The entire sports world was saddened today in hearing that longtime sportswriter Phil Pepe had passed away at the age of 80. Pepe succumbed to a heart attack at his home in Englewood, New Jersey, as reported by his son, David.
One of the last from an era when reporters carried around heavy clackety typewriters, Pepe covered all of the major sports, but his first love was baseball, having broken in as a cub beat writer for the NY Yankees exactly when they were about to finish one of their most historic seasons.
Can you imagine…his first assignment was covering the Yankees in Aug. of 1961, just when Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were torturing American League pitchers in their race to reach Babe Ruth’s home run total of 60.
For those too young to remember or didn’t know – Maris ended up reaching the 61 home run mark on the last day of the season.
Those halcyon days were for the now long-defunct New York World Telegram & Sun, the daily paper Pepe had been working for since graduating St. John’s University in 1957. Pepe stayed with that paper until its demise in the mid-‘60s, where his main assignments were still following Yankees exploits, and he later joined the NY Daily News, from 1971-84.
Pepe also covered the first Super Bowl in 1967, three Olympics, dozens of famed boxing matches, and was a Knicks beat reporter for many years.
In between and during seasons, Pepe somehow found the time to write nearly 50 books about sports, again mostly baseball related. He authored and co-authored dozens of biographies, including treatments on Mantle, Muhammad Ali, Walt Frazier, Whitey Ford, Gary Carter, Billy Martin, and NY Mets broadcaster Howie Rose (“Put It In The Book”). His chronicle of Mantle’s account of the 1956 season, “My Favorite Summer,” reached No. 7 on the NY Times’ best seller list.
His last book was released just two years ago on the Yankees’ famed “Core Four” – Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera.
Many sports fans knew Pepe from his many years as a broadcaster for CBS Radio. His easily distinguishable voice always resonated with a touch of the Brooklyn native’s upbringing.
Pepe was a member of the BBWAA for over 50 years, and had attended their annual Baseball Writers Dinner every year since 1962. He was the Chairman of the NY Chapter of the BBWAA for two years in the 1970s, and for the past 21 years, its Executive Director.
A true gentleman, and beloved by everyone in the industry – on and off the field – Pepe will be sorely missed at the next BBWAA Dinner, which will be held at the Hilton Hotel on the Avenue of the Americas on Saturday evening, Jan. 23.
Longtime colleague Bill Madden was among those deeply saddened by the news of his passing: “A giant among baseball writers who never got his due credit.”
Unfortunately, Pepe has never been honored with the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, which is presented annually during the Hall of Fame’s Induction Weekend to scribes with long and “meritorious contributions to baseball.”
Madden was honored in 2010.
Perhaps that oversight will be corrected at some point in the future, albeit posthumously. Pepe certainly deserved the recognition.
Rest in peace, Phil.