The Yankees have announced that former first baseman Joe Pepitone has died at 82.
Statement from The New York Yankees on the passing of Joe Pepitone: pic.twitter.com/XckqVACsfa
— New York Yankees (@Yankees) March 13, 2023
Pepitone spent seven-plus seasons with the Yankees and won three Gold Gloves at first base. He also made three AL All-Star teams. The Brooklyn native also starred at John Jay High School in Park Slope before the Yankees signed him in 1958.
Pepitone was eventually traded to the Astros and also spent time with the Cubs and Braves. He finished a 12-year career with a .258 lifetime batting average and 219 home runs. A combination of injuries and issues with management saw his career end at just 33 years old.
And through a roller coaster retirement that saw him serve as the Yankees’ hitting coach in the majors and minors in the 1980s, plus a short drug-related prison sentence, Pepitone remained a fan favorite. He was a regular at Old Timers’ Day. He played professional softball for a few years. His community outreach work on behalf of the Yankees earned him a World Series ring in 1999.
More recently, Pepitone made headlines when he sued the Baseball Hall of Fame for the return of Mickey Mantle’s 500th home run bat. Pepitone claimed it was his, but dropped the lawsuit in 2021.
This is Pepitone’s legacy in a nutshell. A good but not great baseball player, but one with legendary stories. Why else would he be referenced in not one, not two, but three episodes of “Seinfeld?” Remember the “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episode where Larry David’s dry cleaner loses his Yankees jersey? Who can forget the infamous “Sopranos” reference?
The mid-1960s Yankees teams weren’t very memorable. In fact, Mantle’s final handful of seasons were borderline mediocre But thanks toPepitone the team was still somewhat enjoyable. What he lacked in playing skills he more than made up for in personality, even if he rubbed some the wrong way. Fans will miss his unmatched swagger.
Follow ESNY on Twitter @elitesportsny