Joe Pepitone was the first player to bring a hair dryer into the Yankees clubhouse. It’s kind of appropriate Pepi was known for his hairdo (and toupees) since he was born October 9, 1940, the same day another person known for his hairstyle, former Beatle John Lennon, was born.
Pepitone died today at the age of 82. He played for the Yankees (1962-1969), Astros (1970), Cubs (1970-1973) and Braves (1973). He was a 3x All-Star and 3x Gold Glove winner who was there at the end of the Yankees dynasty of 1921-1964 and at the beginning of the dark ages of the mid to late 1960s.
Pepitone was a backup in 1962, earning a WS championship ring but not getting into that WS. In one game that season, he hit two homers in the same inning. He then took over the 1B position in 1963 after the Yankees traded Moose Skowron to the Dodgers. Pepi was the regular 1B on the Yankees’ AL pennant winners of 1963 and 1964. He was an All-Star 1963-1965. He finished 17th in MVP voting in 1963 and 27th in 1966.
In 1963, his first full season in the bigs, he hit .271-27-89, OPS+ 109 to help the Yanks win the pennant. The Yanks this year won the pennant despite Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris both missing considerable time. But Pepi made a costly error that cost the Yanks in the fourth and final game of that 1963 WS. Pepitone hit .251-28-100 in 1964 as the Yanks won another pennant. In the two WS Pepitone played in, in 11 games, he hit .154 with 1 HR and 5 RBI. He hit a grand slam in Game 6 of the 1964 World Series.
The Yanks collapsed in 1965. They finished last in 1966 despite Pepitone’s 31 HR. In 1967, Pepitone moved to CF for two years in order for Mickey Mantle to move to 1B because of his bad knees. Pepitone returned to 1B in 1969. He won Gold Gloves at 1B in 1965, 1966 and 1969.
A .258 career hitter, the flamboyant and controversial Pepitone hit 219 HR in his career. His 162-game average was .258-25-84. OPS+ 105. Good, but his was a career where you wondered what more he could have done if he put more of his heart into it. Even Pepitone’s autobiography was “Joe, you could have made us proud.” It seems like he wasted a lot of his talent with a lackadaisical attitude.
Pepitone had his run-ins away from the field. As a teenager growing up in Brooklyn, he was shot in the stomach by a classmate at the age of 17 and in the same week his father died of a stroke at the age of 39. Some characters he ran around with were shady and got Joe into trouble in the mid 1980s. He had run-ins with the law and spent some time in jail.
After his MLB days ended, he went to Japan in 1973, but only played in 14 games there, hitting .163 with 1 HR and 2 RBI. He skipped games due to claimed injuries but was seen out in Japanese discos. The Japanese, not impressed, put his name into their vernacular, meaning “goof off”. As I mentioned, Pepitone had a problem with how much he devoted himself to his job.
Sometimes, he’d show up so late at Yankee Stadium for the game that manager Ralph Houk had to call the NYPD to put out a APB on Joe’s whereabouts. Fed up with Pepi, the Yanks traded him after the 1969 season, even though he had led the Yanks with 27 HR in 1969. By that time, fans were booing Pepi and getting a bit fed up with him.
Less partying would have done Joe good. He even once posed nude for a magazine.
He was a decent player who could have been even better. One thing is for sure. He was quite a character.
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