We're not trying to perpetuate stereotypes here, but if your name is Frank Menechino and you were born and raised on Staten Island in New York City, this is exactly how you're supposed to look and act. There's the thick accent, the one that turns hitter into hittuh and ball into bawl. There's the brash half-tough-guy-half-comedian persona that smacks of the City. There are the dark features and the thickly muscled fireplug build that lends an aura of power to a 5'8" frame.
Imagine, then, the culture shock Menechino felt when, after a stint in junior college, he arrived in Tuscaloosa as a 20-year-old Alabama junior. "I was like My Cousin Vinny down there," he says. "I didn't fit in at all."
Menechino, now 30, has found a more comfortable home in Oakland. After seven years of kicking around the minors and a season in the majors as a utility player, Menechino is the As regular second baseman, having taken over the job when heralded rookie Jose Ortiz struggled and then suffered a strained left calf muscle two weeks into the season. Through Sunday, Menechino was hitting .272; was tied for third among American League second basemen in home runs, with 10 (the Indians' Roberto Alomar also had 10; the Mariners' Bret Boone had 22 and the White Sox' Ray Durham had 11); and was second in on-base percentage (.386, behind Alomar). He had also continued the role he took on last year as one of the chief cutups in the A's clubhouse cum frat house.
"Jason [Giambi] is the ringleader, but Frank is right with him when it comes to keeping things loose," says DH Jeremy Giambi. "We get on him about his height and his accent, and he gives it right back. He's a guy who loves his heritage."
The odds of Menechino jumping from da Island to da bigs were not good. Coming out of Alabama in 1993, he was so low-profile that he was drafted in the 45th round by the White Sox, two rounds after Chicago chose then general manager Ron Schueler's daughter Carey. Menechino tore ligaments in his knee a year after he was drafted, and in spring training before the following season, during the 1995 work stoppage, he played with Chicago's team of replacement players as part of his rehab.
That show of dedication—he wasn't paid, and says he played only to prove he was healthy—won him no points from the White Sox, who didn't promote him beyond Double A despite his flashes of power and solid defense in each of the next three seasons. After the '97 season the As acquired him in the Rule V draft. Menechino had a September call-up in '99, then got his first extended big league chance last season, hitting .255 with six homers in 145 at bats as a fill-in for injured second baseman Randy Velarde and as a utility player who also played shortstop and third base. (He even pitched an inning.)
When Ortiz went down, Menechino got the everyday job. "I told him the difference this year is that his chance wasn't for a limited time," says Oakland manager Art Howe. "This was his chance to prove he's a major league player, and he's made the most of it."
Menechino did play an off-key role in the A's run to the 2000 playoffs. One night late in the season he was blasting Frank Sinatra's The Way You Look Tonight on the clubhouse stereo before a game, strutting around the room and providing vocal backing. Oakland won, and Menechino's lounge act became a pregame ritual. "It was good luck," he says.
Spoken like a true New Yorker.