Philadelphia Daily News from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 24, 1998 · Page 11
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Philadelphia Daily News from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania · Page 11

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Issue Date:
Friday, July 24, 1998
Page 11
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FRIDAY, JULY 24, 1998 PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS PAGE 11 I by Kitty Caparella Daily News Staff Writer They murdered 'em, 17-5. Not even a 15-minute downpour in the third inning stopped the hit men from killing their opponents on the Softball field. They're in a league of their own, the only reputed organized-crime family in America with a Softball team. It's named Gino's Cafe, the players' hangout. And they take on all comers. Take last night's game against J.P.'s Variety, at Capitolo playground, 10th and Wharton streets. Nominated by a fan as the game's most valuable player, third baseman George Borgesi's unassisted doubleplay in the top of the fifth "stopped a potential rally" by J.P.'s, according to An-gelo Lutz, Gino's manager, a well-known caterer and a onetime golden Buddha Mummer. With a man on third, Borgesi caught a fly, but the runner had started to run and Borgesi tagged the bag for the double-play. That was the prelude to the evening's controversial play. It was the bottom of the fifth. Bases loaded. Mikey "Lance" Lanzilotti was at bat for Gino's. Pitcher Frannie "Sit Down" Porter, wearing white for J.P.'s Variety, was winding up. "Sit-down" got his name because he looks like he is sitting down when he's standing up. Whoa! Lance hit a liner to left center. Joey Merlino, the reputed mob underboss, was on third. He saw a chance to score. He sprinted for home. The outfielder threw the ball to Faffy Iannarella, J.P.'s catcher. (Faffy is the son of Francis "Faffy" Iannarella, a jailed capo in the Nicodemo Scarfo crime family.) It's was split-second decision. Faffy tagged him high. Joey slid between Faffy's legs into home plate. The crowd screamed: "He's out! He's safe! He's out! He's safer it a 1 rr K 4t Game's high scorers Merlino (left) two runs; Joe Ligambi, one run, and Sonny Mazzone, three runs; Ralph Abruzzi (right) heads home on his single tally V. v s v. ... . - ' W ! G.W. MILLER Hi DAILY NEWS Joey Merlino heads for home (above) in fifth-inning play at 10th and Wharton streets last night, and stands on the mound (right) in team's 17-5 victory over J.P.'s Variety They gotta play ball! Joey Merlino's guys field only mob-controlled team - 9. , I u h I i - - a nC5 v HafijMliyailtt ?y - y It was a close call for a guy used to close calls. Merlino has survived two dozen assassination attempts since 1992. From the din boomed the deep voice of umpire Frank "Cheech" Martino: "He's safe!" The crowd, their faces pressed against the wire fence, erupted in laughter. On the sidelines, the controversial play was hotly debated. The ump's "probably afraid to say he's out," said one onlooker. Gino's assistant manager, Phil Ligambi, called for an expert opinion from his brother. "He got a fair jury," replied Ligambi's brother, Joe, a second baseman who knows about such things. His 1989 conviction in a gangland slaying was overturned last year. "One of our star players is at Fort Dix: Roger Vella," Phil Ligambi added. (Vella refused to testify against any of his pals.) "He's trying to further his education." "He's a good ballplayer," said Vella's father, Ralph. "Hey, Angelo," yelled Phil Ligambi. "She can't believe Joey was safe." "Tagged him high," intoned Lutz, the manager who doubled as scorekeeper. "Tagged him late, too," added a Gino's teammate, laughing. In a post-game interview, Merlino didn't question the ump."I was safe. I went right through his legs," he said. This is the first time in 10 years Merlino's team, known for playing hardball on the streets, is playing Softball on the field. "Nothing else to do ... Exercise," Merlino said. The umpire explained his decision: "Simultaneously, Joey slid into home plate, Faffy reached down to tag him, Joey's feet hit the corner of the plate. Said Martino,"It was a bang! bang! play."

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