Brooklyn Boro

Local baseball icon Pignatano dead at 92

Former Dodgers player and Mets coach enjoyed historic run

May 24, 2022 John Torenli, Sports Editor
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Joe Pignatano was at the center of it all, be it in Brooklyn, Queens or Los Angeles.

The former Major League catcher and Mets pitching coach died Monday at the age of 92.

Pignatano, who was born and raised in our borough and graduated Westinghouse High School before cracking the big leagues as a catcher for the Dodgers in 1957, passed at a nursing home in Naples, Florida after suffering from dementia.

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The long-time Bay Ridge and Staten Island resident caught the final out ever at Ebbets Field in Flatbush before the Dodgers moved to L.A. for the 1958 season.

Though he hardly ripped up the Majors, batting .234 over six seasons, Pignatano was a member of Los Angeles’ 1959 world championship squad,. His final career at-bat was a triple play he hit into as a member of the 1962 Mets.

Pignatano was treasured as the pitching coach for the 1969 World Series champion Mets under former Dodgers teammate and New York manager Gil Hodges, who was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame earlier this year.

Brooklyn native Joe Pignatano (right) was famous for growing tomatoes in the Mets bullpen during his stint as the organization’s pitching coach. AP Photo by Harry Harris

Pignatano was a staple in the Met dugout and bullpen, where he grew tomatoes. He worked at Shea Stadium from 1968 to 1981, mentoring pitching legends like Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan and Jerry Koosman.

“He was fairly committed to taking care of his tomatoes,” former Mets pitcher Jim McAndrew told The Associated Press. “It was Joe’s thing, A lot of love and effort and TLC.”

A fixture at Brooklyn Cyclones games when the team brought MLB-affiliated baseball back to our borough in 2001, Pignatano also participated in the opening night cermonies at Downtown’s Barclays Center, where the NBA’s Nets began playing in November 2012.

“To me, he was Uncle Joe. He loved the city and loved talking about his days with the Dodgers and with Gil. He was a baseball lifer,” noted ex-Mets and Yankees outfielder Lee Mazzilli, who also played at Brooklyn’s Lincoln High School.

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Shortstop E.J. Exposito drove in four runs during LIU’s regular-season ending win at Mount St. Mary’s on Saturday. Photo courtesy of LIU Athletics

In local college baseball news, the Long Island University Sharks punched their ticket to the upcoming Northeast Conference Championships over the weekend.

The Sharks (34-18, 18-9 NEC) stomped Mount St. Mary’s, 13-7, on Saturday afternoon in Emmitsburg, Maryland to secure the tournament’s No. 1 seed and the outright NEC regular-season title.

Junior shortstop E.J. Exposito led the LIU power surge, belting his 13th homer and fourth in three days to go with four RBIs as the Sharks improved on their program-record win total, established last week at Siena.

LIU will play No. 4 Fairleigh Dickinson in the semifinal round Thursday afternoon in Norwich, Connecticut.

“To win the conference title outright, it’s unbelievable,” Exposito said.

“We’ve been talking about this since the first game, since fall ball … since everything. This is definitely the best feeling ever.”

It will feel even better if the Sharks find their way out of the NEC and into the NCAA Regionals.


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