NEW YORK — Joe Pignatano was a major leaguer. He had a remarkable career.
It was there, in Shea Stadium's Bullpen, that Pignatano cared for relief pitchers and tomatoes for 1969 Miracle Mets. That is where Pignatano really made his legacy.
Jim McAndrew, a former Mets pitcher said that McAndrew was “very committed to taking care his tomatoes”.
He said, “It was Joe’s thing.” “A lot of love, effort, and TLC.”
Pignatano was a Brooklyn Dodgers catcher and reached the majors. He also became a coach.
ThePignatano, a Florida resident, died at a Naples nursing home. He was suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
Pignatano, the last coach to be from the 1969 Mets was Gil Hodges. They had an extraordinary run and won the World Series.
Through 1981, he remained their bullpen coach.
“He was Uncle Joe to me. He loved the city, and enjoyed talking about his time with Gil and the Dodgers. He was a baseball enthusiast,” Lee Mazzilli, former Mets star, stated.
In 1957, Pignatano was a rookie in the major leagues with Brooklyn. He took over for Roy Campanella, the future Hall of Famer, and caught five innings of the 2-0 victory over Pittsburgh. It was the Dodgers last home game before they left Brooklyn for the West Coast.
1959 was Pignatano's biggest year. He scored his biggest hit in 1959 with a two-out single at the Coliseum in the 12th inning of a best three playoff against Milwaukee. Los Angeles was awarded a spot in the World Series thanks to Hodges' winning run.
The Dodgers won the championship and Pignatano made a brief appearance at the plate during the six-game victory over the Tigers..
After stints with the Kansas City Athletics, andIn 1962, he was traded to the expansion Mets. They were terrible, setting a modern major-league record for losing games by going 40-120. They also finished their season in an ignoble fashion.
They trailed 5-1 in their last game of the season at Wrigley Field against Cubs. Sammy Drake started the eighth inning off with a single. Richie Ashburn took second on a single.
Pignatano sent a liner towards right field. “That ball was designated base hit from the moment that it left the bat,” was how Mets radio described it.
Instead, Ken Hubbs, Chicago's second baseman, went back and caught it and threw it to Ernie Banks (first baseman), who relayed it to Andre Rodgers.
It was Pignatano’s final at-bat in major leagues.
He hit.234 in his career and played 307 games. He tagged homers for Warren Spahn, Jim Kaat and Robin Roberts. All three are Hall of Famers.
Hodges, who was then managing the Washington Senators, asked Pignatano in 1965 to become his coach. Pignatano was with Hodges when he went to the Mets in 1968.
Pignatano discovered that a tomato plant was growing in Shea's right-field bullpen. He kept it alive during 1969. The Mets won more games and the plant became a lucky charm. Pignatano started a garden.
McAndrew recalls Monday, “It was him home away from home.” “He spent five to six hours a days down there with his tomatoes. He took great care of them. The grounds crew was there to help us when we were on the roads. They were able to provide water.
Pignatano's green thumb was a story that grew over time. He loved to talk about his garden.
He let others have his harvest. McAndrew denied that he ever tasted a single tomato.
He didn't share them. McAndrew laughed and said that they were only for him. McAndrew said, “He was going reap the rewards of his bounty.”