NEW YORK >> Joe Pepitone, an All-Star and Gold Glove first baseman on the 1960s New York Yankees who gained renown for his flamboyant personality, hairpieces and penchant for nightlife, has died at age 82.
Pepitone was living with his daughter Cara Pepitone at her house in Kansas City, Missouri, and was found dead this morning, according to BJ Pepitone, a son of the former player. The cause of death was not immediately clear, but BJ Pepitone said a heart attack was suspected.
The Yankees said in a statement 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.”
Born in Brooklyn, Pepitone went to Manual Training High School, signed with the Yankees in 1958 and made his big league debut in 1962. He helped the Yankees to their second straight World Series title, a team led by Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Elston Howard.
Pepitone drew attention for his off-the-field conduct. 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 displayed at the Burbank Central Library in California during a 2004 exhibition: “The Times They Were A-Changin’: Baseball in the Age of Aquarius.”
He posed nude for a January 1975 edition of Foxylady magazine.
“Things were a little different back then, 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? I’d walk in with a black Nehru jacket on, beads, my hair slicked back; it was ridiculous. I think about it now, and I laugh.”
Jim Bouton, in his groundbreaking 1970 book “Ball Four” that revealed the inner working of baseball teams, recounted how “Pepitone took to wearing the hairpieces when his hair started to get thin on top. … He carries around all kinds of equipment in a little Blue Pan Am bag.”
Pepitone’s 1975 autobiography, “Joe, You Coulda Made Us Proud,” detailed nightlife with Frank Sinatra, smoking marijuana with Mantle and Whitey Ford and Pepitone’s jailing at Rikers Island.
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner brought Pepitone back as a minor league hitting instructor in 1980 and promoted him to the big league team two years later. Pepitone said he would even trim his wigs to comply with the Yankees grooming policy.
“This one,” he told The New York Times, holding one wig, “is my gamer. It’s got gray in it. The longer one is my going-outer.”
Pepitone was jailed at Rikers Island for about four months in 1988 following two misdemeanor drug convictions, then was rehired by the Yankees to work with minor leaguers. He was arrested in 1992 at a Catskills resort for a brawl that started when a man called him a “washed-up nobody” 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 went on to take American League pennants the following two years only to lose in the Series, and Pepitone became an All-Star in three consecutive years starting in 1963.
He stayed with the Yankees through their decline and was traded to Houston after the 1969 season for Curt Blefary.
Pepitone went on to play for the Chicago Cubs from 1970-73 and finished his career with Atlanta and the Yakult Atoms of Japan’s Central League in 1973. He hit .258 with 219 homers and 721 RBIs.
BJ Pepitone and Cara are children from Pepitone’s third marriage, to Stephanie, who died in 2021. BJ Pepitone said the family had not yet decided on funeral plans.
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