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Saturday, March 09, 2013

Holmes: ’68 Sports Illustrated cover boy Pepper never made it with the Tigers

Pepper Pepper, Bo Bepper, Banana Fana, Fo Fepper, Fee Fi Mo Mepper…Pepper!

45 springs ago – in March of 1968 – Pepper was corralled along with four other hot prospects by SI to appear on the cover of the iconic magazine. The young Tiger farmhand posed with Cardinal pitcher Mike Torrez, White Sox pitcher Cisco Carlos, Dodger pitcher Alan Foster, and a young Cincinnati catcher identified as “John Bench”. Chances are you’ve heard of Bench and maybe Torrez, who had a long, successful career for several clubs, but the other three, including Detroit’s Pepper, are not household names. Yet they, like Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali and other legendary athletes, did something none of us have ever done – appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. For the 24-year old Pepper it would be the pinnacle of his baseball career.

...That’s why Pepper found himself elbowing Bench on the cover of SI – his youth and powerful left-handed bat seemed too attractive for some to resist. But, as any fan of Detroit sports history knows, Mayo Smith did resist. Cash and Mathews went north and the Tigers romped to the pennant and won the World Series. Pepper, a cover boy 7 months earlier, watched from his parents home in upstate New York as the Tigers celebrated after winning Game 7 in St. Louis behind Mickey Lolich. And Bench? He was named Rookie of the Year in the National League. Pepper had spent the entire ’68 season at Toledo once again, hitting 16 homers and driving in 65 runs in 129 games. There were 20 players on that Mud Hen team who would go on to play in the majors, but Pepper was not one of them.

The following March late in spring training, with his path blocked by Cash, Pepper was traded to the Montreal Expos, an expansion team playing in their first season. But rather than report to the Expos, Pepper went back to Saratoga Springs to take over the turkey farm. His father had passed away and someone needed to run the family business. He spent the next few years doing what turkey farmers do, but it wasn’t his thing, and in 1971 he gave it up. By that time, at almost 28 years of age, Pepper was too old and to far removed from baseball to make a comeback.

 

Repoz Posted: March 09, 2013 at 10:33 AM | 15 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, tigers

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. bfan Posted: March 09, 2013 at 10:46 AM (#4384894)
So Pepper is one up on Chipper Jones.
   2. Bruce Markusen Posted: March 09, 2013 at 11:15 AM (#4384908)
Don Pepper and Cisco Carlos. Got to love those names.
   3. Infinite Joost (Voxter) Posted: March 09, 2013 at 01:40 PM (#4384995)
Well, if you look at his stat line it's pretty clear that the reason he didn't excel in the bigs is that he wasn't that good. He hit 19 homers in AA at the age of 24, and that was pretty much the extent of his accomplishments to that point.
   4. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: March 09, 2013 at 01:52 PM (#4385005)
Bench must be a jink--the guy on the right didn't make it either
   5. Der-K and the statistical werewolves. Posted: March 09, 2013 at 02:36 PM (#4385022)
don is the father of dottie pepper, the lpga star.
agreed that pepper's minor league #s are not impressive.
here's an si article on he and carlos.
   6. SoSH U at work Posted: March 09, 2013 at 02:38 PM (#4385024)
Well, if you look at his stat line it's pretty clear that the reason he didn't excel in the bigs is that he wasn't that good. He hit 19 homers in AA at the age of 24, and that was pretty much the extent of his accomplishments to that point.


He hit 19 homers in AA at the age of 22.
   7. Walt Davis Posted: March 09, 2013 at 06:54 PM (#4385102)
Would he have gotten his break with the Expos? I don't know the order of acquisition but the 69 Expos got very good production out of their corners:

1B Bailey 111 OPS+
LF Mack Jones 142
RF Staub 166
1B/OF Fairly 142

Even Coco Laboy had a decent year at 3B. The Expos stunk everywhere else and fell to an 87 team OPS+.
   8. Der-K and the statistical werewolves. Posted: March 09, 2013 at 07:04 PM (#4385115)
In '68, Pepper hit .248/.298/.396 with Toledo as a 24 year old. The year before, also in Toledo, he hit .277/.312/.411.
I don't know how Pepper was regarded, but he looks a little like a slightly lesser Lars Anderson.
   9. Walt Davis Posted: March 09, 2013 at 10:25 PM (#4385218)
In '68, Pepper hit .248/.298/.396 with Toledo as a 24 year old. The year before, also in Toledo, he hit .277/.312/.411.
I don't know how Pepper was regarded, but he looks a little like a slightly lesser Lars Anderson.


But remember the time period. I have no idea what minors run-scoring was like but the 1967 NL line was 249/310/363 and 1968 line was 243/300/341. I don't imagine his lines translated very well even in those circumstances but a 140ish ISO wasn't too bad and those numbers almost have to be better in context than Anderson.

For example (2nd guy I looked at, not cherry-picked):

Pepper
22 at AA: 302/358/469
23 at AAA: 277/312/411

Bob Watson
21 at AA: 279/355/467
21 at AAA: 264/310/419

Obviously the age difference is quite important but you can see the general context. By the way, Watson at age 22 at AAA: 349/418/737 in 86 PA but he did struggle and was back in the minors at 23 (maybe injury recovery as he spent some time in rookie ball).

Another potentially reasonable comp is Lou Piniella:

21 at AA: 249/281/400
22 at AAA: 289/321/396
23 at AAA: 308/340/424
25 in MLB: 1969 AL RoY (with just a 107 OPS+)
   10. Der-K and the statistical werewolves. Posted: March 09, 2013 at 11:05 PM (#4385249)
On the contrary, they were pretty much identical performers relative to league. We're missing park factors, ignoring defense and differences in league quality that may have arisen over the last 45 years, and skipping their work before age 21 due to a lack of walk data for Pepper (Lars was a lot better prior to then, but is probably of little import anyway):
[Note: gpa = Gleeman's quick and dirty uber stat: (1.8oba+slg)/4 ]

Here's Lars:
Ag Lvl  avgobaslggpa  Lavg/Loba/Lslg/Lgpa  %ofLg 
21 AA  .233
/.328/.345/.234  .258/.332/.385/.246   95
22 
--  .274/.349/.461/.272  .262/.330/.408/.251  109
23 AAA .265
/.369/.422/.272  .260/.329/.400/.248  109
24 AAA .250
/.353/.396/.258  .257/.328/.389/.245  105
Total  .256
/.350/.408/.260  .260/.330/.396/.247  105 

Here's Don:
Ag Lvl  avgobaslggpa  Lavg/Loba/Lslg/Lgpa  %ofLg 
21 AA  .249
/.303/.353/.225  .241/.321/.346/.231   97
22 AA  .302
/.358/.469/.278  .253/.329/.367/.240  116
23 AAA .277
/.312/.411/.243  .244/.311/.352/.228  107
24 AAA .248
/.298/.396/.233  .252/.316/.373/.235   99
Total  .275
/.324/.417/.250  .252/.325/.366/.238  105 


Lars' age 22 year was 87% AAA:
22 AA  .355/.408/.677/.353  .259/.332/.397/.249  142
22 AAA .262
/.340/.428/.260  .263/.330/.410/.251  104 


Furthermore, I like that Lars' power is concentrated in doubles - Don didn't hit too many relative to homers, which isn't a great sign.
   11. Walt Davis Posted: March 09, 2013 at 11:38 PM (#4385274)
OK, I had no idea that minors SLGs were 400 or lower these days.
   12. Bruce Markusen Posted: March 09, 2013 at 11:51 PM (#4385287)
I think it's likely that Pepper would have made the Expos' roster at some point if he had continued to play baseball. But he made a noble decision to continue his father's farm after his dad passed away.
   13. Der-K and the statistical werewolves. Posted: March 09, 2013 at 11:54 PM (#4385292)
Heck, the NL only slugged .400 last year (AL .411). The three leagues above .400: PCL .430, California .427, Pioneer .418.
That said, no full season league was as low as we saw in Japan where they slugged .343!

***

Sure, Bruce. But put me in the camp that thinks stardom or even a sustained regular role was unlikely.
   14. Walt Davis Posted: March 10, 2013 at 05:29 AM (#4385369)
Sure, Bruce. But put me in the camp that thinks stardom or even a sustained regular role was unlikely.

Especially since Fairly, Jones and Staub were all LHB and those last two guys were followed by Jorgenson and Singleton. Pepper had to go somewhere else if he was gonna play.
   15. Walt Davis Posted: March 10, 2013 at 05:39 AM (#4385370)
Interestingly, the Padres were also well set at the corners with Colbert, Brown and Ferrara (who I'd never heard of). The 69 Pilots were pretty solid but the 70 Brewers could have used some help. He was probably best suited for the Royals and maybe he could have had Mike Fiore's 1969.

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