``Soul of a Yankee’’ is a novel based on fact, which seems a logical way to dissect the life of mercurial former Yankee Joe Pepitone.
The authors, William and Joseph Pepitone, are nephews of the 70-year old Pepitone and they take a mostly objective look at the player who partied with Mickey Mantle and suffered from demons beyond the diamond. This is a look at Pepitone before and after the hair dryer, which was merely the public perception of the baseball clown. The book is more about the clown who cried.
We’ve become inured to athletes and the legal system and Pepitone’s problems drew far less attention than today’s media mob scene for athletes gone wrong, but it is still stunning to read the authors description of the courtroom scene when Pepitone, convicted of drug possession in 1988, is dressed down by the sentencing judge. ``You have embarrassed the New York Yankees and shamed the legends before you,’’ the judge says. ``I hereby sentence you to the maximum penalty of 18 months in prison.’’
A court officer, who is a sympathetic Yankee fan, shackles Peptone and takes him to Rikers Island, where he is assigned number 154. Martin, DiMaggio, Gehrig, if you will. George Steinbrenner helped Pepitone by offering him a job in the minor leagues and Pepitione was released from Rikers after four months.
Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth are used as devices in the book, but that doesn’t work as well as the real life story, which is compelling enough.
Pepitone’s father, Willie, was an extraordinary disciplinarian. He gave his son a new bicycle and Joe peddled it around his Brooklyn neighborhood to show it off. His father wanted him home for dinner at 5 o’clock sharp. Pepitone arrived five minutes late. His father got up from the table, went down to the street, raised the bicycle over his head and smashed it on the ground. Over and over, the authors wrote, ``until the bike became just an unrecognizable piece of twisted metal.’’
Peptone’s Jimmy Piersall-like father was never satisfied in a baseball sense, either. When Pepitone hit a tape measure home run in a high school game, his father got on him for striking out in another at-bat. The relationship was classic love-hate and finally, guilt for the son when his father died of a heart attack at 39 not very long after the son, who was still in high school, wished him dead over an argument.
Later, Mantle enters the picture. Pepitone was a rookie when Mantle showed him the ropes, the wrong ones. One night, Mantle took him to a party in Los Angeles—and abandoned him when a better offer came along.
The book is only 121 pages and many of the tales are cut short, which leaves the reader wanting more. Perhaps that is why it is a good read. William Pepitone said the publishing houses told him the story would only work in New York. That's what most producers saiid about ``Seinfeld.''
The self-published book is available at lulu.com and will be available on amazon.com and at retailers in February.