A Yankee, an ostrich and 22 plates of pasta

Man vs. beast vs. food

April 6th, 2021
Art by Tom Forget

Ping Bodie was a pretty good hitter during his nine-year career. He hit 30 homers during one of his Minor League seasons with the San Francisco Seals, he batted .289 or higher in four out of his nine seasons in the Majors and his nickname "Ping" (his real name was Francesco Stephano Pezzolo) was given to him because of the sound the ball made off his bat. He was also a great self-promoter. While with the Philadelphia Athletics for one season in 1917, he explained to the press why fans should come to every game.

“I and the Liberty Bell are the only attractions in Philadelphia.”

One of the first Italian-Americans in baseball, Bodie is also said to have inspired the DiMaggio brothers, Tony Lazzeri and others to play the game.

But perhaps Bodie's biggest and most memorable contribution to baseball history happened during his four-season tenure with the Yankees. It didn't come at the plate or on the field or in the clubhouse, but instead, it came with his head buried in pasta. Eleven plates of it, to be exact.

The 5-foot-8, 195-pound Bodie was a voracious eater. It may have helped that he roomed with all-time great MLB eater Babe Ruth, although Bodie said he rarely saw Ruth and instead lived with the slugger's suitcases. Either way, the man could put away a plate of food. And during one Florida Spring Training in 1919, Bodie's skills around the dinner table were put to the ultimate test: Yankees co-owner Cap Huston heard word of Percy the ostrich, a resident of the nearby Jacksonville Zoo who was dubbed the "world's greatest eater." He saw a marketing opportunity for both his team and the zoo -- arranging for Bodie to take on the eight-foot tall bird in a food battle royale.

Bodie, never one to back down from any challenge, agreed to the idea and chose his favorite dish, spaghetti, as the main course.

The showdown was set up like a boxing match with a bell, a ring and a plate of pasta for each round. Sportswriter W.O. McGeehan had the best coverage from the event, setting the scene and providing minute-by-minute commentary for the momentous night.

"As the combatants struggled with the platters the cheering of the spectators shook the pavilion. There were times when it was all that the police could do to keep the crowd from tearing through the ropes into the ring."

The first few rounds were close, Bodie apparently tossed his fork into the crowd during the opener and resorted to using his hands. The ostrich started to struggle at the end of round 2, but came back full force in round 3 -- even eating his handler's pocket watch.

And then, well, things took a turn in Bodie's favor.

The outfielder continued to devour his plates, but the ostrich slowed precipitously. In a potential food coma, Percy staggered out of his corner before rounds 9 and 10. Somehow, a man was beating a wild animal in an eating contest. He was on plate 10 of spaghetti, and still smiling.

Bodie finished plate 11 before Percy could even get started. The ostrich reportedly fell to his knees and passed out headfirst into the spaghetti. The referee declared Bodie the "undisputed eating champion of the world."

Buoyed by his success against the ostrich, Bodie went on to have a solid regular season with the Yankees -- clubbing six homers, 59 RBIs and a .278/.334/.406 slash line. He retired a few years later and was eventually inducted into the National Italian Sports Hall of Fame.

Reports were varied on what happened to Percy, but for some reason you can now purchase a nice throw pillow with his face on it. That's more than you can say for most people, let alone most ostriches.