Longtime New York sports writer Phil Pepe dies at 80

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NEW YORK (AP) — Phil Pepe, a revered baseball writer and radio voice who spent more than five decades covering sports in New York, died Sunday. He was 80.

Pepe died of an apparent heart attack at his home in Englewood, New Jersey, his son, David, told The Associated Press.

A longtime New York Yankees beat writer who chronicled franchise greats from Mickey Mantle to Reggie Jackson and Derek Jeter, Pepe also authored dozens of books on some of the biggest names in sports. He covered such famous athletes as Muhammad Ali and Walt Frazier during a prolific career that spanned generations.

"He truly, truly loved what he did," David Pepe said. "He always felt he was blessed to do what he did for a living. He had a real passion for baseball."

Pepe joined the Yankees beat with the New York World Telegram & Sun in 1961, the year Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth's single-season home run record, and covered the team for the New York Daily News from 1968-81.

Pepe wrote the newspaper's lead game story for every World Series from 1969-81 and then succeeded Dick Young as its sports columnist in 1982, the Daily News said.

After leaving the paper in 1989, Pepe did morning sports for WCBS radio for more than 15 years — including his popular "Pep Talk" segment.

He also was the director of broadcasting and a radio analyst for the Class A New Jersey Cardinals of the New York-Penn League from 1994-2005, the Daily News said.

In the meantime, Pepe churned out sports books at a vigorous pace. He wrote nearly 50 of them, including co-authoring Mantle's autobiography "My Favorite Summer: 1956", which rose to No. 7 on The New York Times bestseller list.

He co-wrote Bob Gibson's autobiography, and wrote books with Whitey Ford, Gary Carter and Tim McCarver, among others. Pepe's final book, in 2013, was on the Yankees' celebrated "Core Four" of Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera, the Daily News said.

"A giant among baseball writers who never got his true credit," Hall of Fame baseball writer Bill Madden told the Daily News.

Pepe also was esteemed for the tireless work he did on behalf of the New York chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. He was chapter chairman from 1975-76 and executive director for the past 21 years.

"Legendary NY baseball writer. He was the heartbeat of our chapter. He will be sorely missed," tweeted Mark Feinsand, current Yankees beat writer for the Daily News.

Pepe had attended every BBWAA awards dinner in New York since 1962 and ran the annual event for more than two decades.

"He was a driving force that kept our dinner alive and made it a special event that still attracts the top names in baseball," chapter chairman Mike Puma of the New York Post said in an email.

Pepe graduated from St. John's University and joined the New York World Telegram and Sun in 1957. He remained there until the newspaper went out of business in 1966, then wrote scripts with Howard Cosell for ABC radio, the Daily News said.

Citing a book by baseball historian Marty Appel, the Daily News said Pepe covered most of Ali's championship fights, was the beat writer for the New York Knicks during their championship years in the early 1970s, covered the first Super Bowl and three Olympics.

But his true love was baseball.

"I don't think that a lot of people know that for five, six years he was coaching American Legion baseball. He had great joy in that," David Pepe said, adding his father would occasionally stop by Little League fields in recent years just to watch kids play.

Pepe is also survived by sons Jim and John, daughter Jayne and her husband Steve Platts, daughters-in-law Maria and Sherry Pepe, sister Carol, brothers John and Paul, and five grandchildren.

A wake is scheduled for Thursday at Codey & Jones Funeral Home in Caldwell, New Jersey, and the funeral will be Friday at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Essex Fells, New Jersey.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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