Obituary: Ted Lepcio (1929-2019)

RIP to Ted Lepcio, who was an infielder for for five teams in the 1950s and early ’60s. Per his family, he died at his home on December 5 at the age of 90 — not December 11 as originally noted. Lepcio played for the Boston Red Sox (1952-59), Detroit Tigers (1959), Philadelphia Phillies (1960), Chicago White Sox (1961) and Minnesota Twins (1961).

Thaddeus Lepcio was born on July 28, 1929 in Utica, N.Y. He played on the varsity baseball team all four years at Thomas R. Proctor High School in Utica and then attended Seton Hall University. He was signed by the Red Sox on September 10, 1950 and assigned to the Louisville Colonels of the American Association. He played for both Louisville and the Roanoke Ro-Sox in 1951 and hit a combined .266 with 12 homers in 89 games.

Source: The Birmingham News, April 7, 1960.

Lepcio earned an invitation to the Red Sox training camp in 1952 and made a great impression. Playing at second base, Lepcio and rookie shortstop Jimmy Piersall wowed manager Lou Boudreau. They were part of a youth movement that also included outfielders Gene Stephens and Tom Umphlett. Lepcio and Piersall were in the Opening Day starting lineup on April 15, 1952, as the Red Sox beat the Senators 7-4. Lepcio got his first major-league hit and stolen base in the 7th inning against Washington’s Bob Porterfield. His first MLB home run came a few days later off the Athletics’ Morrie Martin. The two rookies played regularly for about a month before Boudreau replaced them with veterans Billy Goodman and Vern Stephens. Lepcio was hitting .247 at the time he was benched. He still started a fair number of games and ultimately hit .263 in 84 games, with 5 home runs and 25 RBIs. The youthful Red Sox finished two games under .500 but still helped play the role of spoiler. Lepcio hit a 10th inning homer off Cleveland’s Bob Lemon on September 13, beating the Indians at the time when the Tribe was trying to keep up with the eventual pennant-winning Yankees.

Lepcio took a step back in 1953 and hit just .236 in 66 games as a utility infielder. He was given another chance to play regularly in 1954, and he came through. He started the season as the Sox shortstop before moving to second base. By early June, he was hitting in the .290s and at one point drove in 15 runs in 17 games. He cooled off to end the season with a .256/.328/.384 slash line, but he played in more than 100 games for the only time in his career and had 45 RBIs to go with 8 home runs.

“I’m not doing anything differently,” he said of his impressive season. “I’m in there swinging like I always did. Playing all the time gives me a better chance to get squared away and to know the pitchers better. Maybe I’m getting into the groove.”

For the rest of his time with the Red Sox, he played between 50 and 83 games in a season. He hit a career-high 15 homers in 1956 while batting .261. On the downside, hit failed to break the .200 level in 1958, ending the year with a .199 mark. On April 12, 1955, he became the first player to hit two home runs in a game at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. It was Opening Day of the second season the Orioles had played in the ballpark. There were only 42 home runs hit there in the inaugural 1954 season.

Lepcio started 1959 on the bench, and appeared in a total of 3 games with the Red Sox, getting a double in 3 at-bats. On May 2, he was traded to the Detroit Tigers, along with Dave Sisler, in exchange for Billy Hoeft. His career with the Tigers lasted 76 games, but he batted .279 in those games and cracked 7 home runs while driving in 25.

Lepcio was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for the 1960 season. That year was a contentious one, as his debut was delayed in Spring Training due to contract haggling with Philadelphia management. Shortly after, Phils’ manager Eddie Sawyer raised some eyebrows when he called Lepcio “one of the worst ball players I ever saw.” Lepcio responded by asking to be sent back to the American League, “Or wherever it is bad ball players go.”

“I’ve only been down here three weeks,” he told the Associated Press. “How can he make judgment on me in such a short time? I’ve started in two B games. I’ve finished up in a few others. I haven’t been to bat a dozen times and Sawyer already has made up his mind about me. If that’s the way he feels about it, then he ought to send me back to where I came from or some place else.”

Some Phillies players said the manager was trying to get a rise out of veteran players, as he took shots at vets Wally Post and Harry Anderson too. His questionable attempts to inspire his team backfired, as the Phillies finished in last place with a 59-95 record. Lepcio hit .227 in 69 games in his only National League experience.

Source: The Boston Globe, June 7, 1954.

The White Sox acquired Lepcio in April 1961 but used him very sparingly. He got into a total of 5 games — 3 as a pinch-hitter, 1 as a pinch-runner and 1 as a defensive replacement at third base. He went 0-for-2 with a walk and was released in May. The Twins signed him, and after a short stay in the minors, he was brought back to the majors on July 6. On July 13, he hit a grand slam to lead the Twins to a 9-6 win over Cleveland. Lepcio hit 7 homers for the Twins in 47 games but hit just .170. He was released by the Twins and signed by the debuting Mets after the ’61 season, but the Mets cut him prior to the start of the 1962 season.

The deal with the Mets was so poorly executed that Lepcio was used by sportswriter Dick Young as an example of the team’s mismanagement of its players. Young wrote that Lepcio was the first player signed by the Mets, who promised him an opportunity. He played in a total of 3 innings at shortstop and had 3 hitless at-bats in Spring Training. He was cut but told he could play the next two games against the Cardinals and Reds, so that he could possibly catch on with one of those two teams.

“I didn’t come here to make the Cards or Reds. I came here to make the Mets,” Lepcio said. He didn’t play in another professional game.

In his 10-year career, Lepcio had a slash line of .245/.318/.398, with 512 hits, including 69 home runs. He had 251 RBIs and scored 233 runs, generating 5.4 wins above replacement.

Lepcio was inducted into the Seton Hall University Athletics Hall of Fame in 1973 and the Greater Utica Sports Hall of Fame in 1990. He was a long-time resident of Dedham, Mass., and, as recently as 2016, worked as the director of sales at Corsair Logistics. He also attended Red Sox games and was a regular autograph-signer at Fenway Park, according to this 2016 article from the Utica Observer-Dispatch.

One more quick story: On June 7, 1956, Lepcio was playing second base for the Red Sox against Detroit when he took an Earl Torgeson ground ball off his chin. He retreated to the dugout after the inning with a gash that required two stitches. The team trainers patched him up and sent him back out to play, and he homered and hit a game-winning double in that game.

“Ted Lepcio should lend his chin to [boxers] Tony DeMarco or Vince Martinez,” commented The Boston Globe.

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