Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
2568x1445_WBC_ED_map_IT (1)
Art by Tom Forget

The history of baseball in Italy

February 16, 2023

Although efforts to popularize baseball in Italy failed to gain traction in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the sport eventually established a foothold in the country after American soldiers brought the game with them during World War II, playing during their free time and attracting the interest of the local population.

While there have only been seven Italian-born Major Leaguers, some of the biggest stars in baseball history can trace their roots back to Italy, including National Baseball Hall of Famers such as Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Mike Piazza, Tony Lazzeri, Roy Campanella, Craig Biggio, Ron Santo and Phil Rizzuto, not to mention a trio of Hall of Fame managers -- Tommy Lasorda, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre.

Here's a brief look at some of the major moments, trailblazers and figures in Italian baseball history.

WBSC Rank: 16th

Last WBC appearance: 2017

Best WBC finish: 2013, 7th place

Notable Italian-born Major Leaguers:

Lou Polli

Polli made his MLB debut on April 18, 1932, throwing an inning in relief for the Browns against the Tigers in Detroit, thus becoming the first Italian-born Major Leaguer. After making five appearances for the Browns in 1932, Polli would go 12 years before returning to the Majors as a member of the Giants in 1944.

In the meantime, the right-hander continued to burnish his excellent Minor League resume. Polli ultimately compiled a lifetime 263-226 record over 22 seasons in the Minors. At the time of his death on Dec. 19, 2000, he was the oldest living former Major Leaguer, aged 99.

Alex Liddi

Liddi appeared in parts of three seasons for the Mariners from 2011-13, hitting .208 with six homers and 16 RBIs over 61 games. When he debuted on Sept. 7, 2011, the third baseman became the first Italian-born Major Leaguer in more than 50 years.


Reno Bertoia

No Italian-born player has made more MLB appearances than Bertoia, who played in 612 games over 10 seasons for the Tigers, Twins and Kansas City Athletics. The infielder finished his career with a .244 average, 27 homers and 171 RBIs. After he played his final game in 1962, there wasn’t another Italian-born MLB player until Liddi in 2011.

Major moments in Italian Baseball History: Bronze medal at 2010 Intercontinental Cup and 2013 WBC upsets

Italy has won the European Baseball Championship 10 times, second only to the Netherlands with 24, but it has had limited success in international competitions outside the continent. The country did score a third-place finish in the 10-team Intercontinental Cup in 2010, defeating Chinese Taipei in the bronze-medal game.

Italy had its most successful World Baseball Classic run in 2013, edging out favored Canada and Mexico and advancing from Pool D alongside the United States before dropping a pair of one-run heartbreakers to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico -- the eventual champion and runner-up, respectively -- in the second round.

Professional League -- Serie A

Formerly known as the Italian Baseball League, which was established in 1948, Serie A is the highest classification of professional baseball in Italy. The Italian Baseball Softball Federation expanded the league in 2021, combining the six-team Serie A1 with the teams from Serie A2 to form a new 32-team Serie A (30 teams since 2022).

As currently constructed, Serie A is effectively a multi-phase tournament, starting with a group stage from which the top teams advance to the championship playoff. The other teams are split into groups for the relegation round, and the last-place team from each group is relegated to a lower level for the following season.

Famous ballparks

Nettuno is the hotbed of baseball in Italy and its pro ballpark -- Steno Borghese Stadium -- is likely the best. Often called "the little United States" for its long love of the game, the town's team also has the most championships in Italian pro baseball history. Additionally, it's the area where DiMaggio once showed up in a sports jacket and hit home run after home run into the sea.

Unique food/activities at games

Many ballparks will sell typical American baseball fare, but others will serve porchetta, Nutella and, of course, gelato.