Special Feature on Joe Pepitone — Spring Issue of Yankees Magazine
By Alfred Santasiere III
February 17, 2014 — On a frigid day in late January, I spent several hours with former Yankees first baseman Joe Pepitone in the Brooklyn, New York, neighborhood he grew up in. My feature on the loveable Pepitone, whose life story can be described as a roller-coaster ride, will be published in the Spring Issue of Yankees Magazine.
For Pepitone, who was called up to the big leagues in 1962 and was selected to three All-Star games during his eight-year tenure in pinstripes, the trip back to the Prospect Heights was his first in 50 years.
“I have no idea why I haven’t been back,” Pepitone said. “I remember all of the sights and smells like I had been here yesterday.”
I met Pepitone at a Brooklyn bakery for breakfast, and we then walked across Vanderbilt Avenue to the 74-year-old’s elementary school — which is now an apartment building.
From there, we walked along Vanderbilt Avenue for about five blocks until we got to St. Marks Avenue. We turned right onto St. Marks and walked to the old brick building that Pepitone grew up in (see photo with me below).
When we got to his old apartment building, Pepitone walked out to a manhole cover in the middle of the street.
“I started playing stickball out here when I was 4-years-old,” Pepitone said. “We played every day in the summer from morning until it got dark. We actually had teams. We practiced during the week and played games on the weekends. People would be out on their fire escapes watching us play, and they would send down money in baskets to bet on the game.”
As Yankees team photographer James Petrozzello snapped photos of Pepitone in the street, the former Yankee shared one of his favorite childhood memories.
“My grandfather, who lived next door to me, always had three or four brooms down in his basement,” Pepitone said. “I’d go down there and take the broomstick off the bottom of the broom, and that was our bat.”
Moments later, Pepitone returned to his mischievous ways.
“I’ll find the perfect broomstick,” Pepitone said as we walked up the front stairs of a nearby residence and grabbed an old and weathered broom.”
Then, without hesitation, Pepitone put his right foot on the area where the broomstick met the bristles, and he snapped off the stick.
Just like that, the old stickball legend had a bat, and I had the best anecdote of the day (see photo below).
There’s a lot more on Pepitone’s life — on and off the diamond — in my feature. After we left the street he grew up on, we ventured to an Italian restaurant a few miles away. There, Pepitone shared his experiences in the minor leagues and with the Yankees, including some great stories about his close friend Mickey Mantle.
Enjoy this exclusive feature on a very interesting Yankee.
— Alfred Santasiere III