Happy Birthday, Joe “Pep” Peploski!

“It is not his intention to merely pitch or enter faster company as a twirler. He is a valuable man at the bat and on the bases and probably could be turned into a good all around man.”

“Detroit Secures Seton Hall Star”, Bridgeport Farmer, 22 May 1913, Page 7.

A celebrated pitcher with good batting skills, Joseph Peploski turned his successful college career at Seton Hall into a two game tryout with the Detroit Tigers.

Joseph Aloysius Peploski was born 12 September 1891 to a pair of Polish/Russian Immigrants, Stanislaus and Adolpha (or Adele) Peploski.  The pair had children on both sides of the Atlantic according to the 1900 US Census (the 1910 US Census suggests all the kids were born in the United States, but a couple of travel records support the 1900 Census data).  The Peploskis brought three children with them to the United States around 1890, Joseph was born here (baseball records say Brooklyn but the census suggests it might have been in Bayonne, New Jersey) then returned to their home of Czarina.  There, they had a couple more kids and returned to Bayonne – and had two more children so that they could field a full lineup and keep a second pitcher if necessary.

“Peploski was born of Polish parents in Brooklyn twenty years ago. Upon his graduation from a Bayonne, N. J., parochial school he entered the prep, attached to St. Mary’s College, Detroit, where he played on the baseball team, filling the position of shortstop for four years. The remarkable speed with which the freshman shot the ball across the diamond attracted the attention of the varsity coach and in 1909 he took him in hand and gradually moulded him from a fast shortstop into a speedy pitcher. For two years he pitched for the St. Mary’s varsity nine and his record of twenty games won and none lost was brought to the notice of President Navin of the Detroit American club. Although his services were desired by Detroit, Peploski, being desirous of completing his college course, turned down all offers and instead at the end of his sophomore year entered the Seton Hall College, South Orange, becoming a member of the junior class.”

“…The manner in which Peploski lands on the ball has caused him to become an object of fear to every twirler he faces and has helped him to pile up the fine batting average of .512.”

“College Lad Hits .512”, Wilmington News Journal, 04 June 1912, Page 11.

Joe Peploski - Seton Hall 1912In addition to the baseball notes above, Peploski would also play for the Orchard Lake Seminary club, and spend a season in a low level minor league in Keene, VT.  After arriving in Seton Hall, Peploski took to his studies and to his baseball.  Before long, scouts were watching Peploski’s games and it wasn’t certain whether Peploski would be a hitter or a pitcher.

“Big Joe Peploski, of little Seton Hall University, in South Orange, N. J., looks like the most promising college player of the year, according to reports. Buried as he is on a comparatively almost unheard of team, he has fought his way into the glare of the spotlight through sheer merit during the last two seasons. Seton Hall was hardly on the map at all last year, but the remarkable all-around work of this youngster made an otherwise weak team so formidable that the institution was able to build up a schedule containing games with many of the foremost universities in the East this season.

Peploski is a big right-handed pitcher whose strikeout record excels that of any other college twirler in the East, and the greatest number of hits registered off his delivery in any game is six, with the average about four hits. After watching him perform in several games in his home town, three big league scouts sent to look him over agreed that he appeared to be the most promising college player they had laid eyes on. When he isn’t pitching he plays the outfield, and is also a star in that position. His batting average for the two years he has played is over .700. The six-footer wants to play in the garden of the big league team that lands him, which is believed will be the Pirates, though the Tigers have also made him a definite offer.

“Weekly Sport Digest”, Louisville Courier-Journal, 25 May 1913, Section 3 Page 8.

(Author’s note:  How tall was that reporter?  Peploski was a sturdy athlete, but stood 5′ 8″ tall.)

Peploski chose the team that had scouted him before he set foot on the Seton Hall campus and signed with Hughie Jennings and the Detroit Tigers.  He was one of four college players who landed in Detroit.

Joe Peploski - group pictures in 1913

He didn’t sign until after he graduated – Peploski, to his credit, wanted to finish his degree.  However, within days of inking the contract, Peploski was given a chance to play in the majors.  On 24 June 1913, he replaced George Moriarty at third base and played two innings there.  The Tigers trailed the Indians by four runs in the second game of a double header.  In the ninth, though, the Tigers rallied and the bases were loaded when Peploski picked up a bat.  The eager kid took a quick cut and fouled out for the second out of the inning.  Donie Bush followed, though, and doubled home three runs to tie the game.  Three walked batters gave the Tigers a win.

Two days later, Peploski replaced Moriarty again at third base and this time Peploski fielded one ball cleanly while lacing out a pair of singles in three at bats.  The Tigers rallied to tie their game with St. Louis on a Sam Crawford slam, but the Browns won in 14 innings.

Those eight innings at third base, and a .500 batting average is all Peploski would show for his major league career.  Both Retrosheet.org and Baseball-Reference.com would show Peploski as scoring a run, but the box scores don’t agree with that…  Instead, he was sent to Lincoln in the Western League to hone his skills.

“The doctors say that if the ball had struck an eighth of an inch lower the accident would have been fatal…” 

“Peploski’s Injury More Serious Than Was First Reported”, 10 August 1913, Sporting Section Page 2.

At Lincoln, especially with the PEP letters at the beginning of his last name, writers took to calling Peploski “Pepper.”  His season was going along well enough, despite a low batting average, until he was nailed in the head by a relay throw while trying to break up a double play in a game against St. Joseph.  Pep missed about ten days of action before returning to finish the season.

In 1914, Peploski returned to class – he began taking law classes at Fordham – and the ballpark in Lincoln.  However, his batting average continued to hover around .200 and he was released at the end of April.  He signed briefly to play in Utica, then was released to play in the New England League.  Peploski played with Lawrence, MA for about five weeks before was involved in a six player trade with Haverill.  And with that, his professional career was over.

In 1917, however, Connie Mack made a run out of getting Peploski back in professional baseball.  While Joe was a law student at the University of Pennsylvania, Mack offered Pep a chance to play with the Athletics.  Peploski had other ideas.  Now married to Clara T.  Johnson, whom he met at Seton Hall, he had other obligations.  Peploski would play baseball – but only in the semiprofessional leagues for most of the next decade.  He did spend one spring while taking classes at Fordham where he coached college pitchers, but that was it for his baseball life.

Instead, Peploski became a family man – he and his wife had a son, Robert, and a daughter, Marie Claire. Joseph took a position with a law firm, and later was a salesman for a trust company.

Pep Peploski wasn’t the only Pep Peploski to play baseball.  His youngest brother, Henry, was a third baseman in the Boston Braves chain and made it to the big leagues for six games in 1929.  He was so frequently called Pepper, he later changed his name to Henry Pepper.

Apparently, Joe didn’t stay tight with the family. A SABR researcher in Georgia named Tom Hufford was trying to put together data on the two baseball brothers and learned that Henry and Joe didn’t really stay in touch.

“When I asked (Henry) about Joe, he just would not answer. I wrote to him asking for his help on Joe. He ignored the request. After he died, I contacted Henry’s widow and asked her about Joe and she said Joe was kind of the black sheep of the family. He used to come back for an annual family reunion, but when he quit coming around they assumed he had died in 1946 or 1947.”

Levine, Al. “In search of baseball’s past”, Atlanta Constitution, 22 June 1993, Page F-7.

Henry wasn’t the only Peploski to change his name to Pepper.  At some point around 1930, Joseph and his family did the same thing.  When Joseph registered for the draft in 1942, he was Joseph Pepper living in New York and working for Electrical Testing Laboratories.  And, he was already no longer acting like a member of the family.  Joseph, when listing a person on his draft card who would always know his New York City address, listed his doctor.  In the 1940 US Census, Claire Pepper, Robert, and Marie are living without Joe (though Claire is listed as married) in their Plainfield, NJ home.  Claire was now working as a nurse while her son was playing baseball professionally in the minor leagues and Marie was working as a clerk.  When Marie Claire Pepper O’Brien died during heart surgery in 1963, her obituary listed all of her next of kin, except her father.  Claire died in 1976 and her obituary said she was a widow.  Robert Johnson Pepper passed on Halloween in 2002.

Joseph Peploski, now known as Joseph Pepper, died in New York City on 13 July 1972.  His obituary was brief and listed no next of kin.

Sources:

Baseball-reference.com – Joseph Peploski
Baseball-Reference.com – Robert Pepper
Retrosheet.org – Joseph Peploski
Retrosheet.org – Henry Peploski

Findagrave.com

1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940 US Census

Boat Transport Records, 1896, 1904

Social Security Death Records (Joseph Pepper)

World War II Draft Registrations (Joseph Pepper and Robert Johnson Pepper)

“Detroit Secures Seton Hall Star”, Bridgeport Farmer, 22 May 1913, Page 7.

“Sporting Notes”, Brattleboro Daily Reformer, 18 April 1913, Page 4.

“Seton Hall, By 7 to 1.”, Boston Globe, 16 May 1913, Page 4.

Box Score in Boston Globe (15 May, 1913, Pg 3).

“Weekly Sport Digest”, Louisville Courier-Journal, 25 May 1913, Section 3 Page 8.

“Sporting Notes.”, Brattleboro Daily Reformer, 25 June 1913, Page 4.

“Great Ninth Inning Finish Gives Tigers an Even Break”, Detroit Free Press, 25 June 1913, Sporting Section Page 1. Includes Photo of New Tigers (Peploski, Harry Elder, Les Hennessy, and Wally Pipp.

“Browns Get to Zamloch in 14th and Beat Tigers 7 to 5”, Detroit Free Press, 27 June 1913, Sporting Section Page 1.

“Lincoln Gets Joe Peploski”, Detroit Free Press, 03 July 1913, Page 10.

Photo of Peploski in New York Sun, 02 June 1912, Sporting Section Page 3.

“College Lad Hits .512”, Wilmington News Journal, 04 June 1912, Page 11.

“Knapp Sets Witches Back in the Second”, Lincoln Daily Star, 20 July 1913, Sporting Section Page 1.

“Sporting News”, Barre Daily Times, 22 July 1913, Page 8.

“Peploski’s Injury More Serious Than Was First Reported”, 10 August 1913, Sporting Section Page 2.

“Two Players Released.”, Nebraska State Journal, 30 April 1914, Page 3.

“Sporting Talk”, Lead Daily Call, 27 June 1914, Page 8.

“Six Players Traded.”, Boston Globe, 12 August 1914, Page 7.

“Honeymooning Apart.”, Bridgewater Courier-News, 06 January 1915, Page 7.

“Peploski To Help Fordham.”, New York Sun, 20 March 1915, Page 11.

“Manufacturers League to Take in Rahway and P. Amboy Next Year”, Central New Jersey Home News, 17 July 1915, Page 10.

“Mack Seeks Peploski”, Washington Herald, 16 September 1915, Page 8.

“Third Sacker For Silk Sox”, Passaic Daily Herald, 23 May 1917, Page 8.

“Family Likes Pepper”, Central New Jersey Home News, 14 September 1946, Page 2.

Levine, Al. “In search of baseball’s past”, Atlanta Constitution, 22 June 1993, Page F-7.

“Mrs. Frank O’Brien”, Bridgewater Courier-News, 01 July 1963, Page 38.

“Mrs. Joseph Pepper”, Bridgewater Courier-News, 05 January 1976, Page 4.

Obit: Joseph Pepper, New York Daily News, 22 July 1972, Page 10.

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2 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Joe “Pep” Peploski!

  1. Pingback: Baseball History for September 12th | Mighty Casey Baseball

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