Ted Lepcio, an infielder for the Detroit Tigers in 1959, died on December 11 in Dedham, Mass., at age 90. He had a grand debut for the Tigers in 1959, and it came at a time when Detroit really needed something grand.
The Tigers were off to a 2-15 start and shook things up on the first Saturday of May. They fired manager Bill Norman and hired Jimmy Dykes and pulled off a big trade, dealing former 20-game-winner Billy Hoeft to the Boston Red Sox for Lepcio and Dave Sisler.
Lepcio, a versatile infielder, was in his eighth season with the Red Sox when he was dealt to the Tigers, and he made his Detroit debut three days later against a familiar team: The Red Sox.
The Tigers started him at third base when regular third baseman Eddie Yost had a sore throwing arm. Detroit put Lepcio at the top of the batting order against his former team, and he responded in grand fashion.
Lepcio struck out in his first at-bat against Jerry Casale and singled in his second trip to the plate. In the bottom of the fourth inning, Lepcio faced former Tigers pitcher Herb Moford with the bases loaded and hit a grand slam into the upper deck in left field at Briggs Stadium to break a 2-2 tie, and the Tigers went on to an 8-3 victory.
Lepcio started all three games of the weekend series against Boston and went 5-for-12 with two walks, two runs scored and four RBIs, and in 12 games against the Red Sox in 1959, he was 10-for-28 (.357) with two home runs and six RBIs.
A few weeks after his first game with Detroit, a letter from a Red Sox fan, Harry S. Newman of Cambridge, Mass., appeared in The Sporting News.
“I was shocked to read that Ted Lepcio had been traded by the Red Sox to the Tigers. I can remember many a time when Lepcio would be called on to pinch-hit in a tight spot, and he’d come through with a hit. No sooner had the Red Sox traded him than he connected for a grand-slammer against them.”
Lepcio finished the season with the Tigers and did a fine job backing up second base, shortstop and third base. He hit .279 with seven home runs, 24 RBIs and two stolen bases with a .746 OPS. He also made 11 errors.
The Tigers traded him at the 1959 winter meetings. He was dealt along with minor-leaguers Kel Walters and Alex Cosmidis to the Chicago White Sox for shortstop Chico Fernandez and pitcher Ray Semproch.
It was the beginning of the end for Lepcio. He never played for the White Sox as the Philadelphia Phillies purchased his contract prior to the 1960 season. After hitting just .227, the White Sox purchased Lepcio’s contract, but he appeared in just five games. He finished up with the expansion Minnesota Twins in 1961.
After baseball, Lepcio lived in Boston and worked in sales for the St. Johnsbury Trucking Co. and eventually became a vice president. He also was director of sales at Corsair Logistics, Inc., in Randolph, Mass., and attended games at Fenway Park well into the later years of his life.
Lepcio was inducted into the Greater Utica (N.Y.) Sports Hall of Fame in 1990.
“The only thing I prayed for was to be a major-league player, and it came true,” Lepcio said in the Utica (N.Y.) Observer-Dispatch in 2016. “I didn’t crash any records, but I played 10 years in the major leagues, and that’s something to be proud of.”