Marty Lurie Talks San Francisco Giants Baseball

Marty Interviews Joe Pignatano, One of the Last Brooklyn Dodgers and a '62 Met

Marty Lurie here on Memories of the Game with Joe Pignatano. Joe, baseball stories are special. This game’s been around 125 years, and what makes it live on are the stories of the game. You were born in Brooklyn and you signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers. I don’t know if there’s a better story than that.JP: It was great, for one year, anyway, and then the rumors were all that whole year that we were going to LA, and sure enough we did. And that wasn’t too bad, either. I think O’Malley made a good move. It made him a rich man.

ML: This show won’t be played in Brooklyn, so we can say that.

JP: I tell you what, they kept blaming O’Malley, but I don’t think it was O’Malley’s fault, because I know for a fact that he wanted to keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn, and when they refused the spot that he wanted, that’s what made him go west.

ML: Atlantic Avenue is where he wanted to put the ballpark.

JP: Exactly. Right over the Long Island Railroad.

ML: But let’s talk about signing with the Dodgers. How did it all happen? Campy is there, Roy Campanella is catching at that point before the accident; Rube Walker is there; and here you are. How does it all happen where you sign with the Brooklyn Dodgers?

JP: I got out of high school and never went on to college. My coach at high school knew I wanted to be a baseball player, so he wrote the Dodgers. Probably it was about a week I was out of school that I get a letter from the Brooklyn Dodgers to go for a tryout in Ebbet’s Field. So, naturally, I called them and said, “I’ll be there.” And I packed up my bag and went there, every day. There must’ve been about 80 of us. And every day the numbers went down, down, down. Now I was there Friday; it was the last day, and I was still there. And I said, “Well, I don’t know.” When I left Friday, they asked for my home address, my telephone number, and sure enough, about 10 days later, one of the scouts came to my house and I signed a minor league contract.

ML: Not many people understand the excitement of playing in Ebbet’s Field and being there. Give us your view of it, and take us around the ballpark a little bit. I just ran into Ernie Lavagetto recently, Cookie Lavagetto’s son. We talked about it. But tell me about Ebbet’s Field.

JP: Well, you talk about Cookie. Cookie and I became good friends. But Ebbet’s Field was quaint. It was beautiful. I mean, it was a fan’s ballpark. You went around, that park was the home of us and they were like all our friends, the fans. I mean, they just loved us. And being from Brooklyn, I was a Yankee fan, you know, but I became a Brooklyn Dodger fan because I was playing with them. And I was a fan of the club I was playing with.

But ironically, I get to play my first game in Ebbet’s Field, my first at-bat I get a base hit in Ebbet’s Field, and I was the last catcher in Ebbet’s Field. And that ballpark to me was the greatest in the world, because it was my home and it was my start.

ML: Some of the players you played with, I used to go to the game and I used to love to watch Furillo in batting practice and in the outfield, just throw the ball in.

JP: Oh, I tell you what, I saw just a few people that had an arm as good as he did. I mean, he was fantastic. And Carl, with me being a rookie and all the other young kids, he’d grab us all. He was the grandfather of us all. And we used to play pepper. But Carl didn’t play pepper. Carl took batting practice while we were playing pepper, and he used to get us, and we were black and blue! “Carl, we gotta start…” “Get over there and be quiet. Just catch the ball.” And this is the way he treated us. But Carl was good people.

ML: You got to catch behind Roy Campanella in ’57, and of course before the accident that winter that Roy has. What about Campy, meeting him, what was that like?

JP: Campy was a great man, and he was a great student of the game and helped all us kids. He did. And it was great. I mean, that whole ball club – Gil, Gil was the best human being I ever met. He was a super guy. And that whole ball club – Gilliam, Peewee. Peewee was a father figure. I mean, he was the glue that kept that ball club together. He was. And Snider. The whole ball club. It was just great. And Rube, I used to stand next to Rube. Rube had the funniest line. I said, “What are you gonna do today, Rube?” He says, “I’m gonna go down there at the end of the line and sit down and watch a big league club play.”

ML: I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you about the Mets. Going to the Mets in 1962, their first year, you do come over there from the Giants. Casey Stengel is the manager, there are a lot of veterans on that team. Tell me about your Met experience.

JP: Well, I left San Francisco. My wife had gotten here in San Francisco, we were here two weeks and we went on a 30-day road trip, so we had friends in LA, so she took off with the two boys and went to LA; we went east. So our first stop was Philadelphia. Well, the second day in Philadelphia I get traded to the Mets. So I gotta call her and tell her to get back home. There’s nobody at home, so I go straight out to the park at the Polo Grounds. I sit in the Polo Grounds, in the clubhouse, and finally the clubhouse man came and I introduced myself, and he gave me a locker, uniform, everything. I got dressed and went outside and just sat by myself. Here come Casey. Casey sat beside me. Casey and I talked for about an hour. I mean, Casey talked for the hour. I just listened. And Jack Lang come by and Jack says, “Hey, welcome. Glad to see you.” And with that he turns to Casey and says, “Who’s gonna catch today?” He says, “Well, that Pignatani guy if he ever gets here.” And I’ve been talking to him for an hour. I looked at Jack and said, “This is gonna be a hell of a three months.”

ML: If you had to pick out a moment in baseball – I know you have a long career in baseball, going with Gil to the Senators as well – do you have a favorite story or a favorite moment you’d like to share?

JP: Well, I tell you what. The greatest moment for me, you know, I played sparingly, but in 1959 we’re playing the Braves for the pennant, the playoff games, and I come up in the bottom of the 11th inning, after Hodges. We had two out, Hodges walked, and I singled. And then Furillo singled. And we won the pennant. That was my greatest moment in the big leagues. Even getting the base hit my first time at bat. But that day, my hit helped us get to a World Series.

ML: That’s a good baseball memory. I appreciate your being on the show. I appreciate it a lot. Thanks, Joe.

JP: My pleasure. Thank you.


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