- Bats Right, Throws Right
Michele Romano (also known as Mike Romano) played 25 seasons in Italy's top level and later was a manager and coach.
Romano was born in England while his father was stationed as a NATO officer there. He grew up in the US and went to college there. He then went to play baseball in Italy; as his paternal grandparents were Italian, he was allowed to play for the Italian national team, which he would do in over 50 games. His college coach, Alan Di Bernardo, had coached in Italy and suggested the idea to Romano.
Romano debuted in 1973 with Rimini, hitting .321/.500/.585 with 10 home runs, 47 walks and 36 runs in 39 games, while fielding .901 as a shortstop. He also pitched often, going 10-7 with a save, 2.62 ERA and .146/.277/.200 opponent batting line. Throwing around 90 mph, he was faster than other pitchers 1970s Italian batters were used to. He led Serie A in strikeouts (17 more than the runner-up, second in league history to Giacomo Bertoni's 253 in 1970) and wild pitches (19, 6 more than anyone else). He was second in walks, tied for 9th in homers, tied for 6th in wins and third in walks.
Romano did not play in Italy in 1974. He hit .257/.329/.473 with 33 runs, 32 RBI and 9 HR in 38 games for Rimini in 1975. He fielded .898 at short. On the mound, he went 10-1 with two saves, a 0.61 ERA, 110 strikeouts in 103 2/3 innings, no homers allowed and a .128/.208/.174 batting line allowed. He helped Rimini win its first title. He tied for 5th in the league in strikeouts and easily led in ERA; the only lower mark prior to that in Italian annals was Giulio Glorioso's 0.46 in 1961. In the 1975 European Championship, Romano helped propel Italy to its first Euro title since Glorioso's era, back in 1954. In the finale, he went the distance to pitch Italy past 10-time defending champion the Netherlands. For the 1975 Euros, he was 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA and 23 K in 20 IP. He also hit .172/.200/.586 and fielded .857 at SS; his odd batting line came about because four of his five hits were homers. He led the Azzurri in home runs, runs (7), wins and strikeouts. He was also with Italy for the 1975 Intercontinental Cup.
In 1976, Romano hit .259/.393/.410 with 37 runs in 45 games, had a .892 fielding percentage at short and went 4-2 with 3 saves, a 1.91 ERA and 74 K in 56 2/3 IP on the mound. Rimini won the 1976 European Cup. He went 13-5 with a save, 1.65 ERA and 179 strikeouts the next year, while batting .305/.395/.559. He tied Craig Gioia for the league lead in wins. For his efforts, he was named league MVP, the first MVP award given out since 1952 (when Glorioso won it). He went 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA in the 1977 European Championship and led Italy with 19 strikeouts as they won another Gold. He also played some at short, going 1 for 12 as the backup to Vincenzo Luciani.
Mike went 8-2 with a 0.51 ERA, 105 strikeouts in 88 IP and an opponent batting line of .151/.220/.187 for Rimini in 1978, while also hitting .253/.392/.361. He led the league in ERA, .03 over Gioia, and .05 shy of Glorioso's 17-year-old record; it would be 33 years until another pitcher (former major leaguer Darwin Cubillan) topped either Romano or Glorioso. He starred on the mound in the 1978 Amateur World Series, going 2-0 with 3 unearned runs in 17 2/3 IP. He struck out 14; at the plate, he was 4 for 14 with 3 walks. He made two errors at short, backing up Jerry Mondalto. He tied Mark Thurmond, Bertil Haage and Rogelio Garcia for the Series lead in ERA while tying for 6th in wins, behind Dong-won Choi, Shigekazu Mori, Mike Kinnunen, Thurmond and Braudilio Vinent.
Romano had a superb season on the hill for Rimini again in 1979 (13-1, 1.74, 148 K in 114 IP, .163/.229/.242 batting line against). The former wild righty walked only 34. He hit .310/.427/.586 with 21 runs in 19 games, still hitting well despite reduced action in the field and at the plate. Rimini won its second title and also took the '79 European Cup. Mike tied Riccardo Landucci for the win lead, led in ERA (.19 ahead of Landucci) and led in strikeouts (17 ahead of Vincent Perrone). He was the third pitcher to win a Triple Crown in Italy, following Glorioso (four times) and Federico Corradini (1974). Through 2012, only one other pitcher (David Farina, 1982) had matched the feat. He played one game in the 1979 European Championship (2 R, 1 ER, 5 H, 4 BB, 9 K in 9 IP, W) as Italy won its third straight European title.
The British-born hurler led the league in a department for the final time in 1980. He went 7-3 with a 3.55 ERA, a far cry from the prior years, but led with 118 K in 96 1/3 IP (7 whiffs ahead of Louis D'Amore). Rarely used in the field (Italy had a shortstop who had played in the Phillies chain), Romano went 10 for 33 with 8 walks, 3 doubles and a homer in his few plate appearances. Rimini won their third title. He went 3-0 with a 1.35 ERA in the 1980 Amateur World Series, leading Italy in innings pitched (20), strikeouts (14), walks (12) and wins (the rest of the staff was a combined 2-6). He only allowed 10 hits and was hitless in four at-bats (Mondalto was still the shortstop, with Luciani moving to 2B). He was second on Italy in ERA to Paolo Cherubini. Only Sun-hee Lee won more games in that Amateur World Series.
Reversing roles in 1981, Romano hit .389/.540/.611 as a regular at short but did not pitch much (4-0, 1.94). He was Italy's main shortstop in the 1981 European Championship but did not pitch; he hit .294/.400/.588 with 12 runs and 11 RBI in 9 games, fielding .905, while Italy fell to second place behind the Netherlands. Romano led Italy in runs and tied John Guggiana for the RBI lead. In 1982, he was back to being a two-way threat for Rimini, producing at a .294/.469/.596 clip while posting a 8-3, 2.48 record and striking out 97 in 83 1/3 IP. He went 0-2 with a 4.23 ERA and 10 walks in 17 innings in the 1982 Amateur World Series, losing 2-0 to Taiwan and 6-5 to the Dominican Republic. He also hit .312/.522/.688 with 7 walks in 8 games at the plate, now playing mostly center field for the Italians.
Romano and Rimini won their fourth title in 1983. He hit .294/.418/.524 and went 14-4 with a 2.58 ERA and 158 strikeouts in 149 1/3 innings. He was three wins and five strikeouts shy of league leader Lou Colabello. He went 2-0 with a 1.20 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 16 innings in the 1983 European Championship; Italy won Gold. He tied Colabello and David Farina for the lead in wins and was second to Farina for strikeouts on the Azzurri staff. He hit well in 1984 (.291/.405/.408, 49 BB in 55 G) but struggled on the mound (4-4, 6.08). He played for Italy in the 1984 Olympics, his final appearance for their national team. His pitching career was also practically over, as he would only make six mound appearances from 1985-1998, going 0-1. On the other hand, he remained active as an infielder, playing shortstop mostly from 1985-1992 before moving to third base for the next five seasons.
Romano hit .354/.482/.642 and fielded .939 at short for Rimini in 1985. He had 17 homers, 60 walks, 91 runs and 66 RBI in 66 games. He was 5th in the league in walks and third in runs, trailing only Donald Mazzilli and Roberto Bianchi. During '86, he batted .293/.440/.393 with 49 runs and 37 walks in 42 games, fielding .934. In 1987, he hit .340/.461/.506 with 38 runs and 35 RBI in 40 contests and had a .902 fielding percentage at short. Rimini won it all that year; he was 7 for 20 with 6 RBI in five games in the finals. Rimini repeated in 1988, when Mike batted .305/.399/.443 with 31 runs in 35 games, fielding .932 at SS. He was 7 for 16 with 3 walks and six runs in four contests in the finals.
Turning 36 in 1989, the veteran kept on reaching base frequently for Rimini, batting .280/.395/.312. Rimini won the 1989 European Cup but lost the Italian finals to Grosseto. He hit .249/.393/.360 with 43 walks and 42 runs in 56 games in 1990, fielding .950 at SS. In 1991, he hit .281/.402/.313 and fielded .951 at short. The next year, he batted .230/.340/.278 while his fielding at short fell to .906, his last season playing primarily that position. He was 2 for 8 with three walks as Rimini won their last title during his playing career.
In 1993, Romano hit .260/.367/.382 and fielded .940 at his new spot, 3B. He was 2 for 16 in the finals as Rimini lost to Nettuno. During 1994, he hit .244/.400/.305 and fielded .908 at third; he drew 36 walks in 44 games. In '95, he batted .256/.419/.297 with 45 walks and 39 runs in 51 games, while fielding .902 at the hot corner. He was 4th in the circuit in drawing bases on balls. In 1996, he was 43 years old at season's end, but still hit .308/.446/.377 with 34 walks in 42 games while fielding .919 at third. He tied for 10th in walks. Romano's batting line in 1997 was .303/.406/.339 while he fielded .914 at third. He only made one appearance in 1998, giving up four runs in one inning in the finals, losing a decision to Nettuno.
Romano then coached or managed for Rimini from 1999-2011, giving him a 39-year run with the organization. The team won Italian titles in 1999, 2000, 2002 and 2006. After Rimini cut ties with their long-time member, he moved to Novara as manager for 2012.
Overall, Romano had hit .291/.424/.434 with 830 runs, 607 RBI and 100 homers in 1,047 games in Italy. He had drawn 772 walks while striking out 497 times and stole 104 bases in 165 tries. He fielded .935 in 622 games at SS and .916 in 258 games at 3B. On the mound, he had gone 95-33 with 8 saves and a 2.28 ERA, striking out 1,331 and walking 470 in 1,084 IP. He had allowed an opponent batting line of .174/.263/.252. Through 2012, he ranked among Italy's career leaders in games played (5th behind Roberto De Franceschi, Paolo Ceccaroli, David Sheldon and Alberto D'Auria), hits (1,015, 22nd, between Alessandro Gaiardo and Orlando Munoz), doubles (151, tied for 29th), triples (23, tied for 28th), RBI (19th, between Stefano Manzini and Marco Mazzieri), walks (3rd behind Bianchi and Claudio Liverziani), homers (13th, between Elio Gambuti and Ruggero Bagialemani), OBP (20th), OPS (44th, between Ramon Tavarez and Marco Ubani), runs (6th, behind Bianchi, De Francheschi, Mazzieri, Guglielmo Trinci and Liverziani), wins (tied for 18th with Alfredo Lauri), ERA (tied for 16th with Juan Figueroa), complete games (69, tied for 21st with Walter Cossutta), innings (1,084, 31st), strikeouts (8th, between Massimiliano Masin and Rolando Cretis), WHIP (tied for 12th with Lauri), K/BB ratio (24th), fewest hits per 9 innings (second after Gioia) and strikeouts per 9 innings (4th, trailing Aris Tirado, Mike Pagnozzi and Mike Kinnunen).
He was inducted into the Italian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2020.