Former Detroit Tiger Reno Bertoia, who died Friday, April 15, 2011, looks over his collection of baseballs from his playing days at his Windsor home on Monday October 16, 2006.Photograph by: Tyler Brownbridge, The Windsor StarWINDSOR, Ont. — Reno Bertoia, a former infielder with the Detroit Tigers and a member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, passed away Friday morning after a brief battle with lymphoma cancer. He was 76.
The Major League Baseball club issued a statement on behalf of Bertoia’s friend and fellow teammate, Al Kaline, now a special assistant to the Tigers’ president.
“Reno was a special person and one of the nicest people to be around,” Kaline said. “Reno and I were close friends, and roommates when we broke into the big leagues our first couple of years. Even after he was traded, we remained friends through the years. I’ll miss him, and my condolences go out to his family.”
Bertoia, a native of Windsor, Ont., played 10 years in the majors, eight of them with the Tigers. In the summer of 1957, he captured the imagination of the entire country when he led the American League in batting for the first half of the season, statistically pushing aside the legendary Ted Williams in the process.
“He was a Canadian pioneer in the game,” said Tom Valcke, who knows Bertoia’s career intimately as the president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. Bertoia was inducted into the hall in 1988.
“The guy led the major leagues in hitting,” Valcke said. “He had a period where he dominated the game a half-century ago the way (Canadians) Joey Votto and Justin Morneau are today.”
Bertoia was born in Italy but moved to Windsor with his family as an infant. He attended Assumption College high school and was signed by the Tigers in 1953.
As he learned the ropes of professional baseball, he befriended another young Tiger in Kaline, a future Hall of Famer. They remained friends long after the diamond dust settled on their playing days.
“He was very proud of his career,” said Beth Daly, Bertoia’s stepdaughter. “He was happy to share stories about it and he was a wonderful storyteller.”
It was fitting then that Bertoia would take up a second career as a history teacher at Assumption.
“He was well respected,” said Valcke, coincidentally one of Bertoia’s former students. “History was the last thing anybody cared about as kids, but he found a way to make it interesting. He’d find one point and hammer on it rather than read through 30 pages of a book.”
“He was in many ways prouder of his teaching career,” added Daly. “Because he felt he impacted a lot of people’s lives.”
When the family was eager to distract Bertoia from the pain in his final days, they coaxed him to recall different baseball moments.
He told them his favourite opening day was 1961 when the Tigers played at Yankee Stadium. He hit a home run and Detroit won 6-2.
Bertoia is survived by his three children and three stepchildren. His funeral is scheduled for Tuesday in Windsor.
Northern "He was my history teacher and home room teacherin grade 12" Reaper