Born: April 26, 1922
Died: April 21, 2002
Samuel Joseph Dente was born April 26, 1922 in Harrison and grew up in nearby Kearny. The youngest of six kids, Sam was an agile, solidly built athlete, who excelled in all sports. His best may have been soccer. He played center half for Kearny High and, later, for the Kearny Americans, the local pro team that was in the midst of a five-championship run. Sam also was the star shortstop on the Kearny High baseball team, and was one of the best American Legion ballplayers in the NY-Metro area.
The Tigers signed Sam after graduation in 1941 but quickly cut him after he looked terrible in a workout against hard-throwing Virgil Trucks in Newark. The Red Sox moved in quickly and signed Sam. He played in the low minors for Boston until he enlisted in the Army in the summer of 1943. He saw action in Europe as part of an antiaircraft unit, and lost hearing in his left ear.
After returning from the service in 1946, Sam showed a little more pop and quickly made his way up to the big leagues. Part of his promotion involved an agreement to quit playing pro soccer. Sam won the everyday third base job for the Red Sox and batted .232 in 46 games.
However, the Bosox weren’t satisfied with Sam at third. They traded for Browns shortstop Vern Stephens after the season and decided to move Johnny Pesky to third. That made Sam expendable, and he was included in the megadeal between the two clubs. Sam split the Browns’ shortstop job with Eddie Pellagrini in 1948. He was traded to Senators after the season.
Sam had a meteoric personality. He was a well-known clubhouse cut-up, but during games he had trouble controlling his anger. The Washington players were happy to have him, as were their fans. The Senators’ shortstop, Mark Christman, had lost his batting stroke. The saying in DC that spring was “We’ll win plenty with Dente.”
Sam was the everyday shortstop for Washington from 1949 to 1951. He showed great playmaking ability, getting to balls many other shortstops could not. This translated into lots of assists, but also more errors than anyone in the AL in 1949 and 1950. Sam batted .273 with 43 RBIs in 1950 and received a handful of MVP votes. However, midway through 1951 he lost his job to young Pete Runnels and the Senators traded Sam to the White Sox after the season.
Sam was a sub in 1952 for Chicago. Early in 1953, the Indians purchased him and stashed him in the minors. Cleveland recalled Sam in 1954, and he backed up oft-injured George Strickland during the team’s record-smashing 111-win season. He batted .266 in 68 games. Sam started Game 3 of the 1954 World Series against the Giants and reached base twice on a walk and an error.
The 1955 season was Sam’s last as a major leaguer. He batted .257 in 73 games and called it a career at age 33. His lifetime average was .252.
Sam lived in West Caldwell, where he and his wife Marie raised their daughter, Patricia. Pat’s sons, Rick and Jake Porcello, were standout pitchers for Seton Hall Prep, with Rick making it to the majors with the Tigers in 2009. Sam passed away in Montclair at the age of 79 in 2002.