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As a reference librarian, you never know what the day may hold, who may approach you, or what questions they may have. This is especially true in the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library’s Giamatti Research Center.
Today I was approached by Elizabeth Pierro and her husband Louis. Elizabeth was inquiring about her father, Lee Riley, who Mrs. Pierro explained, “had a long minor league career.” Her main reason in coming to the library was to see if we had any holdings on him.
A search of the database Baseball-Reference found that Lee had a cup of coffee with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1944, and a further, detailed search of the Hall of Fame’s minor league contract card collection and Lee Riley player file, indicated a minor league career that spanned three decades. While arranging material for Mrs. Pierro to look at, we struck up a conversation about her family, which, as she described, “was filled with athletes.”
Not only did her father play professional ball, but two of her brothers made it big in professional sports as well. Her eldest brother, Lee Riley Jr., played football for the University of Detroit, before moving on to star with the Lions, Eagles and Giants of the NFL, and the AFL’s Titans (the team would become the Jets). Her youngest brother Pat played professional basketball for 10 seasons before becoming one of the most decorated coaches in NBA history with the Lakers, Knicks and Heat, winning five NBA championships.
Elizabeth and Pat were born two years apart, but she was separated from her by the youngest of her older siblings by 15 years. Growing up, she remembers that her and Pat moved around a lot while her father managed all over in the minor leagues. She has many stories to tell, and describes fond memories of “being bounced on (Hall of Fame manager) Tommy Lasorda’s knee” as a child.
Louis said when he first met Elizabeth, she was quite an athlete in her own right, and that she taught Pat how to throw a baseball, “She could throw the ball from home to second on a dime.” Elizabeth also competed in gymnastics, swimming and diving while in high school. But Elizabeth’s time as an athlete was before the Title IX Education Amendments of 1972, and there just weren’t as many athletic opportunities for women as there were for their male counterparts.
Her sister, Mary Kay, also competed athletically, travelling all over New York State competing in classic bowling leagues. When asked who the best athlete in the family was, neither Elizabeth, nor her husband Louis, hesitated at all: It was her brother Lenny. Louis said “I would go over to her house and her parents had all the kids’ athletic trophies on display and Lenny had the most.” Lenny never played professional sports, opting, instead, to join the US military as a paratrooper. While in the service, Lenny competed in military football and baseball leagues.
While athletics clearly ran in her blood, Elizabeth opted for a quieter life. She became an accountant with a firm in Schenectady, N.Y., upon graduation. She eventually married Louis and started a family, raising two children and is now a grandmother of four with one on the way.
Just another fascinating day at the Hall of Fame Library – where past and present come together.
Freddy Berowski is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum