Joe Pepitone is suing the Baseball Hall of Fame for $1 million and ownership of the bat that his former Yankees teammate Mickey Mantle used to swat his 500th career home run.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court in New York, Pepitone claims the bat that has been on display at the Hall of Fame for 54 years was only on loan under the condition that it be returned to him if he ever requested, according to a report in The Athletic. Pepitone reportedly asked for the bat on Sept. 1, 2020 and the Hall of Fame has resisted, countering that he has no rights to the artifact.
“The bat that Mickey Mantle used to hit his 500th home run was donated to the Hall of Fame by the New York Yankees in May 1967,” the museum said in a statement released Friday. “The Hall of Fame owns this historical bat and for more than fifty years, the Hall of Fame has preserved it and proudly put it on display for millions of fans to see as they tour the Museum.”
The Brooklyn-born Pepitone, 80, claims in the suit that the bat was his through an endorsement deal with Louisville Slugger, and that Mantle borrowed it to make history on May 14, 1967. An eight-year Yankee during the 1960s, Pepitone says he was told that day by then-Yankees executive Robert Fishell that the bat would only be on loan and that Hall of Fame staff, including former public relations director William Guilfoile, subsequently confirmed to him many times over the years that the bat would be returned upon request.
Mantle, Fishell and Guilfoile are dead.
The suit alleges the bat is valued at more than $500,000. A memorabilia collector estimated to The Athletic that the bat would be worth more than double that amount in the current hot market for sports collectibles.
Pepitone’s recollection, as reportedly spelled out in the suit, is that he had a conversation with Mantle after hitting his own two-run home run in the sixth inning to give the Yankees a 5-4 lead over the Orioles.
“In the next inning of the game, Pepitone handed his bat … to Mantle and told Mantle that the bat ‘had another home run in it,’” the suit claims. “Mantle smiled at Pepitone and took the bat to the plate.”
It is unclear if there are any written agreements that support Pepitone’s assertion.
“This bat is where it belongs,” the Hall’s statement read, “on display in Cooperstown for fans everywhere to see.”
At the time, Mantle was only the sixth player in MLB history to reach the milestone of 500 home runs. As home runs have become more prevalent over the years, the club now has 27 members.