Despite all the media coverage on John Malangone since 1994, John’s life story has not been published in book form. That will change soon with a forthcoming biography on John, entitled, Pinstripes and Penance: The Life Story of Ex-Yankee John Malangone.

This biography details the life of John Malangone, who straddled two worlds as he grew up in his Mafia controlled neighborhood of East Harlem, New York, and, as a baseball player, in the corporate environment of the New York Yankees, the most famous sports franchise in America. John’s rise in the Yankee organization gave him a chance to replace, in 1955, the now famous Yankee icon, Yogi Berra, at the catching position. The following is a sampling of the biography:


Chapter 10
Praying for Another Miracle

East Harlem NYC
Summer 1949

John Malangone’s relationship with Dom Bepp, however “positive” it might have been, took an ominous turn after John took off his boxing gloves. Having just turned seventeen, the kid was summoned to see Dom Bepp and was made an offer.

Wanna make a deuce? I want you guys to go in two vans to Winston-Salem, North Carolina. You’re gonna bring back three tractor-trailer trucks. You’re gonna drive them to a truck stop in New Jersey. You’re gonna leave them there, take the keys, throw them away as far as you can, and run like hell.

John asked, “What’s in the trucks?”

Dom Bepp replied, “None of your fucking business. Don’t worry about it. It’s all legal.”

From Dom Bepp’s perspective, John was the perfect recruit for this task. He was young, impressionable, and strong as a bull. He was constantly around Dom Bepp and his associates. John’s personal reputation was terribly unfair and erroneous, but that didn’t matter. Mobsters were saying what they wanted to say and, although sensitive and irate about the remarks, the kid couldn’t do anything about it.

John learned that Jerry, Dom Bepp’s chauffer, and several men he didn’t know were to be involved in bringing the trucks north. Since Paulie was with John everywhere he went, he was included in the mission as well. The job involved leaving cash envelopes for the truck drivers of the rigs, who in turn left spare keys for Dom Bepp’s men routing the trucks to New Jersey. John would not be required to drive, which would prove to be a blessing since he couldn’t read road signs anyway. He recalled years later how the whole operation would have blown up:

I would have been asking the wrong people [cops], “Which way was the highway?” I woulda ended up in Chicago or someplace.

Dom Bepp had stated that the date of the trip was two weeks away. The gravity of the matter made John realize that if he were to go, he would be in the mob, and there would be no getting out. He had said yes to Dom Bepp, but there was still Paulie to deal with and John realized he had made a serious mistake. Paulie never said a word in protest to the idea, but he didn’t have to because he wore his emotions on his sleeve. Tears were flowing, amidst his silent reaction. He too realized he was about to be trapped in the mob’s grip.

John empathized with the desperate feelings that were showing in Paulie’s face. The boys needed a miracle, with a deadline looming over them only two weeks away. Finally, John addressed the issue with his lifelong friend.

Paulie, we’re gonna run away. Will that make you feel better?

Paulie: Where are we gonna go?

John: Out west, I dunno, anyplace…

Following the initial conversation, the two met again in Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church to light candles and pray for a miracle. In John’s words, “I really fucked up big time.” It was almost a betrayal of his best friend. Similar to other situations in his young life, suicidal thoughts began entering his mind.

I was trying to think what to do. I thought about the “shanty” down in Times Square. I talked to the soldier down there [at the army recruiting center] about joining the army. I told him I was eighteen. He said, “Go home, get your toothbrush, your sneakers, come back and you’re in the army.” I said, “What about my friend?” He said, “Tell him to bring his toothbrush and sneakers and he’s in the army. We need soldiers.”

The two boys decided that enlistment was the best method for getting away from any further threats to their lives. Before finalizing plans, John told Paulie on that first weekend after Dom Bepp’s request that they would go down to Jefferson Park and “throw fruit together for the last time.” This made Paulie happy, as it was something that the two boys did together nearly every weekend for fun.

Despite poverty, organized crime, and the daily grind that took a toll on the average neighborhood resident, good things also happened; on rare occasions, even a miracle or two occurred with divine intervention.

Jefferson Park was, and still is, a “crown jewel” of a park for neighborhood residents of East Harlem. Built around the beginning of the twentieth century by the City of New York, the park has endured right up to the present day, providing a source of many recreational activities. When John was growing up, the park was an escape for residents of all ages. Numerous bocce courts reflected the ethnic Italian neighborhood that surrounded the park. Several baseball diamonds and backstops accommodated the baseball frenzy that captivated successive generations of neighborhood kids.

The east side of Jefferson Park faces the Harlem River, and it is now bounded by the highway known as the East River Drive. Back in John’s time as a teenager, the area was just a two-lane road; it did not deter youngsters and adults from reaching the piers that were jutting out from the shoreline along the river. The waterfront provided a measure of relief from the summer heat for neighborhood swimmers, and local kids enjoyed throwing fruit and vegetables at passing ships.

Sundays were quiet days in the neighborhood, and often pushcart vendors would look to dispose of unsold foodstuffs. The era of refrigeration had not yet arrived, and unwanted fruit was often used by anyone looking for mischief. It was not uncommon for John and other teenagers to toss the leftovers in any direction at any target of their choosing. Unfortunately, wild teenagers indulging in food fights were not welcome in the tranquil setting that the tree-lined park provided for nearby residents.

Responding to complaints from park users, local mobsters warned anyone wanting to toss fruit to take it out of Jefferson Park and go elsewhere, meaning the waterfront. It was a typical summer day when John and Paulie decided to visit the shoreline with leftover containers of fruit, obtained from the pushcart peddlers doing business along First Avenue. At an early age, John became an expert at hitting “bull’s-eyes”; the targets being anything on passing ships in the East River that John considered entertaining or worthy of a physical challenge. The favorite targets were portholes. Peaches and apples were preferred for throwing, as John would later boast, because one could grip and release them like baseballs. Malangone became aware that he and Paulie were being observed by a pair of well-dressed strangers who were visiting Jefferson Park that afternoon.

I saw the old men. Straw hats, white jackets… I said to Paulie, “They won’t bother us.” I saw the tugboat coming, and we got busy firing away at the portholes. Suddenly this man is standing there and says to me, “Hey kid, do you mind coming over to the ballpark? I want to see you throw a baseball.” I said, “Sure.”

The stranger continued,

Hey kid, how old are you? Are you playing with the high school [Benjamin Franklin] baseball team?

John replied that he was seventeen, and no, he was not on the team because the coach had informed him that he did not have enough academic credits. He did, however, pitch batting practice and served a role on the team as batboy. No mention was made of Coach Spiegel’s desire and Mr. Locke’s extensive attempts to make John a member of the team. The boy’s weaker side remained hidden from scrutiny.

On entering the park, all of the youngsters were then encouraged to throw some baseballs as far as they could to the left side of the diamond, where there was plenty of space. There was a sign posted on the outfield fence, along First Avenue, which claimed a distance of 368 feet from the home plate area where everyone was standing. The man suggested the sign as a possible throwing target; he was unaware that John couldn’t read and was baffled when the kid asked, “Is that the one with the numbers?” The question provoked both men to exchange glances with each other, wondering what to make of the boy.

Excited at the prospect of showing off his arm, John started throwing as far as he could toward the fence. For Malangone, this was a fun throwing contest, not related to a game of baseball or a potential baseball opportunity. Several enthusiastic attempts later, he hit the 368 foot sign on the fly, not once, but twice.

I threw one over the sign. I put on a show. Hey, this was fun! I told the guy, “Watch me do it again. I told him I can hit the fence on a fly! See the middle number on the sign?” After a couple of throws I hit the sign. “See that ashcan [dumpster]? I can throw one in there!” After four or five tries, it went in.

All those years of throwing in the alleyway and the waterfront, all those years of shoveling snow and coal, all those years of pushing and pulling horses, carts, and anything else that required physical strength and endurance — all those years had created a physical specimen that easily surpassed the talent and ability of the average seventeen year old and even most adults. No one realized that this was the result of guilt, and punishment that the teenager had intentionally inflicted on his throwing arm. Reaping the benefit of his extraordinary strength, John now enjoyed all of the attention he was getting when showing off his prowess.

The stranger was certainly impressed by the kid’s rifle arm. Taking a card out of his pocket, he handed it to John. The bespectacled man then introduced himself:

I am Paul Krichell, chief scout of the New York Yankees. Please report to Yankee Stadium tomorrow afternoon.

The other gentleman was also a Yankee scout, Harry Hesse. Although flattered, John had no clue about finding the famous ballpark.

Yankee Stadium? Where is that? I don’t know how to get there…

Surprised, Krichell offered an alternative.

You live in Harlem and you don’t know where Yankee Stadium is?

I’ll have a limo pick you up right here at the park.

Another much-needed miracle was about to become a reality.


Mike Harrison and John

The author, Michael Harrison, began his association with John Malangone in 1969, while both men were employed in a Sears Roebuck automotive facility in the Bronx. A student at Fordham University at the time, Mr. Harrison worked part time in the garage, under Mr. Malangone’s supervision, until 1973 when both men went their separate ways. The two men reunited in 2010 and since that time, Mr. Harrison and Mr. Malangone have collaborated on the book project. The project includes numerous interviews with John, family members and relatives, friends and associates, and many people, both amateur and professional, in the at large baseball communities.

A retired school librarian and track coach, Mr. Harrison is also a lifelong baseball fan and participant, and is currently a member of the Long Island Dodgers baseball team. The squad plays in an over fifty two years of age bracket, in the Men’s Senior Baseball League (MSBL)/Men’s Adult Baseball League (MABL).

The author is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). He is currently working on an internet biography for former New York Yankee scout, Brian Collins, for SABR. Brian was one of numerous baseball individuals interviewed for the book.