San Francisco Giants catcher Tony Pigatano trying to coral a live chicken with the help of stadium security later Giants pitcher Stu Miller threw his warm up jacket over the fowl and took him away (file photo from newspapers.com)
Joe Pignatano – C – 1962 – # 2
He was a Giant?
By Tony the Tiger Hayes
Dozens of players from Giants all-time great Juan Marichal to current Dodgers manager Dave Roberts have experienced life on both sides of the legendary San Francisco vs. Los Angeles baseball rivalry.
But catcher Joe Pignatano, who recently passed away at age 92, was the first to do it.
“Piggy” was also the first of only four players to play on pennant winning clubs with both original west coast major league franchises.
A member of the Dodgers’ 1959 World Series winning club, Pignatano also played for the 1962 Giants who took the Yankees to seven games of the World Series before bowing out.
No one could have blamed Pignatano if he felt a bit like Judas, the first time he buttoned up Giants flannels in 1962.
After all, he was born and raised in Brooklyn, had his heart ripped out by Bobby Thomson in 1951 and spent more than a decade on the Dodgers payroll.
But there was the career reserve receiver in 1962 warming up Giants pitchers and playing in seven games for the sworn enemy.
Despite seeing a thimble full of action before his departure from the club in July, Pignatano predicted a bright future for the ‘62 club early that season.
“Sure it’s early,” said Pignatano after San Francisco jumped off to a 33-14 start. “But I think we’re gonna win it.”
The native New Yorker was on the active roster when the Giants made their much ballyhooed initial visit back to the Polo Grounds to face the expansion Mets in June of ‘62.
An overflow crowd of 43,742 was on hand for the festival Friday night opener. The convulsive crowd was especially hyped to welcome home prodigal son Willie Mays.
“Hey, mayor,” Pignatano shouted out to Willie across the clubhouse after Mays clouted a solo home run and batted 2-for-5 in the 9-6 Giants victory (6/1/62). “You’re the mayor of this town alright. Did you hear all that cheering for you?”
The Giants swept New York in the historic four game series, but alas, Pignatano watched it all from the bullpen. He did not make it into a game.
Warming up pitchers comprised most of Joe’s duties in his time with the Giants. Despite being present on the roster through mid-July, he appeared in just seven contests, starting one solitary game.
With power hitting backstops Tom Haller and Ed Bailey sharing the catching load, there wasn’t much left over for the 32-year-old Pignatano.
In fact, the most attention the career backup received during his days in Orange & Black involved chasing a fowl.
Not a foul ball, mind you, but a real live rooster.
During a July game vs. the visiting Dodgers, a rowdy cock suddenly appeared on the field at Candlestick Park near the Giants bullpen and stomped angrily about the warning track.
The following day newspapers across the country ran wire service photos of an animated Piggy unsuccessfully attempting to shoo the annoyed red and black rooster off the diamond.
The game was momentarily suspended as a flock of Giants batboys and stadium security guards tried to coral the aggressive bantam.
Giants relief pitcher Stu Miller finally ensnarled the pissed off poultry by tossing a bullpen parka over the bird.
Why was he a Giant?
Pignatano was acquired from Kansas City prior to the 1962 season. Pignatano had seen his most extensive big league action for the Athletics, hitting .243 in a career high 93 games.
The Brooklyn born native credited K.C. skipper Joe Gordon with improving his batting stroke.
“Gordon stayed right with me and kept reminding me to do certain things,” Pignatano said.
San Francisco was sold. The Giants surrendered young outfielder Jose Tartabull who would enjoy a lengthy major league career in the transaction.
Why, exactly? Well it wasn’t because the Giants lacked backstops. Ahead of Pignatano on the San Francisco catching depth chart were Tom Haller and Ed Bailey and prospect John Orsino was on the come.
And it apparently wasn’t because Giants management respected the ex-Dodger from afar. “(Giants manager) Alvin Dark never cared for me,” Pignatano told his biographer a few years back.
Never the less, Pignatano found his way onto the Giants opening day roster.
Before and After
Pignatano signed with the hometown Dodgers at age 19 in 1948 and would the spend the better part of the next decade dutifully climbing the minor league ranks before making his big league debut in 1957.
But it was bittersweet breakthrough for the catcher. Just as he was arriving, the Dodgers were already cementing plans to decamp his blue collar hometown for sunny Southern California.
Coincidentally, Pignatano appeared the Dodgers’ final home game in Brooklyn, catching the final four innings after subbing in for Roy Campanella and receiving the for the rest of Danny Mc Devitt’s 2-0 Ebbets Field shutout.
In 1959 Pignatano enjoyed a career highlight in the second game of a tiebreaker playoff series in vs. Milwaukee. Pignatano singled to fuel a rally that led to a Dodger win. That victory catapulted the Dodgers to their first west coast World Series berth where they defeated the Chicago “Go-Go” White Sox.
After batting 1-for-5 in his abbreviated Giants stint, the Orange & Black transferred his contract to his hometown Mets on 7/13/62.
“Piggy” would finish his big league playing career with the Mets that season. In his final big league at bat Joe dramatically grounded into a triple play.
He Never Had a Giants Bobblehead Day. But…
In his only start for San Francisco, Pignatano also delivered his only hit, smashing a single to center field off Ray Sadecki in a 5-2 home loss to the Cardinals (6/15/62).
In 1965, Pignatano began 20-year consecutive run as a major league bullpen coach with the Senators, Mets and Braves.
During his long tenure with the Mets which included the shocking 1969 World Series Championship club Pignatano started planting vegetables in the New York bullpen. A lavish garden of tomatoes, pumpkins, cucumbers, eggplants, squash, zucchini, radishes and lettuce some how survived the steady stream of tobacco juice from Mets relievers.
Joe was on the Mets staff when New York acquired Mays from the Giants in 1972.
Obviously he was overjoyed with the reunion.
“You were my hero when I was younger,” Pignatano crowed despite being two years older than Willie. “My father used to take me to see you play!”