From BR Bullpen
- Bats Right, Throws Right
Giorgio Castelli was one of the inaugural members of the Italian Baseball Hall of Fame, befitting his status as arguably Italy's top position player of the 20th Century. Primarily a catcher, he played every position during his career. He won 8 batting titles and led the league 3 times in both home runs and RBI. He wore number 24.
Castelli was invited to spring training by the Cincinnati Reds in 1968, when he was only 17 years old and had never played in Italy's top league. Accounts vary as to how interested the Reds are, with popular stories indicating they were ready to have him back up Johnny Bench or move Bench to first. The 1977 Washington Post says that the Reds were intrigued and wanted to sign Castelli, but that his mother didn't want him to play so far from Italy. He returned to Italy and never got another look from a US team.
Castelli hit .324/.359/.622 in 1968 for his hometown Parma team, with 28 runs in 26 games. He threw out 8 of 17 attempted base-stealers. He played every position that year except shortstop, third base and pitcher, often manning center field when not catching. He won his first batting title, tying for the lead, and also tied for the most home runs with 8. He made his international debut in 1968 and would go on to play 119 games for the Italian national team. He helped Italy win Silver at the 1969 European Championship.
In 1969, Castelli batted .474/.504/.702, stole 24 bases in 28 tries and scored 34 runs in 25 games. He led the league in stolen bases and won a batting title. The next season, still a teenager, the young star hit .422/.532/.717 with 74 runs and 43 RBI in 44 games. He stole 34 bases in 37 attempts. He won his third batting crown and his second home run title (11).
Giorgio produced at a .407/.470/.672 clip in 1971; in 41 games, he scored 56 and drove home 56. He picked up his 4th consecutive batting championship and paced the circuit in RBI. In the 1971 European Championship, Italy won Silver and Castelli put on a show, hitting .593/.593/.889 with 7 runs, 9 RBI and 3 steals in 3 tries in 6 games. His 24 total bases were double the team's runner-up (Carlo Passarotto). Castelli batted .423/.514/.769 in 1972, homering 12 times in 39 games. He scored 61, drove in 49 and stole 11 bases in 11 tries. He had one of his best years defensively, throwing out 15 of 28 attempted base thieves. He won his 5th batting title in five years as an active player.
Castelli hit .426/.495/.595 for Parma in '73 with 60 runs in 44 games. He picked up his 6th straight batting championship. His defense was not as sharp as he only threw out 4 baserunners while allowing 20 steals. In 1974, Giorgio threw out 40% of base thieves but made 12 passed balls in 37 games, a rarity. It was one of the few blemishes on an amazing season. He hit .523/.580/1.020 with 75 runs, 26 home runs, 85 RBI and 17 steals (in 19 tries) in 44 contests. Somehow, Parma failed to take home the pennant, but Castelli won the Triple Crown. It was the second Triple Crown in Serie A1 history; only one other player (Roberto Bianchi) would accomplish the feat in the 20th Century after Castelli.
In 1975, Castelli hit .391/.453/.634 for an "off-year." For the first time in his 8-year career, he failed to win a batting title. He had 60 runs and 48 RBI in 47 games and gunned down 44% of attempted base stealers. He helped Italy win the 1975 European Championship, the first time the country had ever topped the Dutch national team. That year, Joe Garagiola said Castelli "definitely is a major league prospect."
The next season, he batted .442/.511/.751 with 67 runs and 61 RBI in 47 games; slowing down, he stole only 5 bases in 9 tries. He won another batting championship and led the league in RBI for the third time.
In 1977, he batted .571/.625/1.226 with 12 homers, 32 runs and 36 RBI in 20 games. That year, he had three milestones. He became the first Italian player to hit 100 career homers at the country's highest level. On May 20, he hit for the cycle against Bologna. On June 11, he hit four home runs in a game, a record. He helped Italy win the 1977 European Championship, again topping the rival Netherlands.
Castelli won his 8th and last batting title in 1978, when his batting line read .510/.586/.796 and he scored 35 runs in 26 games. He set the Italian record for highest average. In the 1978 Amateur World Series, the 27-year-old slugger hit .314/.415/.486 for a comparable OPS to Terry Francona, 3-time Japanese Triple Crown winner Hiromitsu Ochiai and David Green. He stole 3 bases in 3 tries, threw out 4 of 8 attempted base-stealers and led Italy with 8 runs in 10 games.
The long-time star finally played more first base than catcher in 1979. He also took his first turn on the mound, retiring two batters (one by strikeout) and walking one. At the plate, the Parma leader hit .426/.507/.713 with 38 runs and 40 RBI in 33 games.
In 1980, Castelli batted .378/.464/.538 and stole 13 bases in 14 tries. He played for Italy in the 1980 Amateur World Series. He produced at a .341/.370/.534 rate in '81 with 34 runs and 35 RBI in 28 games. In his 15th season in Italy, 1982, he hit .426/.479/.713 with 28 runs and 32 RBI in 26 games. He wound up his career in '83 with a .361/.460/.568 batting line, with 37 runs and 41 RBI in 40 games.
Overall, Castelli hit .421/.486/.706 in Italy. He scored 789 runs and drove in 689 (71 game-winners) in 605 games. He hit 162 home runs and stole 178 bases in 209 tries. He threw out 31.8% of attempted base thieves in 422 games behind the plate. Through 2008, he holds the all-time Italian record for average, a mark likely to be never broken. Through 2009, he was also 5th in Italian history in homers, trailing only Roberto Bianchi, Giuseppe Carelli, Massimo Fochi and Stefano Manzini.
In 2005, Castelli was one of the first players inducted into the new Italian Baseball Hall of Fame.