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Another lawsuit accuses former youth baseball coach of sexual misconduct

Tony Sagona was coach of a Babe Ruth League team on Staten Island, New York, when the incident is alleged to have happened more than four decades ago.

A former New York youth baseball coach who has been accused of molestation by several former players was hit with another lawsuit this week, this time by a New Jersey man alleging sexual misconduct in the mid-1970s.

The man, identified only as "Joe Doe2," filed a New York state civil complaint accusing the coach, Anthony Sagona, of forcing him to masturbate in front of him in 1974 or 1975, when the plaintiff was 14 or 15 years old and living on Staten Island.

He is the eighth former player to have accused Sagona, 70, of wrongdoing, the New Jersey man's attorney, Bradley Rice, said Thursday.

Rice said his client was a standout pitcher as a child on Staten Island but developed arm issues — which he alleged prompted Sagona to ask him whether he masturbated.

The lawsuit alleges that "Sagona explained that masturbating 'tenses' the muscles [and] would prohibit plaintiff's arm from properly healing."

In the most disturbing allegation, the New Jersey man said he was invited to Sagona's home and was greeted in the basement by the coach, who was wearing a bathrobe.

"Sagona then instructed plaintiff to pull his pants down and fondle his genitals while Sagona watched," according to the complaint. "As plaintiff followed Sagona's instructions, Sagona's hands were hidden from sight and were likely masturbating himself during this episode.

"At this juncture, plaintiff became completely disturbed by this incident and left Sagona's home. Shortly thereafter, and coupled with plaintiff's injuries, plaintiff stopped playing baseball altogether," it claims.

Coach Tony Sagona stands on the sidelines of a Jersey Shore Warriors game on July 14, 2018.
Coach Tony Sagona stands on the sidelines of a Jersey Shore Warriors game on July 14, 2018.Josh Verlin

Sagona, who is retired and lives in Boca Raton, Florida, maintains his innocence, said his attorney, Aidan O'Connor.

"Mr. Sagona categorically denies any and all of these allegations of any sexual abuse," O'Connor said Thursday.

Lawsuits against Sagona have been made possible by new laws that have adjusted statutes of limitations.

For example, Sagona, who also coached basketball, was sued in New Jersey in December 2019 by two former basketball players a day after New Jersey opened a two-year window during which accusers could file civil complaints against people they accused of abuse. The lawsuits would previously have been barred by the state's statute of limitations.

A similar window opened in 2019 in New York under a measure called the Child Victims Act, allowing Rice to sue Sagona on behalf of four former baseball players, three of whom recounted their stories to NBC News. The deadline to sue under the Child Victims Act is Saturday.

O'Connor denied the allegations in an interview in 2019, saying, "There was no sexual abuse of any kind." Of the lawsuits filed in August 2019, Bruce Ackerman, of Pashman Stein Walder Hayden PC in Hackensack, who represented Sagona, said, "The allegations are denied."

O'Connor detailed the difficulty of his client's being forced to defend himself against civil allegations that are more than four decades old.

"It's very hard to find witnesses to say 'where were you' or to deny that you were somewhere 40 years ago," he said. "People's parents have died. People who could have been witnesses have died. There's a statute of limitations for a reason, to protect against people making claims decades after they happen. It makes it very difficult to defend these kinds of cases. "

Babe Ruth Inc., based in Hamilton, New Jersey, and the Great Kills Babe Ruth League are also named as defendants in the Staten Island lawsuit.

Telephone and email messages for Babe Ruth Inc. were not immediately returned Thursday. The league's Great Kills chapter in Staten Island is defunct.