… NOMINATED FOR AN ACADEMY AWARD FOR BEST ACTOR IN A
SUPPORTING ROLE FOR DO THE RIGHT THING
… FEATURED IN SUCH MOVIES AS ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA,
THE GODFATHER PART II, THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO,
… NOTED BROADWAY AND FILM ACTOR
Whoever would understand the heart and mind of America
had better learn baseball.
Baseball played a major role in my life both as a player and a fan. As a kid, I would get to the major league games as early as possible, not to see the hitting but the fielding practice, because the perfection they attained was so unbelievable.
I was a switch-hitting, long ball hitter, a Dave Kingman type. They called me Three Sewers Danny in the Broadway Show League. I hit these long, high balls. I was a dead pull hitter, so I never had a great average. But I could hit, and could hit it far. I never was paid to play, but I did garner some interest from the majors. There was a scout after me from the New York Giants. He came to my house and talked to my mother. They wanted to see what kind of kid I was and what kind of family I had. But I didn’t think too much of it, because I was just a kid. The St. Louis Browns also sent a scout to look at me play in the Federation League. I don’t know anyone who was ever signed by these guys, but they did come to many of the games in Manhattan and the Bronx.
OWED TO BASEBALL
I also played every day in the army, in Munich, Germany, for three years from 1952 to 1954. It got me out of so many marches and drills. I would be walking out onto the field with my mitt, passing my unit on forced drills. It was incredible. If I didn’t know how to play the game well, I would have been doing those drills and not been out there on the field every day. We even had a couple of major leaguers on our team, and that was a great way to judge my talent level.
YOU MOVE LIKE AN ATHLETE
Playing sports helped me understand my body and taught me selfawareness, which, as an actor, is a huge asset. I was told I moved, walked, ran, and acted like an athlete, and that was a huge compliment. If I have to throw a punch in a movie, it has to be a gorgeous punch. I want people to know I can hit like a son of a b. When I played first base in Bang the Drum Slowly, I had to look like a major leaguer. I had to stretch for a ball
DANNY AIELLO 213
like a major leaguer, my feet had to be right, my hand positioning had to be dead on. Bobby Murcer (a former Yankee, Giant, and Cub) said, I saw you switching feet. The real players who appeared as extras were ripping Bobby De Niro (Robert to you and me) as was the worst baseball player they had ever seen.
I CAN DO THAT. JUST LET ME TRY
I was a bouncer at the Improv and this playwright came up to me and said, Do you want to act? I said, Sure, why not? He gave me a fifteen-minute monologue to see if I could do it. It was a test and I knew it, and I just would not permit myself to fail. I grabbed that script and focused on it as if I were at home plate. Nothing else mattered. I absorbed it. I was used to the pressure of playing ball when, at some point, the game was on my shoulders. Having dealt with that kind of pressure lined me up for success onstage. Like acting, baseball is a game of concentration and relaxation. You’ve got to relax and not be afraid at the plate. Most of the guys who do not have success in baseball are the ones who think they are going to get cracked in the head with a ninety-mile-an-hour fastball. They never become great hitters. As an actor, if you can eliminate the fear, concentrate, and relax, you can do wonders.
WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN
The timing was never right for me to give pro baseball a shot. I left school early, because I got into trouble, and went into the army. If the scouts were still interested they wouldn’t have been able to find me. I got back from the army at twenty-one and just kept playing Federation ball all around New York until I was thirty-five. I played on a team called the Bronx Braves. I never got paid, but the quality of the games was tremendous. To this day, I say I could have been a major leaguer. I was not a fast runner and I didn’t use the whole field when I hit, but if I played every day and got the proper coaching, I think I would have had a real shot, at least playing in the minor leagues.
STICKING IT OUT
I’m the kind of person who always perseveres. I never quit baseball, I stayed in it for decades. And when I dove into acting, I was and still am the same way. I work whenever I can and always look to get better. Even today, I just don’t quit.
If I hadn’t gotten into gang fights, spent so much time in pool halls, and stayed in school, maybe I could have made it to the majors. But I’m not the kind of person who looks back. The more I think of it, the fact that I didn’t give myself a chance to make it as a ballplayer made me more determined to not shoot myself in the foot as an actor. The dedication and perseverance, not taking no for an answer, and not letting myself get distracted are what I learned had to be done to be successful as an actor. I made it as an actor and never knew a soul. I just said to myself that I would not fail. I had two kids, was making one hundred fifty dollars a week as a bouncer at the age of thirty-six, and still found a way to break through in acting. Now I have done over eighty movies and turned myself into a singer and I’m working on my second album. If I had done this in baseball, God knows how far I could have gone.
Like many of us, early decisions helped keep Danny from maxing out his ability in sports, but it did set him up for success. Again, we see a negative situation turned positive because the person chose to learn from rather then dwell on his failures. I think I’m going to go out and rent Bang the Drum Slowly and buy his album. How about you?
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