Not too long ago, I was awakened and told of the death of Yogi Berra. This morning, I was told Phil Pepe had passed away, at age 80. The name Phil Pepe is known to readers of his books the world over, and it is especially known in New York and its environs.
The name Phil Pepe makes me think of a different day. There were no computers in every home. Very few people had mobile phones and they still needed operator assistance to make a call. There was no ESPN. Radio sports coverage meant a few minutes a night in most places, and a couple of hours a night in the larger cities. The key to true sports knowledge was the daily newspapers. And if you were lucky enough to read the New York Daily News, baseball coverage meant Phil Pepe. Before the Daily News, he wrote for the long-vanished “World Telegram” and “Sun.” When you read my pieces you notice they aren’t the first ones you see on a subject. From Pepe I get the idea to take a little more time to write a better piece. Mercifully I don’t have the deadlines to meet that he had. Born in Brooklyn, he graduated St. John’s University in Jamaica, Queens. He wrote for the “Sporting News,” once known as the Bible of Baseball. Check Amazon and you’ll find many a book of his, including his series of books of lists. At one time his grandson was a Blue Jays minor leaguer, and his Grandpa would be among the few in the stands watching the games.
With the “Daily News,” he was the Yankees beat writer starting in the awful year of 1968, through their renaissance in 1976 until the strike-marred 1981 season, after which he became a columnist. Starting with the Miracle Mets of 1969 he wrote the lead game story for each game in a baker’s dozen World Series. From 1982-89 he was the sports columnist for the “Daily News” replacing the acerbic Dick Young. Then it was radio with WCBS, and a dozen years on radio with the Jersey Cardinals ending in 2005. His two most recent books were about Howie Rose, the Mets radio play-by-play man and the Yankees Core Four-Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera.
A Hall of Famer has a birthday today. So does a man who would be in Cooperstown except for one monumental blunder. Craig Biggio is the Hall of Famer, and he turns 50 today. He was inducted this past summer on his third try, which proves the BBWAA hasn’t a clue what they’re doing. Anybody who followed his career would have put him in with one ballot. I first heard of him as a catcher for the Seton Hall team that also featured Mo Vaughn and John Valentin. They had one pitcher who later made the majors-Kevin Morton-but other than that their pitching was what kept them out of the College World Series. He was their catcher out of necessity-the team didn’t have a decent one when practice started. He became an All-Star catcher but was asked to try other positions as early as 1990, something similar to what the Mets are contemplating now with Travis D’Arnaud. Biggio made his mark at second base and stayed there until his retirement. He also stayed with the Astros-something unthinkable in today’s baseball.
The man who should be in the Hall but won’t is Bill Buckner, who is 66 today. Every fan knows his physical blunder ending game 6 of the 1986 World Series. But the real blunder was a mental one made by his manager, John McNamara not to remove the aging Buckner and his antique ankles in favor of Dave Stapleton, a move the skipper had usually made late in the season. So, Buckner’s .289 career average and 2715 hits went up in smoke as Mookie Wilson’s dribbler got past him and Ray Knight scored the winning run. His ankle had been an issue as early as 1976, when a staph infection led the Cubs to move him to first base.
on a personal note, two guys I broadcast games for have birthdays today. Eric Ludwick is 44. He was a Mets minor leaguer who in the bigs had a 2-10 record and an 8.35 ERA. Of course he wasn’t facing the New Britain Red Sox in the majors. We saw him with the Binghamton Mets. All their pitchers looked like Sandy Koufax against us.
Scott Hatteberg is 46. He was New Britain’s catcher in 1993, the first year I was there in AA. He made the show with Boston in 2005, went to Oakland in 2002 and to Cincinnati where he lasted until 2008. He was easily the best player on that team, which featured future major leaguers Tim Vanegmond and Frankie Rodriguez but still was a woeful 52-88. That was the year we sold radio ads on a “pay per win” basis, a joke on the relatively new concept of “Pay per view” TV. We hoped against hope they would win enough games that we wouldn’t starve. When the team got off 0-12, fans who read about our “Pay per win” concept in the local paper brought us boxes of macaroni and cheese. The great broadcaster John Miller, then with the Orioles consented to do an interview with me discussing his team’s 0–21 start in 1988 to help us break the streak.
The night we aired it, the Red Sox won.
Happy birthday to all.