Phil Pepe, a prolific author whose passion for baseball was unmatched during his more than five decades working in New York print and radio, died Sunday at his home in Englewood, New Jersey. He was 80.
Pepe began his career covering the Yankees in 1961 for the New York World Telegram & Sun — which coincided with Roger Maris breaking Babe Ruth’s single-season home-run record. He was the Yankees’ beat writer for the New York Daily News from 1968 to 1981 before taking over for Dick Young as the newspaper’s lead sports columnist in 1982.
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After a seven-year run in that role, Pepe switched to radio, doing the morning sports show for WCBS, where his “Pep Talk” feature became popular. Along with his newspaper and broadcasting career, Pepe wrote dozens of books and was the co-author for books by Mickey Mantle and Bob Gibson.
Other writers marveled at the relationships Pepe formed with the players he covered, especially the ’70s Yankees teams, with their cast of characters during the early stages of the George Steinbrenner era.
“He was just one of the people you tried to emulate,” said Jack O’Connell, the national secretary-treasurer for the Baseball Writers’ Association of America who was Pepe’s newspaper colleague for many years. “He had a great way in the clubhouse. Players trusted him. He was a role model for baseball writers. We won’t see his kind again.”
Pepe also was a key figure in the New York chapter of the BBWAA, and was instrumental as the longtime point man for the organization’s annual awards dinner, overseeing everything from the trophies given to baseball’s top players to the seating chart for the event. Pepe hadn’t missed the dinner since 1962.
“He was an iconic journalistic presence who linked the days of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris to the present,” said Mike Puma, chairman of the BBWAA’s New York chapter and the Mets beat writer for the New York Post. “He became a friend — and reference book — to just about anybody who met him and will be greatly missed.”
Pepe is survived by sons David, Jim and John; daughter, Jayne, and her husband, Steve Platts; daughters-in-law Maria and Sherry Pepe; sister, Carol; brothers John and Paul; and five grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements were pending.