In 1969, the year the Mets unexpectedly won the World Series after seven seasons as a losing team, Pignatano started planting tomatoes in the bullpen beyond right field. Up came cherry tomatoes, then beefsteak tomatoes. Eventually he grew pumpkins, cucumbers, eggplants, squash, zucchini, radishes and lettuce in a 30-foot long plot, with help from the pitchers who watered the plants.
“I transplant the crops in the spring and we have it every year,” he told The Associated Press in 1977.
During spring training in early April 1972, Pignatano, Hodges, Walker and Eddie Yost, another Mets coach, had returned to their motel from playing golf when Hodges had a fatal heart attack.
“Joe always reflected to me that when he saw him put the key in his door and fall, he knew that was it,” Gil Hodges Jr. said. “He fell without bracing himself.”
Pignatano remained a coach with the Mets until 1981, under four more managers: Yogi Berra, Roy McMillan, Joe Frazier and Joe Torre. He coached for Torre with the Atlanta Braves from 1982 to 1984, until they were both fired. He then retired until the mid-1990s, when he coached for two years with the Colorado Silver Bullets, an all-female professional baseball team.
Joseph Benjamin Pignatano was born on Aug. 4, 1929, in Brooklyn. His father, Aniello, was a longshoreman; his mother, Lucy (Esposito) Pignatano, was a seamstress.
Joe wanted to play baseball from a young age. He spent the better part of eight seasons climbing the Brooklyn Dodgers’ minor league system before getting his first taste of the major leagues in 1957, the team’s last before moving to Los Angeles.