#360 Joe Pepitone
Objectively speaking, the ’64 Joe Pepitone I own is one of the five best I have in the set, condition-wise. It’s a solid NM with only a couple of slight flaws that I think would prevent it from grading out as NM-MT. A NM example prices out for $15 in the SMR, and this card is every bit that good. Pepitone was looking very confident in this portrait shot — after all, it looked like he was about to be the next Yankee legend.
The trivia question on the back asks “Who walked 11 men while pitching a shutout?” The answer, which is correctly provided by Topps, is Lefty Gomez, who walked 11 in a complete-game shutout of the Browns on August 1, 1941. Mel Sottlemyre would later walk 11 in 8 1/3 shutout innings, but he didn’t finish that game.
Joe Pepitone is a legendary name in the history of baseball, but for most of his career was a slightly above-average hitter who hit enough home runs to make up for major deficiencies in the rest of his offensive game. He was a very good first baseman who won three gold gloves at that position, and also played in the All-Star Game in the first three full years of his career.
He was also a tough guy from Brooklyn whose friends once offered to break Moose Skowron’s legs in order to get Joe the Yankees’ first base job. They didn’t need to, as the Yanks decided to ship Skowron to the Dodgers in 1963. Pepitone was a regular for New York for the rest of the decade.
Pepitone made a splash as a rookie in 1963, hitting .271/.304/.448 with 27 homers and 89 RBI. It looked like he would blossom into a major star. And while he was still able to hit homers at a high rate, he didn’t do a whole lot else at the plate. In 1964, he would hit 28 home runs and drive in 100, but only managed a .698 OPS because of a .251 BA, horrifying .281 OBP, and a .418 SLG that was weighed down by just 12 doubles in 647 PA.
He played in the World Series in 1963 and 1964, both Yankee losses. He was just 6-for-39 in the two series, with his lone highlight being a grand slam in Game 6 of the ’64 WS, which helped New York push the series to a deciding game. He was a bit of a goat in Game 4 of the ’63 Series, when he dropped a throw at first base that led to the go-ahead run for the Dodgers. But Pepitone’s gaffe was far from the tipping point in a 4-0 sweep by L.A.
Joe’s best year as a Yankee was probably 1966, when he hit 31 homers and 21 doubles, and scored 85 runs. Still, he managed to get on base at just a .290 clip (he never walked more than 43 times in any season).
Pepitone would eventually be traded to Houston for the 1970 season, but was traded again midway through that year to the Cubs. Joe actually had a very good year in 1971 with Chicago, hitting .307/.347/.482 with 16 homers in 460 PA.
He was reduced to a part-time player in 1972 and ’73, and decided to quit the major leagues at the age of 32. He then signed a contract to play for the Yakult Atoms in Japan, but he only made it 14 games there before taking off. He reportedly didn’t take the job very seriously, something that the Japanese folks weren’t used to.
For his 12-year MLB career, Pepitone hit 219 home runs but only batted .258 with a .301 OBP.
In retirement, he was involved in a professional softball league, posed nude in a magazine called Foxy Lady, and was arrested wile driving a car containing cocaine and quaaludes. That’s quite a resume. He made headlines one more time in the mid-’90s when he crashed his car in the Queens-Midtown Tunnel while driving drunk and was found staggering through the tunnel.
Pepitone is now 68 years old and lives on Long Island.