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Say It Ain’t So, Joe

July 24, 2021

Hugh Atkins

Joe Pepitone is suing the Baseball Hall of Fame. According to the Associated Press, Pepitone wants the Hall to return the bat that Mickey Mantle used on May 14, 1967 to hit his 500th career home run; Pepi also wants $1 million in compensatory damages.

After hitting a pinch-hit home run in the sixth inning of that game, Pepitone offered Mantle his bat before the Mick went to the plate in the seventh inning. After Mantle hit his big homer, the New York Yankees sent the bat to the Hall of Fame. Pepitone contends that team officials merely loaned his bat to the Hall and that he could get it back whenever he asked for it.

According to his lawsuit, Pepitone requested the bat last September, but the Hall of Fame refused to give it to him, claiming that the Yankees donated it to the Hall. The lawsuit also claims the bat is now worth $500,000, which actually may be a conservative estimate given today’s revitalized sports memorabilia market.

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Pepitone, now 80, may see this as his last opportunity to capitalize on his mediocre baseball career. Pepitone hit .258 with 219 home runs in 12 seasons in the major leagues. He spent eight seasons with the Yankees, who traded him to the Houston Astros prior to the 1970 season. The Astros sold Pepitone to the Chicago Cubs after little over half a season; the Cubs traded him to the Atlanta Braves in May of 1973.

Pepitone became a minor-league instructor for the Yankees in 1981; at that time Nashville was their AA affiliate. During the players’ strike that year, the Yankees sent their major-league coaches to observe their minor-league teams, and Yogi Berra made his way to Nashville.

I was at Herschel Greer Stadium on Yogi’s first night in Nashville, and when the PA announcer told us Yogi was in the press box, I noticed that Pepitone was sitting next to him. Later in the game, I headed to the concession stand and noticed that Pepitone had moved into a seat in the same section of stands where I was enjoying the game.

I almost went by without speaking, but as a Braves fan, I had something on my mind. “You’re Joe Pepitone, aren’t you?” I said.

“Yes,” he said.

“Do you remember who the Braves traded to get you?”

“No, I can’t say that I do.”

Andre Thornton,” I said.

“Is that so?” He grinned, pointed to a seat, and said, “Why don’t you sit and talk awhile?”

From the Daily News – May 15, 1967

So, I slid into a seat, and Pepitone and I discussed what a powerful hitter Thornton had become after joining the Cleveland Indians in 1977. I reminded Pepitone that he left the Braves after just three games and walked away from baseball at the age of 32. Pepitone eventually said, “I have a pair of cleats in the Hall of Fame.”

According to Pepitone, when he was packing his gear to leave the Braves, he told his teammates that he had a perfectly good pair of slightly used cleats that he would give to the first player who spoke up for them.  Pepitone claimed that Henry Aaron took him up on his offer and was wearing them when he hit his 715th home run early in the 1974 season.

It seems a bit odd to me that Pepitone bragged about having a pair of cleats in the Hall of Fame but never mentioned he also had a bat on display in the museum.

Who knows? Maybe Pepitone will be asking the Hall of Fame to return his shoes as well.

(All statistics are from Baseball Reference; game details are from Retrosheet.)

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