RIP Joe Pepitone, the most flamboyant Yankee


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Joe Pepitone, a first baseman with the 1960s New York Yankees known for his flamboyant style, hairpieces, and affinity for nightlife, has passed away at the age of 82. He was an All-Star and Gold Glove winner. Pepitone was discovered dead on Monday morning at the home he shared with his daughter, Cara Pepitone, in Kansas City, Missouri.

He was a three-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner in addition to his World Series ring. Joe Pepitone struck for power and popularity, but his renegade ways eventually resulted in him losing his place in the Yankees squad.

The Yankees said in a statement that Joe Pepitone’s “playful and charismatic personality and on-field contributions made him a favorite of generations of Yankees fans even beyond his years with the team in the 1960s.”

Joe Pepitone was born in Brooklyn. He went to Manual Training High School, signed with the Yankees in 1958, and played in the major leagues for the first time in 1962. He helped Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Elston Howard lead the Yankees to their second straight World Series title.

Many people in the game, including players, coaches, sportswriters, and even umpires, liked Joe Pepitone, even though he was a bit self-centered, funny, and troubled.

“I wish I could buy you for what you’re really worth,” Mantle once told him, as cited by Baseball-Almanac, “then sell you for what you think you’re worth.”

Joe Pepitone became the Yankees’ first baseman in 1962. From 1963 to 1965, he made it into three All-Star teams in a row and hit a lot of home runs each year. He also played in two World Series. But his hair and funny antics may be what people remember most about him.

In New York, people liked their local boy a lot. For fans, he was Pepi. Joe Pepitone had “a sweet, compact, left-handed swing, a smooth glove, and the personality of an unstoppable joy rider from the neighborhood.”

He was known for being wild and unreliable, and went to prison for drugs in the 1980s, long after his career was over. Joe Pepitone liked to wear his hair long and puffy. He was the first Yankee to bring a hair dryer into the clubhouse and also wore toupees. And he lived the life of a late-night social climber, giving money to people, chasing women, and going to places like the Copacabana known for their glam and trouble. Before Joe Namath moved to New York, he was, well, a poor Joe Namath.

Joe Pepitone had the arm, speed, and judgment to play more than 400 games in center field during his 12-year career.

When only a season old, he won over the Yankees to such an extent that they relied on him and sold first-choice first-baseman Bill Skowron. With Mantle and Yogi Berra getting older and Roger Maris’ best years behind him, Joe Pepitone seemed like he would be the star of the next generation’s lineup. From 1963 to 1965, he was on three All-Star teams in a row. He hit 27 home runs in 1963, 28 in 1964, 18 in 1965, and 31 in 1966, which was his career high.

But this turned out to be a rough time for the Yankees as they went from being the best team to being one of the rest. After winning 10 World Series in the previous 16 years, the Yankees were swept by the Dodgers in 1963 and by the Cardinals in 1964. In the last game, Pepitone made an error that cost the Yankees three bases and the game.

The left-handed hitter hit 28 home runs in 1964 and played in all seven games of the Yankees’ loss to the Cardinals in the World Series. It was the last time the Yankees played in the World Series until 1976.

Even though Joe Pepitone brought high hopes to The Bronx, he became one of the symbols of their decline, which began in the late 1960s. When he replaced an injured Mickey Mantle in center field, fans at Yankee Stadium booed him.

He hit 27 home runs again for the Yankees in 1969 and hit .307 in more than 40 at-bats for the Cubs in 1971, but after 1966, Joe Pepitone never drove in more than 70 runs in a season. He had a career average of .258 and hit 219 home runs. He stayed with the Yankees even though they were getting worse. After the 1969 season, he was traded to Houston for Curt Blefary.

From 1970 to 1973, Joe Pepitone played for the Chicago Cubs. He ended his career in 1973 with Atlanta and the Yakult Atoms of Japan’s Central League.

In 1980, Joe Pepitone went back to the Yankees as a hitting coach for their minor league team. In 1982, he worked for a short time with their big league team.

For most of his career, Joe Pepitone’s wild and self-destructive behavior took away from what he was good at. He had problems with money and with his marriage. After night games, he started drinking and doing drugs. Joe Pepitone claimed at one point that he introduced Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford to marijuana. In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in 2015, he said that when he was with the Cubs, fans in the stands would throw cocaine at him in the outfield, and he would hide them in the ivy that covered the stadium wall.

Joe Pepitone got in trouble with the law, including misdemeanor drug charges from an incident in 1985. However, he was still a popular Yankees player and a regular at Old-Timers’ Day.

Joe Pepitone was a part of pop culture. He was mentioned several times in “Seinfeld,” like when Kramer said he should drill him during a fantasy camp game because he crowded the plate and when George, who worked for the Yankees at the time, suggested that the Yankees have a Joe Pepitone Day in The Bronx.

“As a native New Yorker, he embraced everything about being a Yankee during both his playing career — which included three All-Star appearances and three Gold Gloves — and in the decades thereafter,” the Yankees statement said. “You always knew when Joe walked into a room — his immense pride in being a Yankee was always on display. He will be missed by our entire organization, and we offer our deepest condolences to his family, friends, and all who knew him.”

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