Former New York Yankees first baseman Joe Pepitone is suing the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York, on the grounds that it refuses to return the Mickey Mantle 500th home run bat that Pepitone says he lent to the HOF.
According to Daniel Kaplan of The Athletic, the 80-year-old Pepitone's lawsuit states:
"Pepitone’s Bat is a one-of-a-kind historical baseball artifact with an estimated value of more than $500,000. Pepitone did not gift, sell, assign, or in any way transferred his sole ownership interest in the Bat to any person or entity. Pepitone unequivocally demanded that the Museum return the Bat on September 1, 2020, as promised. The Museum has unreasonably and unlawfully refused Pepitone's demand to return the Bat and continues to possess the Bat without legal cause or justification over Pepitone's objection."
The Hall of Fame denies Pepitone's account, saying it has owned the bat since the Yankees donated it in 1967.
The bat in question was used by Mantle to hit the 500th home run of his MLB career during a game on May 14, 1967, against the Baltimore Orioles.
The lawsuit states Mantle used Pepitone's bat to hit the historic homer after Pepitone homered earlier in the game: "In the next inning (7th inning) of the Game, Pepitone handed his bat … to Mantle and told Mantle that the Bat 'had another home run in it.' Mantle smiled at Pepitone and took the Bat to the plate."
Pepitone stated in the lawsuit that the bat disappeared from his locker following the game, but then-Yankees executive Robert Fishel told him it had been loaned to the Hall of Fame and still belonged to him.
Pepitone also alleged he has visited the Hall of Fame on many occasions and has always been told the bat belongs to him. Specifically, he said then-Baseball Hall of Fame public relations director William Guilfoile—who died in 2016—told Pepitone the bat was his "for the asking."
Pepitone was Mantle's teammate for seven seasons from 1962 to 1968. While he wasn't a superstar like Mantle, Pepitone had a productive career with three All-Star selections and three Gold Glove awards.
Mantle is considered one of the greatest players in MLB history. The Mick hit .298 with 536 home runs and 1,509 RBI in 18 seasons with the Yanks, earning 20 All-Star nods and three American League MVP awards while winning seven World Series titles.
Per Kaplan, Goldin Auctions founder Ken Goldin estimates Mantle's 500th home run bat is worth "well over $1 million" thanks to Mantle's popularity and the scarcity of game-used items with such significance from that era.
Kaplan also noted the lawsuit doesn't mention written contracts, meaning it could be difficult to prove who owns the bat.