Joe Pepitone had star quality and a powerful left-handed swing built to succeed at Yankee Stadium, along with a slick fielding reputation as a first baseman.
A three-time American League All-Star by age 24, Pepitone’s brashness led to enough trouble – both within the game, and away from the diamond – that his baseball career is viewed in a what-might-have-been way.
A Brooklyn native, signed by the Yankees out of high school in 1958, Pepitone died Monday at age 82.
In a statement, the New York Yankees remembered Pepitone for his “playful and charismatic personality and on-field contributions’’ which “made him a favorite of generations of Yankees fans even beyond his years with the team in the 1960s.’’
Pepitone broke in with the world champion 1962 Yankees at age 21 and became an established regular on the pennant-winning 1963 and 1964 Yankees, managed by Ralph Houk.
Along with colorful tales of Pepitone being the first MLB player to bring a hairdryer into a big league clubhouse, or spending his entire signing bonus before he arrived at his first Yankees camp, were frictions with management and on-field incidents that marked his 12-year career.
After the 1969 season, Pepitone was traded by the Yankees to the Houston Astros for Curt Blefary.
Pepitone later played for Leo Durocher with the Chicago Cubs, and briefly with the Atlanta Braves. He had a mostly regrettable 14-game stay in the Japan Central League.
In a 1985 incident, Pepitone was arrested and later jailed four months on a narcotics charge. Ten years later, a DUI arrest in the Queens-Midtown Tunnel put Pepitone back in the headlines for the wrong reasons.
In a memoir, “Joe, You Coulda Made us Proud,’’ Pepitone chronicled his rough-and-tumble childhood, which included verbal and physical abuse, and his hard-partying, New York nightlife and celebrity circles.
Early in the 1980s, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner hired Pepitone as a minor league coach, which included the defensive education of future Yankees icon Don Mattingly.
Pepitone made it back in pinstripes for part of the 1982 season on the Yankees coaching staff.
“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,’’ continued the Yankees’ statement Monday.
“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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