This week, it was surprising to read that Joe Pepitone had reached 82 years of age. In the final seasons of the Yankees, Pepitone was one of the last players who could hit, field, and make some noise.
He was a vestigial Yankee, along with Mel Stottlemyre, Roy White, Gene Michael, and Jake Gibbs.
However, in 1988, my career in sportswriting was beginning, and I learned that the NYPD had arrested Pepitone and two other wise guys for transporting cash, cocaine, quaaludes, and guns.
I received a tip that NBC Sports’ new journalism weekend show anchored by Gayle Gardner planned to interview Pepitone, who was going to spend the next four months in Rikers Island.
I asked her producer if I could hitch a ride to interview Pepitone and get some quotes. To mix with the Rikers population was not a shock to my central system.
I knew not to expect the Von Trapp Family Singers.
However, the “Friends & Family” bus that delivered us to its gates was a collection of lost, extra lost, and much too late schlepping long-shot children, mostly obese and toothless grandmothers.
It was among the most depressing moving sights in my head.
The Public Information Officer placed Pepitone and me in the corner of a caged light-bulb gym decorated to appear as a prison gym.
No championship banners on the walls, a rusted water fountain that last quenched the thirsts of cons, and reconstructed in black and white American Movie Classics.
Pepitone, under dark eyebrows, did not seem particularly pleased to greet me on my mission to learn, then publicize what the hell happened to him. But he soon melted to plead his case: he was another innocent man in jail.
Pepitone was PR slick in that he had done his housework. He called me “Mush,” even though I knew it to be a con. He did not detail even a moment from his bust but made it clear that he was framed by persons unknown and unnamed, another innocent man in jail.
A week later, I received a message from Pepitone’s wife, his third as I recall, thanking me for writing the truth.
A few years later, I ran into Pepitone in “Elaine’s,” a renowned Uptown bar/restaurant/hangout people entered when it was time to go home. He held court at the first table, a round one Elaine reserved for newly inducted celebs.
His crew looked like they came straight from Hollywood central casting, black shirts, white ties, glittering cuff links, and men who shot quick, dirty looks.
Pepitone was unhappy with the newspaper’s writing about him.
He recently had been arrested again, this time for an upstate hassle that included a gun. I stalled by repeating his question before telling him that it was because he made the news.
He seemed satisfied, even pleased by my response.
Pepitone “swear to God, Mush,” that he was clean, and that George Steinbrenner had invited him to rejoin the Yankees as an instructor.
After some smaller talk, some laughs, and one more pop to be polite, it was time for me to go.
As I headed for the men’s room, Pepitone entered, and he offered me a line of presumed coke.
In other news, it is incredulous that the University of Alabama would allow Brandon Miller, a fully suspected accessory to a recent murder, to play on the No. 1-seeded college basketball team as the NCAA Tournament opens.
At least two other Bama players have been implicated, one dumped by the college (and is in jail on capital murder charges), the other still on board. A fourth
»The Surprising Life and Times of Joe Pepitone«
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