By Ed Manfredi, La Nostra Voce 
A few months ago, I was introduced to Rich Talarico.  We began a series of conversations, and during one of our talks, we realized we had something in common: Hays, Pennsylvania (the bygone Italian-Pittsburgh enclave that shaped my childhood).  Rich told me about his great uncle, Ollie Carnegie, who played ball for 15 seasons across the game’s farm system. It was a new story from my old neighborhood, and I had to learn more.
I reached out to my Uncle Joe Falce, who, at 95, is the official historian of Hays.  As it turned out, Joe’s older brother, Lou, played on the same Hays team as Ollie.  Joe later saw Ollie play in Buffalo, and as luck would have it, Lou and Ollie were next door neighbors.  When Joe would visit, he would attend games with Ollie’s son and sit in the dugout.  According to Joe, Ollie was one of the greatest baseball players that ever emerged from Western PA.
 
The Story of Ollie Carnegie
On June 29, 1899, Oliver Angelo “Ollie” Carnegie was born in Hays, Pennsylvania to his Italian immigrant parents, Benjamin and Rose Carnegie.  Ollie grew up in Hays playing sandlot ball.  He fell in love with the game.  The righthanded outfielder attracted the attention of the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Washington Senators.  They offered him contracts, but he declined.  In 1922, at the age of 23, he started his career with the Flint Vehicles, from the Michigan-Ontario League.  However, a case of appendicitis forced him out of baseball.  He went back to Hays and took a job with the Pennsylvania Railroad.
He began playing semi-pro ball, with the Hays team that was sponsored by the Walter Scott Feed Store.  I remember seeing photos of their teams when I went into the store with my dad.  For the next nine years, Ollie played for Wilkinsburg, Braddock, Dormont, McKeesport, Beaver Falls, Pitcairn, and Homewood.  He became a local legend thanks to his ability to knock homers out of the local ballparks.  In fact, the Pittsburgh Press nicknamed him “Bambino” and described him as the “sandlot Babe Ruth.”  Carnegie was sought after by many Major and Minor League teams, but Ollie wanted to stick with the railroad and live in Hays.
In 1931, Ollie lost his job at the age of 32 and signed a contract with the Hazelton Mountaineers, a Minor League team owned by the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Later in the year, the Buffalo Bisons purchased Carnegie’s contract for $500 from Hazelton.  This was the start of a career that would last for 12 non-consecutive seasons.  During that time (1931-41, 45), Ollie played in 1,213 games, where he racked up 1,362 hits, 249 doubles, 258 homeruns, and 1,044 RBIs — all of which sent him to the top of the Bisons’ record book.
The Bisons played in the International League, which, at the time, was one step from the Majors.  Carnegie led the IL in homeruns in 1938 and 1939.  In 1938, he won the IL’s Most Valuable Player Award.  His record of 258 homeruns wouldn’t be broken until 2014, yet Ollie never played Major League Baseball — his age had caught up with him.
Ollie Carnegie is an inaugural member of the International League Hall of Fame and Buffalo’s Baseball Hall of Fame.  He is also a member of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.  Ollie’s uniform number was retired by the Bisons.  He is arguably the greatest Minor League player of all time.
Ollie Carnegie ended his playing career at the age of 46.  He took a job in Buffalo with the local government and eventually retired.  Ollie’s story is another successful example of a first-generation Italian immigrant, from my hometown of Hays, PA.
This article first appeared in La Nostra Voce, ISDA’s monthly newspaper that chronicles Italian American history, culture and traditions. 
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Ed Manfredi, La Nostra Voce 
lindsayking, iStock; Ed Manfredi
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