NEW YORK (AP) — Joe Pepitone, a 1960s New York Yankees All-Star and Gold Glove first baseman who gained renown for his flamboyant personality, false hairdos and penchant for the nightlife, has died. He was 82 years old.
Pepitone lived with his daughter, Cara Pepitone, at their home in Kansas City, Missouri, and was found dead Monday morning, according to BJ Pepitone, the former player’s son. The cause of death was not immediately clear, but BJ Pepitone said she was suspected of having a heart attack.
The Yankees said in a statement that Pepitone’s «playful, 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.»
Born in Brooklyn, Pepitone attended Manual Training High School, signed with the Yankees in 1958, and made his major league debut in 1962. He helped the Yankees win their second straight World Series title that year, a team led by Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Elston Howard.
Pepitone drew attention for his conduct off the pitch. In a time when most players were staid and conformist, Pepitone was thought to be the first to bring a hair dryer into the clubhouse, an artifact later given to the Baseball Reliquary and on display at the Central Library. of Burbank in California during an exhibition in 2004: «The times that were changing: Baseball in the Age of Aquarius».
He posed nude for a January 1975 issue of Foxylady magazine.
“Things were a little different back then, for sure,” Pepitone told Rolling Stone in 2015. “When I brought the hair dryer into the clubhouse, they thought I was a hairdresser or something; They didn’t know what the hell was going on, you know? He’d come in wearing a black Nehru jacket, beads, his hair combed back; It was ridiculous. Now I think about it and I laugh.”
Jim Bouton, in his groundbreaking 1970 book «Ball Four,» which revealed the inner workings of baseball teams, recounted how «Pepitone began wearing hairpieces when his hair began to thin on top. … He wears all kinds of equipment in a small Blue Pan Am bag.
Pepitone’s 1975 autobiography «Joe, You Could Make Us Proud» details nightlife with Frank Sinatra, smoking pot with Mantle and Whitey Ford, and Pepitone’s incarceration on Rikers Island.
Yankee owner George Steinbrenner brought Pepitone back as a minor league hitting instructor in 1980 and promoted him to the major league team two years later. Pepitone said he would even cut his wigs to comply with the Yankees’ grooming policy.
“This,” he told The New York Times, holding up a wig, “is my player. He has gray inside. The longest is my exit”.
Pepitone was jailed on Rikers Island for about four months in 1988 after two misdemeanor drug convictions, then rehired by the Yankees to work with minor leaguers. He was arrested in 1992 at a Catskills resort for a fight that started when a man called him «nobody washed» and pleaded guilty in 1995 to driving while intoxicated.
He joined the Yankees at a high point in the team’s history. After winning the 1962 title, New York took the American League pennants the next two years only to lose in the Series, and Pepitone became an All-Star three straight years beginning in 1963.
He stayed with the Yankees during their decline and was traded to Houston after the 1969 season for Curt Blefary.
Pepitone went on to play for the Chicago Cubs from 1970 to 1973 and finished his career with Atlanta and the Yakult Atoms of Japan’s Central League in 1973. He hit .258 with 219 home runs and 721 RBI.
BJ Pepitone and Cara are children from Pepitone’s third marriage, to Stephanie, who died in 2021. Pepitone is also survived by his son Joseph Jr. and daughters Eileen and Lisa from previous marriages. BJ Pepitone said the family had not yet decided on funeral plans.