By PJ Shelley, Tour and Programming Director
This past July, 1.1 million viewers watched Kentucky-born competitive eater, Joey Chestnut, bring home his 10th mustard-yellow belt by eating 72 hot dogs in 10 minutes to win the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. Admittedly, I was one of them. I’m a sucker for ridiculous competitions. But long before Joey Chestnut was conquering the competitive eating world, there was another intriguing eating competition: New York Yankee Ping Bodie verses Percy the Ostrich.
Francesco Stephano Pizzolo was born in San Francisco to Italian parents in 1887. His nickname, Ping (pictured below), was allegedly given to him as that was the sound the ball made when it came off his wood bat – a 38oz Cobb model Slugger. A generation before Italian American names like DiMaggio, Lombardi, and Rizzuto dominated the scorecards, Pizzolo feared he would be teased for his Italian name. He took the surname “Bodie” from the California mining town (now ghost town) his father once worked.
Just like Joe DiMaggio would do 24 years later, Ping Bodie began his career with his hometown San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League in 1908 playing centerfield. He broke into the bigs in 1911 with the Chicago White Sox and played with them for four seasons, bounced around a bit before finishing his MLB career with the New York Yankees from 1918-1921. He was Babe Ruth’s first Yankee roommate. Years later, when asked about rooming with Ruth, the good-natured Bodie said he never roomed with Ruth but instead, “I roomed with his suitcase.”
In 1919, Jacksonville, Florida, the chamber of commerce was advertising Percy the Ostrich (pictured below) as the “world’s greatest eater” to promote their new zoo. That year, the Yankees were playing spring training in Jacksonville and Cap Huston, co-owner of the Yankees, caught wind of Percy’s gastronomic greatness. He reached out to Jacksonville’s chamber and offered up a challenger for Percy: Ping Bodie. The confident chamber of commerce accepted the challenge and even allowed the challenger to choose the type of food. Ping Bodie chose his favorite food: spaghetti.
Even though the event was held 61 years before the creation of PETA, it was not widely advertised or promoted out of fear of intervention by authorities because of the brutality to Percy. Nevertheless, a Jacksonville boxing pavilion was packed, including several Yankee teammates, as the contestants entered the boxing ring. The chamber bet heavily on Percy expecting him to float like a flightless bird and sting like a bee. The San Francisco Chronicle would provide round by round details the following day.
In round 1, both contestants finished their plates of spaghetti. Bodie felt slowed by his fork, so he abandoned it and began to wrangle the spaghetti with his hands. In round 3, Percy not only finished his plate of pasta but he also swallowed the time-keeper’s stopwatch – chain and all – according to the Chronicle. Round 5 Bodie refused a napkin offered to him and stayed toe to giant toe with his feathered opponent. After eight servings of spaghetti, Percy began to slow down while Bodie showed no signs of pasta fatigue. Percy the Ostrich would waddle to his 11th plate of pasta but passed out. Ping Bodie was declared the winner after finishing his 11th serving.
Here is the story that appeared in the April 13, 1919, San Francisco Chronicle detailing the spaghetti showdown:
After retiring from baseball, Ping Bodie became an electrician in Hollywood and a bit actor. Whether Percy actually ate a stopwatch and later passed out or that was an exaggeration of the Chronicle is lost to time (no pun intended). I’d like to think Percy was just full. Either way, I think Joey Chestnut should tip his cap and loosen his mustard yellow belt in honor of Francesco Stephano Pizzolo’s spaghetti eating prowess.
More Fowl Facts:
- Greg Bird, who hit the game-winning home run for the Yankees in game 3 of this year’s ALDS, prefers an I13 model Louisville Slugger. He also has a hairless cat named, “Mr. Delicious”, that he claims is related to Mr. Bigglesworth from Austin Powers.
- Tris “The Grey Eagle” Speaker created the S39 model with us in 1928. His .344 batting average is good for sixth all time.
- Joe “Ducky” Medwick received his nickname for his waddling gait. He created both the M1 and M12 Slugger models and all his bats were either white or brown hickory.
- The equally waddling, Ron “The Penguin” Cey, created the C300 model in January, 1979. He was given his nickname by his coach at Washington State: Bobo Brayton.