De La Salle was springboard to baseball opportunities for Morreale father and son
De La Salle High School lost one of its more popular alumni when John Morreale Jr. died on June 13. He had a spectacular baseball career with the Cavaliers as did his son John Morreale III. Both of them played on state championship teams, and their high school careers facilitated other opportunities in amateur, collegiate, and professional baseball.
A recent interview with Morreale III revealed a close-knit relationship between the father and son.
“I was fortunate to have a dad that could teach the right way to play baseball, beginning when I played on my first team of organized baseball,” John III explained. Furthermore, Morreale III spoke of numerous occasions when his dad took other youngsters under his wing to teach them not only about baseball but about life in general.
As a junior in high school in 1958, Morreale Jr. played on a talented De La Salle team that won the state title over Byrd High of Shreveport. He was the winning pitcher in the deciding championship game. He was named to the Times-Picayune All-Prep team as a utility player. The Cavaliers also featured future professional players Allan Montreuil and Wayne Pietri. The De La Salle-based Perfectos went on to defeat Ruston for the state American Legion title that summer. When he wasn’t pitching, Morreale Jr. played catcher. He was named to the Times-Picayune All-Legion team as catcher.
With the addition of Floyd Fourroux (another future professional player), De La Salle repeated as prep and Legion state champions in 1959. Morreale Jr. was again named to the city’s All-Prep team and selected for the Times-Picayune’s All-State team. However, There was quite a stir among local New Orleans media when he was left off the Louisiana baseball writers’ all-state team.
In the summer of 1959, Morreale Jr. played in the All-American Amateur Baseball Association league in New Orleans where he was among the league’s leaders in hitting and pitching. He was selected to Rags Scheuermann’s all-star team that competed in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. New Orleans was eliminated by Baltimore and finished with a 2-2 record.
Morreale Jr. attended Southeastern Louisiana in 1960 but did not play baseball. He signed with the Boston Red organization next year, as one of their scouting supervisors George Digby had New Orleans ties. He was assigned to Class D Alpine in Texas, where New Orleans native Mel Parnell, former star pitcher with the Red Sox, was the manager. Morreale III related a story about how his father recalled catching a seemingly mile-high flyball on his first fielding play in his first minor-league game in left field, a position he had never played before. Morreale Jr. hit only .238 in 38 games and was given his outright release in June. Parnell told the Times-Picayune, “He was an excellent fielder, but he had problems throwing and wasn’t hitting well.” Morreale III said his father had injured his knee while sliding, which may have ultimately contributed to his release.
For a number of years afterward, Morreale Jr. continued to stay active on local New Orleans baseball and softball playgrounds. He played for the Ponchatoula Athletics semi-pro team that finished second in the National Baseball Congress tournament in Wichita, Kansas, in 1963. His family owned Frankie and Johnny’s restaurant in the Uptown area, and he led several of its softball teams to league championships. He helped coach numerous NORD Uptown Babe Ruth teams, including all-star squads that competed in post-season tournament play. He is a member of the De La Salle Hall of Fame.
One of his baseball pupils was his son, whom he started working with at a very young age. Morreale III said his dad wanted him to already be skilled in the game when joined his first team. He told the story of trying out and making his first organized team as a 10-year-old without his dad knowing. Apparently, young Morreale had been prepared well by his father.
Morreale III followed in his father’s footsteps at De La Salle with similar results. As a junior in 1988, the second baseman helped the Cavaliers win the state title over Jesuit, their first since 1977. He recalled that after the team lost its first three games of the season, his father got approval from the Cavaliers baseball coach to work with the players after their regular workouts to get extra hitting practice using a batting cage in the gym. Morreale III believes the extra work helped the team get back on track and ultimately take home state championship trophy. It was indicative of how Morreale Jr. liked working with kids to improve their game.
He earned his third letter in baseball during his senior year. He was an All-District player for the De La Salle-based Legion team that summer. Morreale III also played on the De La Salle basketball team, receiving the Senior Award in 1989.
He attended George Wallace Junior College in Alabama during his freshman year in 1990 where he played with several other New Orleanians. He transferred to Delgado Community College for the 1991 season to play for Coach Joe Scheuermann. He batted .302 with 29 RBIs and was named to the All-Region 23 junior college baseball team and the Miss-Lou all-conference team. Morreale III said he anticipated he would be selected in the MLB Draft, but his name was never called.
He played for Northeast Louisiana (now University of Louisiana Monroe) in the 1992 season. During the summer he played in the local All-American Amateur Baseball Association league, as his father had done in 1959. In previous years of the summer league, he had played under Rags Scheuermann, like his father. He was selected for the Boosters all-star team under Coach Joe Scheuermann (Rags’ son) that represented New Orleans in Johnstown. Morreale III was the MVP in the qualifying tournament in Altoona. The Boosters wound up winning the national title over Lavonia, Michigan, with Morreale III one of the team’s leading hitters.
He returned to Northeast for his final college season in 1993. He received honorable mention on the All-Southland Conference team as a second baseman.
Morreale III was passed over again in the 1993 Major League Baseball draft, but big-league scouts were certainly familiar with him from his performance in the AAABA national tournament in 1992. His father continued to hold workouts with him, which included fielding ground balls, taking batting practice, and running on the levy by Audubon Park. Morreale III said, “My father helped me keep my dream alive.”
They took a trip to Plant City, Florida, in early 1994 for a tryout with the Cincinnati Reds and received an offer. He was later working out at UNO when New Orleans Zephyrs (then the Triple-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers) batting coach Ron Jackson noticed him and recommend him to Brewers farm system officials Freddie Patek and Fred Stanley for a tryout. He made a good showing and got an offer to sign with the Brewers. He said his dad had been studying minor-league rosters and noted the Brewers appeared to need more depth at second base than the Reds. So, they inked a contract with the Brewers, who assigned him to Lo-A Beloit in Wisconsin.
In his first year at Beloit under manager Wayne Krenchicki, Morreale III was mainly used in a utility role playing multiple infield positions. He laughs about his first play in the field at second base, when a high fly ball came his way. Unlike his father’s situation 33 years before him, Morreale III didn’t make the catch. He hit a respectable .271 in 70 games and earned a promotion to Hi-A Stockton (California) in 1995. However, he wound up tearing ligaments in his wrist that required surgery and extensive rehab, thus limiting him to 30 games.
He started spring training in 1996 with the Brewers’ Double-A squad. He felt he was making good progress with his hitting. He said his batting average was around .470 in spring exhibition games when he got called up to substitute for second baseman Fernando Vina on the big-league roster. Playing against the Colorado Rockies, he went 0-for-2. In one of his at-bats facing veteran pitcher Marvin Freeman with the bases loaded, he hit a line drive to right field that went foul by a few inches. Morreale III still wonders how his future might have changed had that hit landed in fair territory. He said, “It’s true that baseball is a game of inches.”
Upon returning to Stockton for the regular season, he was seeing positive results from trying to hit with more power, but then tore a ligament in his knee when his foot got pinned against the bag by a sliding baserunner. Wanting to stick with the club, he did his rehabilitation in California. He tried to resume playing while still hurt but became injured again, breaking his hand that required surgery. After playing only 50 games that season, he ended of his playing career.
Morreale III joined his father in coaching NORD Uptown Babe Ruth teams. He said he is gratified by all the comments he has received from former ballplayers after hearing about his father’s death. Their sentiments were indications of how much of an influence his father had on them.
The Morreale baseball family tree sprouted a third-generation ballplayer. John Morreale IV is currently spending the summer with a travel ball team and will play as a senior in high school next year. Morreale III said he is trying to teach his son all that was originally passed down from his father. The messages are still the same. “Work hard to improve your skills. Give 100% all the time. Be a good teammate. Get through the ups and downs.” Young Morreale would do well to live up to his baseball bloodlines.
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New Orleans baseball historian
Richard Cuicchi, Founder of the Metro New Orleans Area Baseball Player Database and a New Orleans area baseball historian, maintains TheTenthInning.com website. He also authored the book, Family Ties: A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia About Baseball’s Relatives. He has contributed to numerous SABR-sponsored Bio Project and Games Project books.