We are starting a new daily podcast this week, called Leading Off with True Blue LA, something we will run every weekday, Monday through Friday, in addition to our regular weekly podcast.
Today’s episode is a Dodgers rewind, which today remembers former catcher Joe Pignatano, who died on May 23 in Naples, Florida. He was 92.
Pignatano was a Brooklyn native who signed with his hometown team at age 18 in 1948. He played in eight different minor league cities in eight seasons over a decade, with a two-year break for military service in between.
He made his debut with the Dodgers at age 28 in 1957, and appeared in eight games in the franchise’s final season in Brooklyn. Pignatano caught the last five innings of Danny McDevitt’s shutout on September 24 that season, the last game ever at Ebbets Field.
In addition to moving to Los Angeles for the 1958 season, the Dodgers also lost catcher Roy Campanella, who was paralyzed in a car accident that offseason. John Roseboro, who was three years younger than Pignatano and also debuted in 1957, won the starter’s job and held it for the next decade.
Pignatano proved a capable backup for three seasons, averaging 37 starts behind the plate. He threw out 60 percent of baserunners trying to steal, well above both Roseboro and the National League average.
The Dodgers sold Pignataro to the A’s in January 1961. In parts of six major league seasons, the catcher played for the Dodgers, A’s, Mets, and Giants. He moved into coaching for nearly two decades, with the Senators, Mets, and Braves. Pignatano was the last surviving coach from the 1969 Mets championship team.
On this podcast, we share some stories, including Pignatano getting accidentally released, another time when he tried to steal third base even though there was already a teammate there, and how as a coach with the Mets he cultivated a tomato plant in the bullpen at Shea Stadium that became a good-luck charm for the team.
- Box score for the final game at Ebbets Field, in 1957
- Pignatano’s SABR bio, written by Paul Hirsch. I didn’t note this on the podcast, but this note was interesting: “According to then-General Manager Buzzie Bavasi, the team’s need for cash to complete Dodger Stadium and the emergence of Norm Sherry as the preferred target for Sandy Koufax led to the sale of Pignatano to the Kansas City A’s in January of 1961.”
- “He was fairly committed to taking care of his tomatoes,” Mets pitcher Jim McAndrew said in the Associated Press obit for Pignatano
- Pignatano’s obituary from Richard Sandomir at the New York Times
- Mark Langill remembered Pignatano at Dodger Insider
Episode link (time: 18:00)