On Monday, we got the sad news that former Yankee Joe Pepitone passed away at the age of 82. A three-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glover, Pepitone played for the Yankees from 1962-69 and was a bright spot in the down period between the early 60s and the franchise’s revitalization in the mid 70s. In his honor, let’s go back into the history books and remember at a notable moment from his career in pinstripes.
On April 16, 1967, the Yankees were hosting the Red Sox in an early season series in the Bronx. Things didn’t start out well, with starter Fred Talbot allowing two runs in the top of the first. That deficit grew to 3-0 before the Yankees eventually struck back in the third.
With the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the third, Pepitone stepped to the plate. He dropped a single into right, bringing home two runs. Two batters later, Charley Smith added a single, evening up the score.
Boston would strike back in the sixth, scoring two runs to retake the lead. However, the Yankees very quickly replied with three runs in the bottom half of the inning, taking the lead thanks to an error at first. The miscue allowed Mickey Mantle to reach safely on what would’ve been an inning-ending double play.
After that, the Yankees seemed well on their way to a win. Talbot had gone 5.1 innings before being replaced by Dooley Womack, who had come in during Boston’s run-scoring sixth inning. For the seventh, the Yankees brought in Hal Reniff, and he then threw two scoreless frames to get within three outs of a win.
Things didn’t get off to the best of starts in the ninth when Jose Tartabull reached on an error by shortstop Ruben Amaro. While Reniff retired the next batter, a Carl Yastrzemski single and a Tony Conigliaro double plated Tartabull, evening things up. Reniff did a good job to keep things there, but after the Yankees failed to answer back in the bottom half of the inning, the game was off to extras.
In both the 11th and 12th, Boston got the go-ahead run into scoring position, but failed to bring them home. The Yankees similarly missed out in the 14th. In the 16th, another Amaro error set Boston up with the winning run in scoring position and one out, but Al Downing managed to escape the jam. The game continued on until it reached another full game in the 18th inning.
In the bottom of the 18th, Red Sox pitcher Lee Stange got two outs either side of a Jake Gibbs walk. That brought Pepitone to the plate. Despite having caught 18 innings of baseball on the day, Gibbs found it within himself to steal second base, setting up the Yankees with another runner in scoring position. Pepitone then delivered, singling to drive home Gibbs and give the Yankees the win.
On the day, Pepitone finished with four hits and three RBI, leading the way for the Yankees. Meanwhile, the game went five hours and 50 minutes, which — at the time — was the third-longest game in MLB history in terms of total time. After it was over, Pepitone joked to the media, “My wife had a roast on at 4 o’clock. Imagine how cold it is now.”
Winning an 18-inning game with a walk-off hit is pretty notable on it’s own, but this game might also be the answer to a pop culture trivia question.
Pepitone was often the subject of references on “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” as Yankee fan Larry David must’ve enjoyed watching him during his youth. Pepitone was also referenced during one particular episode of “The Sopranos.”
During a scene from the season one episode “Down Neck,” Tony Soprano has a flashback to his childhood. In the scene, he sees his uncle Junior, who asks him if he listened to the Yankee game the previous night. Tony, who is on his way to school, says his mom made him go to bed. His uncle then excitedly tells him that Pepitone had three — or “tree” if you want to read it in the accent — RBI in the game.
Through the magic of the internet, we can conclude that the most likely game that could be was April 16, 1967. The flashback was from around the time of the Newark Riots, which were that year. Pepitone only had three games that season where he had exactly three RBI. One was from late July which, considering that Tony was one his way to school in the scene, probably rules that one out. One came on June 2nd, and school could’ve still theoretically been in session then. But June 2, 1967 was a Friday, ruling that one out. That leaves just April 16th. That was a Sunday still during the typical school year. Add in that the game went extremely long, and it feels like exactly the perfect choice for a game that an eight/nine-year-old wouldn’t be allowed to stay up for.
Of course, it also could’ve just been a throwaway reference about a Yankee player from that era with no particular real game in mind, but where’s the fun in that? It was obviously about Pepitone’s performance on April 16, 1967.
New York Times, April 17, 1967