The bat Mickey Mantle used to launch his 500th home run has been in the Baseball Hall of Fame for decades, but a recent lawsuit filed by Joe Pepitone claims he’s the bat’s rightful owner. Granted, the bat does have his name on it.

The ownership of Mickey Mantle's bat, which launched his 500th homerun bat is in dispute.
On May 14, 1967, Joe Pepitone loaned Mickey Mantle his bat. Mantle clocked his 500th home run with it and now, a lawsuit may finally determine the bat’s true owner. (Image: Baseball Hall of Fame)

The dispute over the bat’s ownership comes at a time when sports memorabilia valuations are sky-high. Earlier this year, Mantle’s rookie card sold for more than $5 million. But Mantle’s 500th home run bat isn’t just a collectable — it’s a piece of baseball history.

In 1929, Babe Ruth was the first MLB player to hit 500 career home runs. It was a big deal back then, and the milestone is still a big deal today. Only 28 players have made it into the 500 home run club, the most recent being Miguel Cabrera, who accomplished the feat just this week.

Lighter bat helps Mantle score

When Mantle hit his 499th home run on May 3, 1967, only five players had hit 500 career home runs. Needless to say, all eyes were on Mantle every time he took the plate. Unfortunately for him, he had a bit of a dry spell and more than a week passed without a dinger.

On May 14, 1967, teammate Joe Pepitone hit one out of the park. Afterwards, he passed his bat to Mantle saying that he thought there was another home run left in the bat. Pepitone also thought his lighter, 29-ounce bat would give Mantle better bat speed than Mantle’s own 32-ouncer. According to Pepitone’s lawsuit, filed in July, Mantle agreed. The rest is history.

According to Pepitone, the Yankees later took the bat out of his locker and sent it to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Pepitone claims that the Hall of Fame acknowledged his ownership of the bat, but all of the people who could have corroborated that claim have since died.

Hall of Fame pushes for dismissal

Pepitone is suing the Hall of Fame for $1 million and the bat. The HOF, however, isn’t taking the lawsuit lying down. On Aug. 20, they filed for dismissal, claiming Pepitone’s lawsuit is just a “shakedown.” Furthermore, the HOF points out that Pepitone didn’t claim ownership of the bat when he was facing bankruptcy in 2010. When he had to list all his assets for the bankruptcy court, Pepitone didn’t mention the bat, and that helped him escape paying back $130,000 in debts.

The Hall of Fame’s strategy puts Pepitone between a rock and a hard place. Either Pepitone thought he owned the bat, but lied to the bankruptcy court, or he’s lying now. The Hall of Fame’s bankruptcy squeeze play isn’t the only obstacle Pepitone will have to negotiate.

Should the case proceed, there will undoubtedly be motions that question whether Pepitone’s claim falls within the statute of limitations. Has too much time passed to make an ownership claim? When does the clock start on a property “conversion and replevin” claim? The only thing that is clear right now is that the Hall of Fame isn’t giving up Mantle’s bat without a fight.