Theodore Sepkowski, 79, played baseball for Yankees, Indians

March 14, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Theodore W. Sepkowski, a former major league baseball player with the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees who was later a player-manager in the minor league systems of the Milwaukee Braves and Washington Senators, died of a heart attack Friday at his Severna Park home. He was 79.

Born in Baltimore into a family of 14 and raised in Wagner's Point, Mr. Sepkowski dreamed as a youth of playing in the major leagues.

Because times were tough, he polished cars, shined shoes, ran errands and cashed in soda bottles to buy a Bill Doak model baseball glove.

An outstanding infielder at Mount St. Joseph High School in Irvington, Mr. Sepkowski was recommended by his coach, John Donohue, to Tommy Thomas, the legendary manager of the minor league International League Orioles, which signed him in 1941.

He took his high school books with him, and at the end of the 1941 season, he was picked up by the Cleveland Indians.

"Thomas was great to me, like a father. He bought me a $50 pair of those kangaroo baseball shoes, the kind the rich players wore, a sports coat. I was making $200 a month as a kid playing with such established players as Bob Repass, Bob Lemon, Jack Conway, Eddie Robinson, Joe Becker and Steve Gromek," Mr. Sepkowski told The Sun in a 1997 article.

"I'd be playing Sunday afternoon sandlot ball, and on Saturdays, I'd put on my uniform and wish the day was Sunday. That's how much I loved the game," he said.

When he first played for the Orioles, his name was spelled Sczepkowski - too long to fit in a one-column box score.

"At the time, I believe it was Rodger Pippen at the old News-Post who suggested it, but they wanted to shorten my name to Sepko. But I dropped two letters and made it Sepkowski," he said in the interview.

After another stint with the Orioles' minor league outfit, he rejoined the Indians in 1942, playing second base in three games. He came back to the Baltimore team briefly before enlisting in the Coast Guard in 1943.

Discharged in 1945, he returned to baseball in 1946, playing for Oklahoma City in the Texas League before returning to Cleveland that fall. He played third base and had four hits in eight at-bats, until being sent to the Yankees in 1947.

He played outfield for the Yankees and also was used for pinch hitting and running. He hit .250 in 12 games during May, June and July, until he was sent to the International League Newark Bears.

From 1948 to 1952, he played in the minors for the Chicago Cubs, and then was a player-manager for the Milwaukee Braves and Washington Senators systems from 1953 until 1955, when his career ended.

In a memorable and promising career, Mr. Sepkowski was a teammate of Indian pitcher Bob Feller and Yankee star Joe DiMaggio. He played against Ted Williams the year he hit .406.

"I wasn't up there [in the big leagues] that long, but I associated with such great people. It was an honor to play with them and against them. People played 15 years and never roomed with Yogi [Berra] or bumped into Bob Feller. I would like to be associated with those people and not my four years in the big leagues," he told The Sun in a 1992 interview.

Louis J. Grasmick Jr., president of Louis J. Grasmick Lumber Co. in Baltimore and a friend who had played baseball with Mr. Sepkowski with Al Kaline's Touring All-Stars, recalled him as a "powerful hitter."

Mr. Grasmick, a former pitcher, said, "Ted always had lots of power and hit 40 home runs a year in the minors. He was a very talented and smooth player. He was a really good-looking ball player."

From 1966 until retiring in 1984, Mr. Sepkowski worked as a suburban circulation sales manager for The A.S. Abell Co., former publisher of The Sun and The Evening Sun.

An accomplished woodworker, Mr. Sepkowski made lamps out of Louisville Slugger baseball bats, which he attached to a simulated home plate made of cherry or walnut.

A Mass of Christian burial was offered yesterday at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Severna Park.

Mr. Sepkowski is survived by his wife of 55 years, the former Marguerite Golden; a son, Terry Sepkowski of Severna Park; a daughter, Sharyn Eustace of Syracuse, N.Y.; a stepson, Robert E. Harting of Long Beach, Calif.; a stepdaughter, Melva Mazur of Oakton, Va.; 12 grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

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