20, 1977, Yankee farm director Brian Butterfield sent Ron an invitation to spring training. “Your role in the early camp will be to provide Yankee coaches and officials an opportunity to become familiar with your ability and to provide necessary work for people on the 40-man roster,” the letter said. “You would not be considered for the Major League roster unless your performance so impressed all concerned.” Diorio was hopeful: “[Maybe] I can get some innings against a few weaker organizations,” he told the press. “Renew my stock a bit.” Realistically, he had little chance of making the defending AL champions’ staff. Rich Gossage and Rawley Eastwick had joined Sparky Lyle in the Yanks’ bullpen. He had hopes of a trade, possibly to the Atlanta Braves, who featured a manager (Bobby Cox) and a coach (Pete Ward) who had seen him before. So he gave up a few basketball games he was scheduled to referee and headed to Fort Lauderdale to join the “Bronx Zoo.”
Yankees spring training was “like a fantasy camp” according to Diorio. “There were more cameras and reporters than players. Everywhere you turned there was a story. Every day, the UPS truck would come with a box for Reggie (Jackson.) Gloves, shoes, whatever.” Ron was assigned a locker between Thurman Munson and Roy White. “I’m working on my second locker,” he told Murray Chass of the New York Times. “I used Roy Staiger’s until he got here. Next I might be in the laundry room. But I’m here.” Not that you could tell from the Yankees’ pitching schedule. For the first three exhibition games of the spring, Diorio’s name was absent. His expense checks were made out to Ron D’Orio. “I’ve always wanted to play baseball,” he told Chass. “I feel there will always be time for something else to materialize. I want to give it every shot I can. I feel confident about my abilities.”
Diorio stresses how important marrying the right woman was to his baseball career. He told the New York Times in the spring of 1978:
“I have a very good relationship with my wife. We’ve been married for four years, we don’t have any children and she has adjusted to this life very well. The lifestyle has agreed with us both. It hasn’t been a bed of roses, but it’s never been so frustrating that I wanted to quit. I never was the young phenom so I’ve always had to go out and get what I could. It’s not going to be forever, but as long as I can get something out of it, I’ll continue.”
He was sent to the Yankees minor league camp on March 18, and released at the end of spring training.
“I was home for a little while, doing some real estate work,” Ron says. “Then I got a call from Mexico City. I said to Joanne ‘Mexico City’ and she said ‘when?’ That’s my wife in a nutshell.” Ron took a leave of absence from the real estate business, and moved into a suite formerly occupied by John “Blue Moon” Odom, as that pitcher’s Mexican League comeback attempt had stalled. “Things were very economical in Mexico,” Ron remembers. “The tips were usually bigger than the checks!” With ten weeks left in their season, Ron was now a member of the Mexico City Tigers. “The contract they offered me was very generous,” he told the Waterbury newspaper. “I’m sure I will get a lot of work, and that’s the most important thing right now. I want to get ready as quickly as I can and wait for another situation to present itself. Playing in the AAA Mexican League, the Tigers were a terrible team, already on their way to a 65-85 record, to finish 23 ½ games out of first place in the Southwest Division. “One day I went out to get Joanne some soup,” Diorio recalls. “She wasn’t feeling too well. I got myself a couple of burgers, which made me sick. We had a doubleheader the next day, were short on pitchers, so [manager Obed Plascencia] says ‘you’re starting — the second game.’ I was sick as a dog, and pitched a four-hit shutout. They were hitting at-’em balls all over the place!” He struck out two, and walked only one batter. He was cut the next day, after spending only five weeks with the team. Diorio’s record was 1-2, with a 3.13 ERA.
Ron and Joanne did some sightseeing, spending a week in Acapulco. Then he decided,
“We’re going home. I’m going to prove I can do something other than baseball.” A professional career that began in 1969 had ended in Mexico in 1978. Ron Diorio was 32 years old. “The shutout was my swan song,” he said. His career spanned 405 games, 47 wins, 35 losses, and 65 saves. “I don’t consider this an end. I look upon this as a new beginning.”
Back home in Connecticut, there were basketball games to referee, a new job in real estate, and a daughter on the way. Alicia was born that winter; Linsey would come along four years later. Ron and Joanne bought a house in their native Waterbury. In June of 1979, Diorio was named as the city’s first Fair Housing Officer. He was responsible for “administering the city’s fair housing ordinance, working with banks and realtors and handling discrimination complaints filed against landlords or realtors.” The position paid $14,000 per year. “I was used to running, working out, and getting sweaty,” Ron said. “Now I’m sitting at a desk and talking on the telephone much of the day.” He also spent some time talking to local youth baseball teams. “I tell them not to put all their eggs in one basket, but to get involved in many activities. Their destiny is their own, and they must work hard.” Diorio held the housing job through 1986.
Celebrity golf tournaments began beckoning in 1980. That summer Naugatuck’s Spec Shea called and said, “Want to play golf?” And Ron joined him on the links in the seventh annual Waterbury Celebrity Golf Tournament. He and the “Naugatuck Nugget” enjoyed their golf outings and friendship until Shea’s death in 2002. Golf is an avocation he continues to enjoy, playing in the Major League Baseball Alumni Golf Tour. “It’s a great diversion,” Ron says. “You play at terrific venues, raising money for local charities. There are 10-12 tournaments a year, all over the East Coast.”
In 1979, he became the first athlete inducted into the Sacred Heart High School Hall of Fame. In February of 1982, Coach Vieira offered him the pitching coach position at his alma mater, the University of New Haven. “I would love to have taken it,” Ron said at the time. “I had to turn it down because of my job. It’s just not feasible right now.” In February of 1985, Diorio was enshrined in the University of New Haven Athletic Hall of Fame. In 1986, he joined The Nocera Company, a real estate appraisal and development firm owned by Joanne’s cousin’s husband. He became a partner in 1996, and continues to work at the firm. In 1992 and 1993, Ron was the athletic director at St. Mary’s Parochial School in Waterbury, and he has been on their school board ever since. In 1996, he was honored by the Olympian Club of Waterbury. Ron has officiated basketball at the high school and college level for over 33 years, including a stint as President of the New Haven Board of Approved Basketball Officials. In October of 2002, he was inducted into Waterbury’s Hank O’Donnell Hall of Fame, an organization honoring the city’s athletes. He would join, among others, baseball star Roger Connor, 1903 Red Sox first baseman Candy LaChance, and former teammate Dave Wallace.
In 1991, he was able to share the good fortune of a former roommate, as Jim Essian made Ron his second phone call upon being named Cubs manager. (His wife was the first.) “When the Tribune took over the Cubs, they fired Don Zimmer,” Ron says. “Jimmy called me and told me he’d been hired. So I packed my bags for three days in New York.” Essian guided the Cubs to a 59-63 record the rest of the way, and was replaced in 1992 by Jim Lefebvre. “Jimmy and I got to know each other at a time in our lives when we were both striving,” Diorio recalls fondly. “He was a bonus baby, on the fast track to the majors. We just hit it off early, and remain very close. He’s a special person in my life.”
Ron remains impressed with longtime buddy Dave Wallace. “He’s a guru,” Ron says. “We grew up thinking the hardest thing to do is get there. The hardest thing is to stay. Dave has survived and thrived. He’s very well respected in baseball.”
Asked how he would like his baseball career remembered, Ron says, “That I
never said no. I never turned the ball down. That’s the thing I’m proudest of.”