Pepitone at the 2009 Yankees' Old-Timers' Day
|First baseman / Center fielder|
|Born: October 9, 1940|
Brooklyn, New York
|April 10, 1962, for the New York Yankees|
|Last MLB appearance|
|May 25, 1973, for the Atlanta Braves|
|Runs batted in||721|
|Career highlights and awards|
Joseph Anthony Pepitone (born October 9, 1940) is a former Major League Baseball first baseman and outfielder who played the bulk of his career for the New York Yankees. He also played several seasons with the Chicago Cubs and had short stints with the Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves. During his time with the Yankees, Pepitone was thrice-named to play in the All-Star Game and also won three Gold Glove awards.
In 1958, Pepitone was signed by the New York Yankees as an amateur free agent. After playing four seasons in the minor leagues, he broke in with the Yankees in 1962, playing behind Moose Skowron at first base. A much-discussed legend was that while on his way to 1962 spring training in Florida, Pepitone spent his entire $25,000 ($221,540 today) signing bonus. He won a World Series ring in his rookie year with the Yankees.
Yankee management believed he could handle the first base job and traded Skowron to the Dodgers before the 1963 season. Pepitone responded, hitting .271 with 27 HR and 89 RBI. He went on to win three Gold Gloves, but in the 1963 World Series he made an infamous error. With the score tied 1-1 in the seventh inning of Game Four, he lost a routine Clete Boyer throw in the white shirtsleeves of the Los Angeles crowd, and the batter, Jim Gilliam, went all the way to third base and scored the Series-winning run on a sacrifice fly by Willie Davis. He redeemed himself somewhat in the 1964 Series against the Cardinals with a Game 6 grand slam.
After the 1969 season, despite having won his third Gold Glove Award, Pepitone was traded to the Astros for Curt Blefary. However, he played only about half the 1970 season before being traded to the Cubs. In Chicago, Pepitone replaced Ernie Banks at first base. Peptitone stayed with the Cubs through the 1971 and 1972 seasons, and was traded to the Atlanta Braves in May 1973. In Atlanta, he played only three games, which marked the end of his major-league career in the United States.
In June 1973, Pepitone accepted an offer of $70,000 ($403,156 today) a year to play for the Yakult Atoms, (now the Tokyo Yakult Swallows) a professional baseball team in Japan's Central League. While in Japan, he hit .163 with one home run and two RBI in 14 games played. Pepitone spent his days in Japan skipping games for claimed injuries only to be out at night in discos, behavior which led the Japanese to adopt his name into their vernacular--as a word meaning "goof off."
Jim Bouton talks extensively about Pepitone in his book Ball Four. Pepitone is described as being extremely vain. Bouton said that Pepitone went nowhere without a bag containing hair products for his rapidly balding head. Pepitone even had two toupees, one for general wear and one for under his baseball cap, which he called his "game piece." Bouton told a humorous story about how the game piece came loose one day when Pepitone took off his cap for the national anthem.
In January 1975, Pepitone published his own tell-all baseball memoir, titled Joe, You Coulda Made Us Proud. The book received substantial attention for its many revelations, particularly about his abusive father and his self-lacerating candor about his self-destructive ways. Later that year, he posed nude for Foxy Lady magazine, featuring full frontal nudity.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, several men's professional slow-pitch softball leagues were formed in the United States to build on the growth and talent in the booming men's amateur game during this period. The American Professional Slo-Pitch League (APSPL) was the first such league, launching in an era of experimentation in professional sports leagues. The APSPL was formed in 1977 by former World Football League executive Bill Byrne who would go on to form the Women's Professional Basketball League. Former New York Yankees star Whitey Ford was the first league commissioner.
A number of prominent athletes from other sports came to the men's professional softball leagues when that sport. MLB baseball veterans Jim Rivera, Curt Blefary and Milt Pappas managed teams. Players included former National Football League stars Billy "White Shoes" Johnson and Bob Lurtsema, and retired Major League Baseball players Ralph Garr, Norm Cash, Jim Price, Darrel Chaney, Jim Northrup, Mickey Stanley, Dick McAuliffe, and Zoilo Versalles. Few had much success in professional softball, playing part-time and promotional roles.
The notable exception was the former major-leaguer Pepitone, who first played for the Trenton Statesmen. Pepitone put up respectable numbers in 1978 (110-225, .489, 14 HRs, 61 RBIs) and 1979 (50-122, .410, 9 HRs, 30 RBIs). The Detroit Caesars would even offer $30,000 to the Statesmen to buy Pepitone's contract in 1978. That offer was rejected. After the New Jersey franchise disbanded in 1979, Pepitone went on to serve as the team President and played first-base for Chicago Nationwide Advertising of the North American Softball League (NASL) in their 1980 season. Joe Pepitone served as team president and played first-base. Pepitone would get a suspension during the year for "conduct detrimental to professional softball" when NASL Commissioner Robert Brown suspended him for 6 games and then was lost to the season in August with a thigh injury. The Yankees then hired him as a minor league hitting instructor at the end of the NASL season, bringing his professional softball career to a close.
In October 1980, Pepitone was hired as a minor league hitting coach with the Yankees and brought to the major league club in June 1982. He was replaced by Lou Pinella in August of that summer. Yankee owner George Steinbrenner again hired Pepitone on 1988 after release from prison to serve in the development of minor league players. Pepitone received a 1999 World Series ring for his relationship with the Yankees. He sold that ring at auction.
He spent four months at Rikers Island jail in 1988 for two misdemeanor drug convictions. He and two other men were arrested in Brooklyn on March 18, 1985, after being stopped by the police for running a red light. The car contained nine ounces of cocaine, 344 quaaludes, a free-basing kit, a pistol and about $6,300 in cash. Pepitone denied knowing there were drugs and guns in the vehicle.
In January 1992, Pepitone was charged with misdemeanor assault in Kiamesha Lake, New York, after a scuffle police said was triggered when Pepitone was called a "has-been." He was arraigned in town court and released after he posted $75 bail. In October 1995, the 55-year-old Pepitone was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated after losing control of his car in New York City's Queens-Midtown Tunnel. Police found Pepitone bloodied, disoriented and mumbling as he walked through the tunnel. Authorities charged Pepitone with drunken driving after he refused to take a sobriety test. Pepitone pleaded guilty. When asked if he was staying away from alcohol, Pepitone responded: "I don't drink that much."
Pepitone has been married three times, all ending in divorces. He married his first wife, Barbara Kogerman, in 1959 and had two children, Eileen and Joseph Jr. In February 1966 he married Diana Sandre and had a daughter named Lisa Ann born in October 1966. He later wed Stephanie Deeker and had son named Billy Joe and daughter named Cara with her.
Pepitone was shot by a classmate at the age of 17 while attending Manual Training High School, the same week that his father died at 39 years old due to a stroke. He did not press charges against the shooter.
Pepitone has been mentioned in at least five episodes of shows written by or produced by Larry David.
He was mentioned in the 1993 Seinfeld episode titled "The Visa". In the episode, Cosmo Kramer reluctantly describes his experience at a recent baseball fantasy camp, wherein Pepitone was crowding home plate while Kramer was pitching, leading to Kramer's beanball that resulted in a subsequent camp-ending brawl, in which Kramer punched Mickey Mantle.
Pepitone was mentioned in the 1994 Seinfeld episode titled "The Mom and Pop Store". In the episode, George Costanza buys John Voight's car, thinking it belonged to Jon Voight the actor. George tells Mr. Morgan, "Well, I think we need more special days at the stadium, you know? Like, uh...Joe Pepitone Day. Or, uh...Jon Voight Day."
Pepitone is mentioned in the sixth season of the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm episode titled "The Anonymous Donor", in which Larry David's Pepitone jersey gets lost at the dry cleaners. Larry and Leon Black then go out trying to find who is wearing it. In the episode, "Mister Softee" in the eighth season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry and Leon attend a baseball autograph signing where Leon says, "I'm gonna go check out Joe Pepitone up in here", though Pepitone does not actually appear.
Pepitone was first mentioned in the 1987 Golden Girls episode titled Whose Face Is This, Anyway. In this episode, Blanche tells Dorothy that she cannot possibly begin to comprehend the trauma a gorgeous woman goes through when she realizes her beauty is about to fade. Dorothy yells out, "And who do you see when you look at me Blanche, Joe Pepitone?!"
In the 1994 Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode "Zombie Nightmare", Mike Nelson refers to Joe Pepitone.
Pepitone is mentioned in the first season of The Sopranos episode entitled "Down Neck". Tony is having a flashback to his childhood during a therapy session with Dr. Melfi when he recalls walking out of his house when he was around 8 or 9 years old and his Uncle Junior shouts from his car "Anthony, you hear the game last night?", Tony replies "No, my mom made me go to bed", and then Uncle Junior says "Joey Pepitone, three RBIs!"
Pepitone is mentioned in the show Rescue Me in the episode titled "Jeter". In it, Tommy Gavin is upset at Lou for betraying his trust. He states that Lou is not Derek Jeter, after previously comparing him to the baseball star, and then he goes on to say that he's not even Joe "Goddamn" Pepitone.
Joe Pepitone was mentioned in the special episode of The West Wing made after 9/11, where the character Josh Lyman describes a baseball cap that his dad got Joe Pepitone to sign and he wore it to school every day during the 7th Grade.
In 2010, the novella Soul of a Yankee: The Iron Horse, The Babe and the Battle for Joe Pepitone, written by Pepitone's nephews William A. and Joseph V. Pepitone, was released. In it, the ghost of Lou Gehrig takes Joe through his life to show him the error of his ways, while the ghost of Babe Ruth tries to tempt Joe back into the wild life.
Pepitone was a member of the 1963, 1964 and 1965 American League All Star Team. He won the Gold Glove award for first basemen in 1965, 1966 and 1969. He also won a World Series ring in 1962 as a player. He also received rings in 1998 and 1999 as an executive with the Yankees.