By Joe Rini
Joe Pignatano’s passing caused a moment of reflection for New York baseball fans. Nurturer of tomato plants and relief pitchers for the New York Mets, he passed away on May 23 in Naples, Florida. He was 92 years old. A veteran of six major league seasons, this former catcher coached for 20 years in the majors. The popular Brooklyn native was also renowned for cultivating a vegetable garden in the Mets bullpen at Shea Stadium. Best known for his long-time tenure as the Mets bullpen coach from 1968 through 1981, the managers he served included Hall of Famers Gil Hodges, Yogi Berra, and Joe Torre.
Last team in Brooklyn, First Team in LA
Pignatano was a career .234 hitter for four teams between 1957 and 1962. Despite these modest statistics, he played and coached for several historic major league teams. For instance, his rookie year of 1957 with the Brooklyn Dodgers coincided with their last team in Brooklyn. He called the pitches behind the plate for the final five innings of the final game at Ebbets Field on September 24, 1957. Six months later, he caught the final innings of the Dodgers’ first game in Los Angeles on April 18, 1958. Subsequently, in 1959, he contributed to the Dodgers’ first championship in Los Angeles, batting .237 while backing up starter John Roseboro.
1962 and 1969 Mets Teams
His Mets career included seasons with two historically different teams. Pignatano contributed to the lore of the 1962 Mets by hitting into a triple play in the final at-bat of his career in loss number 120 on September 30. After serving as Hodges’ first base coach for the Washington Senators, Hodges added Pignatano to his Mets coaching staff in 1968. Serving as bullpen coach for the 1969 Miracle Mets, Pignatano joined the Mets singing on the Ed Sullivan Show after the World Series. Duffy Dyer of the 1969 Mets told this reporter in 2012 that Pignatano mentored him as a young catcher.
Nine Surviving Brooklyn Dodgers
For long-time fans of the Mets and Dodgers, Pignatano’s passing conjures sadness but happy memories, too. He was a Brooklyn boy who lived the dream of playing for his beloved hometown team. Sadly, Pignatano’s passing leaves only nine surviving members of the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was also the last surviving member of Hodges’ 1969 coaching staff. Popular for his Brooklyn roots and vegetable gardens, his memory reminds Mets fans of happy times. As 1969 alum Art Shamsky tweeted, “He was funny & tough at the same time. I have great memories of him & all of the others that are gone from that incredible team. RIP Joe!”