SABR

Ted Lepcio

This article was written by Tom Harkins.

When Lou Boudreau became manager of the Boston Red Sox in 1952, he fostered a “youth movement.” The Red Sox had recently signed several young players who came to the majors with little or no experience, and it was Boudreau’s responsibility to get these players into the lineup. Accordingly, in the season opener he started three rookies. One of these was 22-year-old second baseman Thaddeus Stanley Lepcio.

Ted Lepcio had made a rapid rise to the majors from the schoolyards and sandlots of Utica, New York, where he was born on July 28, 1929, the seventh and last child of Michael and Frances Lepcio, who each emigrated from Eastern Europe in the second decade of the 20th century. Michael, who died when Ted was just 9 years old, worked at the Utica Boiler works. Frances worked in the factory that produced the famed Utica Percale bed sheets.

Ted played both football and baseball at Proctor High School but baseball was his future. He played in both amateur and semipro ball throughout the area, often under assumed names. After his senior year in high school he played for at least four teams: an American Legion team, a couple of town teams, and a semipro team in St. Albans, Vermont, teaming with some college players from Villanova University. In fact, his teammates made a few phone calls to the Philadelphia school to try to land him a spot on their college team.

The Villanova coach helped Lepcio get a baseball scholarship at Seton Hall in 1947. There he came under the tutelage of Owen T. “Ownie” Carroll, who played nine years in the major leagues and was considered one of the deans of college baseball coaches. Lepcio has said that Carroll helped make him a major-league player. In an interview shortly before he retired, Carroll said Lepcio was the best player he ever had at Seton Hall: “Lepcio was an all-around player,” Carroll told the New York Times. “He could field and he could hit the ball nine miles.”1

While in college Lepcio played for the Augusta (Maine) Millionaires for two summers, 1949 and 1950. The players were supposed to have summer jobs; consequently the Millionaires “worked” in a shoe factory in nearby Winthrop. Actually, they mostly just practiced and played baseball. Lepcio’s days in Maine were long remembered by the locals. After his graduation from Seton Hall in 1951, Lepcio signed with the Red Sox for a reported $60,000, then joined the Triple-A Louisville Colonels, managed by Mike “Pinky” Higgins. Higgins asked Lepcio to play second base, a position he had never played. Coach Eddie Popowski hit grounder after grounder to Ted and soon he was in the Colonels’ lineup. After a hand injury, he was sent to Roanoke in the Class B Piedmont League. Lepcio had similar stats in both venues, hitting in the .260s with extra-base power.

In February 1952 Lepcio went to a special prospects camp held by the Red Sox at their Sarasota, Florida, spring-training base. After spring training, Lepcio made the major-league roster, and started the season’s first game, on the road against the Washington Senators. Boston Post sports cartoonist Bob Coyne featured Lepcio in an April 18 cartoon captioned “Most Likely to Succeed.” Coyne pointed to his success at Seton Hall and highlighted both his speed and his arm.

Lepcio said his first game was the most memorable of his 10-year major-league career. If the excitement of his first major-league game wasn’t enough, President Harry Truman threw out the first ball. As Truman tossed the ball there was a scramble, the ball fell to the ground, and Lepcio picked it up. He returned it to the president and chatted with him while pictures were taken. In the game Lepcio batted eighth behind pitcher Mel Parnell (Parnell was at times a decent hitter, but his career batting average was only .198). Lepcio struck out in his first appearance. Leading off the seventh, he laced a single off Washington starter Bob Porterfield. Boudreau called for a hit-and-run but the Senators executed a pitchout. Red Sox catcher Gus Niarhos, batting behind Lepcio, was unable to make contact but Ted was able to slide in safely at second to record his first major-league stolen base. The next day the Boston Post praised the three rookies who had started on Opening Day: “Youngsters Star as Sox Win 3-0: [Faye] Throneberry, Lepcio, and [Jimmy] Piersall give strong support to Parnell as he shuts out Senators.”

Lepcio was a stable member of a starting lineup that changed often in the first two months. Most dramatically, in late June Jimmy Piersall, who was playing mostly shortstop, began to show symptoms of the mental illness that would take him out of the lineup for the rest of the year. Piersall’s situation was particularly important to Lepcio because he and Jimmy were roommates as well as the early-season keystone combination. Ted was one of only a few Red Sox players and staff who recognized the seriousness of Piersall’s illness, and on more than one occasion Lepcio had to defend his roommate from other teammates who were threatening to physically attack the troubled Piersall.

Billy Goodman handled most of the work at second; Lepcio primarily played third base in the second half of the season. For the season he played 84 games and hit .263 with five home runs and 26 runs batted in. Lepcio felt comfortable at Fenway Park; with a similar number of at-bats at home and on the road, he hit 45 points higher in his home games. He hit his first big-league homer on April 19.

In 1953 Lepcio played a utility infield role, hitting .236 in 66 games split between second base, shortstop, and third base. He played mostly shortstop in the second half, and earned the position at the start of the 1954 season. But after nine games there he shifted to second base for most of the summer, with 24 games at third base mixed in. Overall Lepcio played in 116 games, starting 109 of them, and hit .256 with eight home runs, 19 doubles, and 45 RBIs.

The Red Sox acquired two infielders over the winter of 1954-55: Billy Klaus, a 26-year-old who had come over in a trade from the New York Giants, and free agent Eddie Joost, a 38-year-old who was entering his 17th major-league season. Although Joost started the season at shortstop, Klaus soon took over and had a stellar season, placing second in the Rookie of the Year voting. In the opener at Baltimore Lepcio, who started at third, went 2-for-4 with two home runs. He stayed in the starting lineup for a month, but after May 13 he started only 12 games. He played in only 51 games overall, hitting .231 (31-for-134) with six home runs and 15 RBIs. Lepcio was relegated to the utility role for the remainder of his career.

When Billy Goodman was injured in early June 1956, Lepcio played for several weeks while his teammate recovered. His season highlight came on August 18 at Fenway Park when he went 3-for-4 with two home runs and three RBIs. Ted Williams also hit two home runs in the game, leading to a headline the next day that read: “Both Teds Hit Two Home Runs.” Surprisingly, the Red Sox managed to lose the game, 9-7 to the Senators. Lepcio stayed hot, hitting seven home runs in his next 17 starts, including back-to-back games against the Senators when he went 5-for-9 with two home runs and seven RBIs to raise his average to .270. For the season, in 284 at-bats, he hit .261 with 15 home runs and 51 RBIs, both career highs.

After getting limited playing time in 1957 and ’58 and playing in parts of three games in early 1959, Lepcio and pitcher Dave Sisler were traded to Detroit for pitcher Billy Hoeft. In his first game for the Tigers, Lepcio faced the Red Sox, and he responded with a single and grand slam in Detroit’s 8-3 victory. In the three-game series Ted went 5-for-12, walked twice, scored twice, and knocked in four runs. In 12 games against the Red Sox in 1959, Lepcio hit .357 (10-for-28) with two home runs and six RBIs. He played 35 games at shortstop, 24 at second base, and 11 at third base for the Tigers that season. He played well, hitting .279 in 76 games, the highest average in his major-league career and 81 points higher than his .199 with the Red Sox in 1958.

Lepcio’s stay in the Motor City was brief. On December 5, 1959, the Tigers traded Lepcio and to other players to the Phillies for infielder Chico Fernandez and pitcher Ray Semproch. Having hit .280, Lepcio felt he deserved a raise but Philadelphia general manager John Quinn tendered him a contract with the same salary he received in 1959. Ted refused to sign, not reporting to spring training until late March after agreeing to a $3,500 raise. In early April, while the Phillies were still in training, manager Eddie Sawyer told a reporter that Lepcio was “one of the worst ballplayers I ever saw.”2

Sawyer’s opinion of Lepcio made little difference since the manager quit the Phillies after an Opening Day loss to the Reds. A week later Lepcio got his first start, at second base, for new manager and former Red Sox teammate Gene Mauch, in the first of Mauch’s 26 years as a big-league skipper. Lepcio, nearing the end of his major-league career, appeared in 69 games, hitting.227 with two home runs and eight RBIs.

Just before the 1961 season the Phillies sold Lepcio to the White Sox, who subsequently released him after just three plate appearances (0-for-2 with a walk). He was soon picked up by the Minnesota Twins and assigned him to their Triple-A affiliate, the Syracuse Chiefs. Lepcio played in 36 games for the Chiefs, mostly at second base, and though he was hitting a mere .183 he was called up to the Twins on July 7 thanks to former Red Sox teammate and current Twins manager Sam Mele. Mele, in responding to a reporter’s question concerning Eddie Sawyer’s “worst player” tag on Lepcio, said that Ted was “one of our best.” Lepcio’s batting average, .170, was anything but robust, but he was there to provide some pop. Mele told a reporter, “I remember Lepcio when we were teammates with the Red Sox. I knew he could bomb the ball once in a while. …”3 And “bomb the ball” Lepcio did; in his first four games he went deep three times and in the first month he hit seven home runs. On September 11 he played in his last game, as a ninth-inning replacement at third base. For the rest of the season, back problems, which required traction and surgery, kept him on the bench. Lepcio was released by the Twins on October 25. He was immediately signed by the expansion New York Mets but was released the following April before the season started. Ted Lepcio had played his last professional baseball game.

Out of baseball at the age of 32, but with his Seton Hall degree, Lepcio was prepared for life. He had made his offseason home in Boston and immediately found a position with the Honeywell Corporation. He later became an executive with St. Johnsbury Trucking, where he spent 22 years, the last as a vice president. Even at 80, Ted was still working as a transportation consultant for Stonepath.

He made his home in suburban Dedham, where he and his wife, Martha, raised their son, Thaddeus Stanley Lepcio, Jr., called Thad. Ted, a season-ticket holder, began taking his grandson, Thaddeus Stanley Lepcio, III (called T3), to Fenway Park. In the 1960s he was a founder and early president of the BoSox Club, a Red Sox fan organization. Lepcio kept in good physical condition, playing squash and golf. He appeared regularly at Fenway Park for old-timers games into his 60s. Although he had gained a few pounds since his playing days, he could still get into his woolen uniform (No. 12) as he did when he joined many of his former teammates in center field on Opening Day 2005 as the 2004 world championship pennant was raised. For the 2007 celebration Ted rode in the duck boat parade through downtown Boston. More recently he spent a number of games outside Fenway Park at Autograph Alley signing and reminiscing with fans.

Looking back on his baseball career, Ted said he had no regrets. He said he was very thankful for the many friends he made among his Red Sox teammates. He said he felt fortunate to have been able to play with and become friends with one of the greatest players ever, Ted Williams. In Lepcio’s first spring training Williams singled him out to be his warm-up partner, and while they played together Williams was always encouraging the younger Ted to become a better hitter. Lepcio summed up his opinion of Williams’s greatness not in his statistics but with the feeling he had that as long as Ted Williams was in the lineup the Red Sox had a chance to win. As for his other teammates, he said he tried to stay in touch with many of them, especially those with whom he shared the camaraderie and bond of the Red Sox youth movement.

 

Sources

Ted Lepcio, interview, September 28, 2009, in Dedham, Massachusetts.

Boston Post, April 1 through September 31, 1952.

Bill Ballew, “Ted Lepcio.” Sports Collectors Digest, April 8, 1994.

Al Harvin, “Carroll busy winning, not counting.” New York Times, April 26, 1970.

Rich Marazzi, “Ted Lepcio was part of 1950’s Red Sox powerhouse teams,” Sports Collectors Digest, date unknown.

Jeff Merron, “Piersall’s Rookie Roomie,” 108 Magazine, Summer 2007.

Bill Stewart, “Augusta Millionaires captured capital city’s attention,” Kennebec Journal, Augusta, Maine, Aug 31, 2008.

Jack Thomas, “A Player in his day,” Boston Globe, April 14. 2005.

 

Notes

1 New York Times, April 26, 1970.

2 Associated Press, unknown source from Miami, April 7, 1960.

3 The Sporting News, August 9, 1961.

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