Obituary: Pete Koegel (1947-2023)

RIP to Pete Koegel, who played in 62 games in the majors in the early 1970s. He was also a record-setting slugger in winter ball. The New York native died at Health Alliance Hospital in Kingston, N.Y., on February 4, 2023. He was 75 years old. Koegel played for the Milwaukee Brewers (1970-71) and Philadelphia Phillies (1971-72).

Peter John Koegel was born in Mineola, N.Y., on July 31, 1947. As a junior at Seaford High School, he stood 6’4″ and weighed 210 pounds, and his long home runs made news. One bomb, which helped beat West Hempstead 5-1 in the 1963 state championship, landed 420 feet from home plate in a clump of trees at Salisbury Park. He wasn’t the only good athlete in the family. Younger brother Warren Koegel was a star center at Penn State University and played in the NFL from 1971-74.

Source: Birmingham Post Herald, May 21, 1969.

Pete Koegel was an infielder on the All-Nassau County Baseball Team in 1964. He also was on the basketball team and played in the final game of Seaford Coach Rocco “Rocky” Valvano’s career. Koegel tried to score the winning basket in the final minute of the game but was called for a charge. Valvano’s coaching career ended in a loss, but he still got to see plenty of winning basketball games — his son Jim Valvano, or “Jimmy V,” led North Carolina State to the NCAA Division I championship in 1983.

See Pete Koegel on Baseball Almanac

Koegel was drafted in the Fourth Round of the 1965 Amateur Draft — the first-ever draft — by the Kansas City Athletics. He signed for a reported $40,000 bonus by scout Tom Giordano. He didn’t start his pro career until the following season, but he did play in the 1965 edition of the New York All-Stars vs. the U.S. All-Stars, held at Yankee Stadium. He won the Lou Gehrig trophy as the most outstanding player in the game. He hit a 420-foot triple to score the game’s first run and was later presented with the trophy by Gehrig’s widow, Eleanor.

Koegel, who had added a couple of inches in height to reach 6’6″, was compared favorably to Hank Greenberg by George Lippe, Cleveland Indians scout. He actually said that he was ahead of where Greenberg was at 17 years old. “He is as big and strong as Hank was, hits the ball as far and is quicker,” Lippe said.

Koegel started his professional career with a bang — 21 of them, to be exact. He slammed 21 home runs for the Burlington Bees in 1966, finishing second in the Midwest League behind Graig Nettles of Wisconsin Rapids, who had 28. Koegel hit just .233 and wasn’t promoted. In fact, he remained in the low minors for several years, not reaching Double-A until 1969; the A’s had moved to Oakland by then. He had a good season for the Birmingham A’s that year, with a .266 batting average, 20 home runs and 66 runs batted in. His previous seasons had seen batting averages in the low .200s or even the .190s. Koegel credited his improved hitting to several adjustments.

“I’ve had trouble getting the bat on the ball before, but now I’m waiting a little longer, I’m following the pitch better and I’m hitting some more to right field,” he said. He added that he wasn’t worrying about a promotion to the majors. “If you do your job, they’ll know about it,” he said.

Instead of getting a promotion to Triple-A or higher, Koegel was traded, along with Bob Meyer, to the Seattle Pilots for pitcher Fred Talbot. The only time he wore a Pilots uniform was during the Arizona Instructional League in the winter — he batted .185 in 41 games. By 1970, the Pilots had moved to Milwaukee and become the Brewers. Koegel started the season with Double-A Jacksonville and then moved on to Triple-A Portland of the Pacific Coast League. At both stops, Koegel hit well, combining for a .278 batting average and 27 home runs. He also expanded his versatility in the field. No longer just an outfielder, he played a few games at first base and even went behind the plate as a catcher. Milwaukee had planned to promote Koegel to the majors after the end of the PCL season, but an injury to outfielder Danny Walton meant that he joined the team right at the start of September, 1970.

Koegel debuted on September 1 as a pinch-hitter in the first game of a double-header against Minnesota. He hit for starting pitcher Lew Krausse and grounded out to Twins starter Jim Perry. He then went 0-for-2 with a walk in the second game. His first major-league hit was a pinch-hit single in Minnesota off pitcher Bill Zepp on September 7. He later scored on a Dave May base hit. Koegel pinch-hit in a few more games and hit a ninth-inning home run off Tommy John of the White Sox on September 25, ruining what would have been a 5-0 shutout. In 7 games, Koegel had 2 hits in 8 at-bats for a .250 batting average.

The Brewers added Koegel to the 1971 Opening Day roster for infield depth. He appeared in 2 games and was 0-for-3 with 2 walks before he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies on April 23, along with pitcher Ray Peters, for outfielder John Briggs. He was assigned to Eugene of the PCL and homered 19 times there before being recalled in September. The Phillies would finish last in the NL East, so manager Frank Lucchesi was willing to give the team’s prospects a try. When Koegel delivered a pinch-hit single off the Mets’ Ray Sadecki in his first National League at-bat on September 3, Lucchesi made him the starting catcher the following day. “We’ll find out a lot about these guys in the last month,” said the manager. “Take Koegel for instance. We’re not going to waste any time with him. He’s going behind the dish tomorrow and work a game.” Koegel was 1-for-5 in the next day’s game with a single and 4 strikeouts. He played in 12 games for the Phillies, mostly as a pinch-hitter but started as a catcher and left fielder. He had 6 hits for Philadelphia for a .231 batting average, giving him a combined .207 mark with his time in Milwaukee.

Koegel while playing for Caracas in the Venezuelan Winter League. Source:

Koegel spent all of 1972 with Philadelphia, as a backup catcher, corner infielder and right fielder. Primarily, he pinch-hit, with 23 of his 41 games coming off the bench to hit. It wasn’t his ideal role, and he slashed just .143/.236/.184 in 55 plate appearances. Sportswriter Bill Conlin of the Philadelphia Daily News included Koegel in with a group of power hitters like Roger Freed, Byron Browne and Ron Stone who put on impressive displays in batting practice but seldom got into a game. “It’s hard to stay in a groove on 10 swings a day. But that’s all they give you, so you’ve got to make the most of them,” the utility man said.

Source: Deseret News, July 13, 1970.

Koegel, who weighed around 240 pounds by then, was liked by his teammates. Joe Hoerner joked that he was Greg Luzinski’s bodyguard, and Dick Selma called him, “the guy I hide behind if there’s a fight.” Conlin called him something else: a potential starting catcher. There was one problem. “Tim McCarver‘s the catcher,” said Lucchesi — at least until McCarver was traded to Montreal later that season. Even after the deal, Koegel was never given a chance to play regularly at any of his positions. He remained with the Phillies for one more season, spending 1973 back in Eugene. After batting .257 with 22 doubles and 22 home runs, he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for pitcher Chris Zachary after the season. Pittsburgh had All-Star Manny Sanguillen as its starting catcher, so Koegel spent 1974 and ’75 with the Charleston (W.V.) Charlies of the Triple-A International League. By 1975, Koegel was 27 years old, and the Charlies had younger prospects at his positions — Ed Ott at catcher, Omar Moreno, Tony Armas and Miguel Dilone in the outfield — so he sat most of the year as a backup. He played in Mexico and the Kansas City Royals organization in 1976 and 1977, but his power and batting numbers started to fade. Koegel’s last season in pro ball, 1977, was split between Double-A Jacksonville and Triple-A Omaha in the Royals system. He batted a combined .229 with 13 home runs.

Over parts of 3 seasons, Koegel played in a total of 62 major-league games, with a slash line of .174/.268/.244. He had 14 hits that included 3 doubles and a home run. He walked 11 times, struck out 28 times and drove in 5 runs. Koegel played 12 games as a catcher, 9 as a first baseman, 4 as a third baseman, 2 as a left fielder and 2 as a right fielder. In 11 seasons in the minors, he homered 175 times and drove in 648 runs while batting .248. Koegel played in winter ball frequently and set a record in the Venezuelan Winter League in 1973-74 when he drove in 65 runs for the Leones del Caracas. He hit 18 home runs, including 4 grand slams, during the season. His record stood until Jesús Guzmán of Caracas had 67 RBIs in 2008-09.

Had he played for other teams, Koegel may have been given more of a chance. There were people in baseball who felt like he deserved it. Frank Lane, long-time major-league general manager, said that as big as Koegel was, the speedy outfielder Tommy Harper “couldn’t beat him by more than an eyelash in a sprint. He’s got a long swing, but I always had the feeling that if he could play regularly, he’d hit the ball out of the park and win a lot of games for somebody.”

Koegel returned to his home in Saugerties, N.Y., where he spent the rest of his life. He is still just one of three 6’6″ ballplayers to catch in the major leagues — Don Gile and current Twin minor-leaguer Grayson Greiner being the others. Koegel is survived by two children, three grandchildren and extended family.

For more information:

Follow me on Twitter: @rip_mlb

Follow me on Instagram: @rip_mlb

Follow me on Facebook: ripbaseball

Support RIP Baseball


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s