On behalf of the Altobelli family, the Rochester Red Wings announce with a heavy heart today that Joe Altobelli has passed away from natural causes at the age of 88. Known as Rochester’s “Mr. Baseball” Altobelli filled more roles for the organization than anyone else serving as a player, coach,
On behalf of the Altobelli family, the Rochester Red Wings announce with a heavy heart today that Joe Altobelli has passed away from natural causes at the age of 88. Known as Rochester’s “Mr. Baseball” Altobelli filled more roles for the organization than anyone else serving as a player, coach, manager, general manager, assistant to the President and radio analyst. Joseph Salvatore Altobelli was born on May 26, 1932 in Detroit, Michigan where he earned All-City recognition for his baseball, football and basketball prowess before embarking on a 59 year professional baseball career right after high school in 1951. In 1966, while playing for the Red Wings, he moved his family to Rochester and called the Flower City his home ever since.
As a player, the left handed hitting and throwing first baseman and outfielder had a phenomenal career spanning from 1951-67. In his rookie year, he set a Florida State League record (a record that stood until 2010) hitting in 36 consecutive games while playing for Daytona Beach. In 1960, he led the International League in home runs (31) and RBI (105) while with the Montreal Royals. “Alto” endeared himself to Red Wings fans from 1963-66 hitting 47 homers over that span while winning a Governors’ Cup in 1964 and an International League Pennant in 1966. The slugger played parts of three seasons in the major leagues with the Cleveland Indians (1955,1957) and Minnesota Twins (1961).
As impressive as he was as a player, he accomplished even greater success as a coach and a manager, transforming the careers and lives of hundreds of professional baseball players en route to leading them to many championships. His coaching career began with an 11 year stint in the Baltimore Orioles minor league system culminating with a legendary stop in Rochester from 1971-1976. His 1971 team is considered one of the greatest in the long history of the ballclub but also one of the top teams in the history of minor league baseball with Red Wings Hall of Famers Bobby Grich and Don Baylor starring for the team. Joe led the Red Wings to first place finishes in 1971, 1973, 1974, and 1976, capturing the Governors’ Cup in 1971 and 1974, the Junior World Series in 1971 and the International League pennant in 1976. His 502 wins are the most in team history and he is a three time International League Manager of the Year. In 1980, in his only season managing Columbus, he led the Yankees top farm club to a Governors’ Cup title.
The San Francisco Giants gave him his first opportunity to manage in the Major Leagues in 1977 where he had the opportunity to manage the likes of Hall of Famer Willie McCovey, Bill Madlock and Jack Clark. He led the Giants to a third place finish in 1978 earning himself the National League Manager of the Year Award.
In 1981 and 1982, Joe was a member of the Yankees coaching staff working under managers Gene Michael, Bob Lemon, and Clyde King. In 1981, the Yankees captured the American League pennant before losing to the Dodgers in the World Series. While in New York, Joe had the opportunity to work with Yankee legends Don Mattingly, Dave Winfield, Reggie Jackson, Lou Pinella, Craig Nettles, Willie Randolph, Goose Gossage and Ron Guidry. Joe also worked as a coach for the Yankees in 1986 under manager Lou Pinella.
The Baltimore Orioles hired Altobelli as their manager in 1983 and he promptly led them to their first World Series title since 1970. The team featured plenty of former Rochester Red Wings including three Hall of Famers in Cal Ripken, Jr., Eddie Murray, and Jim Palmer. For his efforts, Alto was named the 1983 American League Manager of the Year.
His last stop as a major league coach was with the Chicago Cubs where he had the opportunity to work under manager and dear friend Don Zimmer from 1988-1991. There he had the opportunity to work with Hall of Famers Ryne Sandberg, Goose Gossage, Greg Maddux and Andre Dawson as well as Mark Grace, Joe Girardi, and Rick Sutcliffe. He managed one game for the Cubs in 1991.
In the fall of 1991, Altobelli began a new chapter in his esteemed baseball career when he returned to Rochester to lead his beloved Red Wings as their general manager, a title he held until his retirement from that role in January of 1995. His role was pivotal in spearheading a drive for a new ballpark in Rochester. His efforts were rewarded when the Red Wings played their first season at Frontier Field in 1997. From 1995-1997 he also served as an assistant to team President Elliot Curwin.
Prior to the 1998 season, Joe took on a new role with the ballclub as a radio analyst helping to call the action at all home games. A natural storyteller, Altobelli was a perfect fit for the job regaling fans with stories from his illustrious career while weaving baseball strategy and insight into every broadcast. Alto partnered with Joe Castellano in the booth from 1998-2002, and current Voice of the Red Wings Josh Whetzel from 2003-2008. He and Whetzel earned the Rochester Press Radio Club’s Gary Smith award for broadcasting excellence in 2008.
Altobelli is a charter member of the Rochester Red Wings Hall of Fame (class of 1989) as well as a member of the International League Hall of Fame (Class of 2008). His number 26 was the first ever retired number in the history of the Rochester Red Wings and is one of only three retired numbers in the long history of the ballclub joining friends Morrie Silver (8222) and Luke Easter (36) as the only other honorees. In 2010, a statue was erected in his honor in the left field plaza of Frontier Field.
Joe is predeceased by his wife and high school sweetheart Patsy (Wooten) and is survived by his loving partner Michele DiGaetano , his six children Mike (Linda) Altobelli, Mark Altobelli, Jody (Don) Collichio, Jackie (Dan) McAlpin, Jerry (Tab) Altobelli, and Joe (Jenn) Altobelli and numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren.
A celebration of Joe Altobelli’s life will be held at Frontier Field on a date to be determined later this year.