Former A’s catcher, whose trade to KC helped build Dodger Stadium, dies at age 92

·3 min read
Harry Harris / AP

Dodger Stadium opened 60 years ago, and a former Kansas City A’s catcher played a small part in construction being completed.

But Joe Pignatano never did any physical work on the ballpark. He was sold by the Dodgers to the Athletics in 1961, and the Society for American Baseball Research noted the reasons for the deal.

“According to then-General Manager Buzzie Bavasi, the team’s need for cash to complete Dodger Stadium and the emergence of Norm Sherry as the preferred target for Sandy Koufax led to the sale of Pignatano to the Kansas City A’s in January of 1961.” SABR’s Paul Hirsch wrote. “A’s catching duties were split that season between Pignatano and Haywood Sullivan.

Pignatano, who died Monday at the age of 92, played just one of his six big-league seasons with the Athletics, and he later was a coach for New York’s “Miracle Mets” team in 1969.

The Mets said Pignatano passed away in Naples, Florida from dementia. He was 92.

Pignatano came up with the Dodgers in 1957 and played in the final game at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field. The Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, and Pignatano won a World Series ring with the Dodgers in 1959.

After the 1960 season, Pignatano was purchased by the A’s.

“I enjoyed Kansas City,” Pignatano had told SABR. “I hit well for awhile and (owner Charlie) Finley took care of us. As long as I had a uniform I really didn’t care where I was.”

The A’s were glad to have him. Pignatano set single-season highs for games played (92), plate appearances (292) and hits (59) in Kansas City.

“I now feel much better about our catching,” Athletics general manager Frank Lane told the Los Angeles Times after the deal. “We have in Pignatano who can at least throw and get somebody out. He’s not only a good thrower, but he runs well and is a good receiver. I know he is not considered a good hitter, but he does have some power.”

That story said the Dodgers received $50,000 for Pignatano, but LA claimed it was less than that figure.

Whatever the amount, it helped the Dodgers finish work on their stadium.

A wild final appearance

Following the 1961 season, Pignatano was traded to the San Francisco Giants for Jose Tartabull, the father of Danny Tartabull, who would go on to play for the Royals.

Pignatano later went to the Mets and finished his career in 1962. His final plate appearance in the majors resulted in a triple play, which the Cubs turned in Wrigley Field.

SABR said Pignatano joined the Washington Senators coaching staff in 1965 and stayed there before being hired by the Mets in 1969. He was a bullpen coach who noted a wild tomato plant growing near where the relievers would warm up.

The Mets won the World Series that year and Pignatano had tomatoes and a World Series ring to show for the success.

“He was fairly committed to taking care of his tomatoes,” former New York Mets pitcher Jim McAndrew told the Los Angeles Times.

“It was Joe’s thing. A lot of love and effort and TLC.”

Pignatano remained with the Mets through the 1981 season and later joined the Atlanta Braves as a scout.

“To me, he was Uncle Joe. He loved the city and loved talking about his days with the Dodgers and with Gil (Hodges),” former Mets outfielder Lee Mazzilli told the Associated Press. “He was a baseball lifer.”