Joe Pepitone on Smoking Weed, Screwing With Sinatra and ‘Seinfeld’
Mob guys included.
Oh, yeah; everything was crazy. I was born and raised in Brooklyn, and I was going out with some of those guys at night. Julie Podell, who ran the Copacabana, gave me a Copa credit card, and his wife gave my wife some silverware; we were really close. Next thing you know, I’m going there night after night, buying drinks for some of these wise guys, and they’re buying me drinks and I’m sending them drinks – and what am I making, sixty-five hundred dollars a year? I get in a hairspray commercial with Yogi Berra and Hank Bauer, and I got five thousand dollars – which was almost as much as I was making for the season. So I went to the Copa that night with my check, and I told Frank, the maître d’, “Have Julie cash it for me!” And he came back with thirty-five dollars. He said, “Julie says, ‘Buy your fucking friends a drink with this!’ He took the rest of it off your tab.'” Jesus Christ, I was crying!
Judging by what you write in the book, it sounds like Frank Sinatra liked you because you were one of the few people around him that didn’t kiss his ass.
The first time I hung out with Frank at his house in Palm Springs, we were playing pool and he messed up my shot right as I was about to win the game. I was like, “What the fuck is this?” He said, “It’s my table, my game and we’re playing dirty pool!” He had two fireplaces down there with these big logs, and I swear to god they must have weighed fifty pounds each. So right as he was about to make his shot, I took one of these logs and I put it between his ball and the cue ball. I said, “If you’re God like they say you are, let’s see you make that fucking shot!” [Laughs] Jilly Rizzo’s eyes totally bugged out, and everybody’s like, “What the fuck are you doing?” But Frank just started laughing. He said, “You’re a sick motherfucker! You know, you’re crazy!” He’d come to some of the games when I was with the Cubs, and every time he was there I’d hit home runs!
When the Astros sold you to the Cubs in the middle of the 1970 season, it resulted in a brief renaissance for your career. What sticks out in your mind about that Chicago experience?
Oh, I loved it. The only year I hit .300 was there [in 1971]. I started off going good, and the fans, I got crazy with them. The Bleacher Bums at the Cubs’ ballpark, they’d hit me in the back with a fucking football during warm-ups, and I’d turn around and play catch with them. One time, someone hit me in the back with some foil, all wrapped up, and there’s like four joints in it. I went and stuck it in the ivy on the outfield wall, but I remembered where I put it. [Laughs] Once they saw me do that, the regular Bleacher Bums started throwing things at me every day; I’d get hit with a little packet, I’d look and there’s a gram of coke in there. I was like, “Holy shit!” Right into the ivy with it! [Laughs] I’m telling you, I got speed, I got everything. Used to be I was always the first person at the ballpark, and the first one to leave; next thing you know, people are wondering why I’m hanging out at the ballpark so long. Leo [Durocher] goes, “You still here?” “Yeah, I gotta get a rubdown from the trainer!” Then I’d be out in centerfield with my shorts on, looking through the ivy to find my dope. [Laughs] I loved Chicago! With the shit I was getting in centerfield, I woulda played for nothing!
Do you have any regrets about writing the book? Forty years later, has your perspective changed on anything in it?
Well, the new epilogue talks about some things that have changed since after the book was written. To be honest, though, I don’t like going back and getting into the book; I get flashbacks that you can’t believe. There’s times where I’m in my car, driving, and I see everything in Technicolor in front of me – my father, my wives, how I was at that time with the drugs and all that other bullshit. My third wife, who I love to this day, I think about the time I hit her – it was just one smack, but I want to cut my hands off, because I’m not that kind of person.
How are you doing these days?
Everything is fine. Look, I played at a time where players weren’t making anything like today’s money; but I’ve got two pensions and I’ve got social security. I live in a little house on the water, and I’ve got my boat, which is all I want. I’m comfortable, I eat steak when I want, I go out when I want – which I don’t do much anymore – and I’ve got a nice girlfriend. It’s a very normal life. If I was playing today, making twenty million, I’d probably be dead in three days! [Laughs] It’d be nice to have a larger boat, but that’s all right. One of these days, I’ll be back on a larger boat – when they bury me at sea! [Laughs]
Last question, Joe. After being mentioned on Seinfeld several times, how does it feel to be known as the man who designed Central Park?
You know, I should tell you a good story about that! When they came out with that on Seinfeld, I was like, “How’d they fuckin’ know about that?” Because there was something that happened in Central Park back in the Sixties, with me and a friend of mine. We saw some girl in the street who’d just come from a party in one of those high-class buildings by the park, and she wanted to hang out with us. For the rest of the night, we kept driving around Central Park. Can you imagine what was happening? [Laughs] I think the cab driver made about eight hundred that night. I remember about half the time, my ass was sticking out the window! Talk about discovering Central Park!