The decision at the time seemed clear-cut. One year after being
touted by SI as one of the best prospects among the rookie crop
of 1968, Don Pepper quit baseball to run his family's turkey
farm in Sarasota Springs, N.Y., home to 45,000 fowl. "My father
died, and I felt it was my obligation to go home," says the
58-year-old Pepper, who shared the cover with future Hall of
Fame catcher Johnny Bench and pitchers Cisco Carlos, Alan Foster
and Mike Torrez. "Looking back, maybe I shouldn't have."
While Bench became a two-time National League MVP as a member of
the Cincinnati Reds' Big Red Machine, Torrez won 185 games in an
18-year career and Foster pitched well enough to stick around
the big leagues for 10 seasons, Carlos was back in the minors by
1970, and Pepper never returned to the game, even after the farm
went under in '71.
A hefty 6'4", lefthanded, power-hitting first baseman in the
Detroit Tigers' organization, Pepper earned a call-up to Detroit
in 1966, appearing in four games and going hitless in three at
bats. The following season he hit .277 and had 13 home runs for
Triple A Toledo, prompting his appearance on SI's cover.
However, Pepper couldn't displace veteran Norm Cash in spring
training and started the season back in Toledo. The following
spring Pepper was sold to the Montreal Expos, but before his new
team could farm him out to an affiliate, he assigned himself to
the family farm.
After Pepper pulled the plug on the unprofitable turkey venture
in 1971, he became a sales representative for a gift products
company and built a golf range on his farm. Later he helped
manage a service station and ran a convenience store. In '96 he
went to work for Ryan's Family Steak Houses, Inc., a chain of
restaurants throughout 23 states, and now serves as director of
maintenance. Sometimes when he's on the road making sure that
the 315 steak and buffet houses are running smoothly, he thinks
back on his baseball days and wonders what would have happened
if he had stayed in the game.
Though Pepper never blossomed into the home run king he had
dreamed of becoming while growing up in Saratoga Springs, his
oldest daughter, Dottie, became a champion on the LPGA tour,
winning 17 events in the last 15 years. Don owned his driving
range when 10-year-old Dottie was still learning the game. She
spent many hours at the range perfecting her swing, and Don,
once a six handicapper, taught Dottie course-management skills
and reminded her to always have fun.
"My dad was the voice of experience," says Dottie, whose sister,
Jackie, is a married mother of two in Hamilton, Ohio. "After not
quite making it [as a professional athlete], he gave me a lot of
advice of what not to do. I benefited from that." Don and his
wife of 37 years, Lynn, live 20 minutes from Dottie in
Greenville, S.C., and catch up with her whenever she's in town.
A few years ago Carlos went to see Dottie play, at an LPGA event
near his home in Cave Creek, Ariz., and to ask her to autograph
a story that included a picture of the '68 SI cover. He wasn't
able to meet with Dottie that day, but whenever he hears or
reads about her, he thinks back to that cover shoot with Don and
the promise of making it big in the majors.
A call-up to the Chicago White Sox in 1967 yielded seven starts
for the 26-year-old righthanded Carlos. He went 2-0 with an 0.86
ERA in 41 2/3 innings, which earned him the cover spot and a
place in Chicago's rotation in '68. However, the hard-throwing
Carlos went 4-14 with a 3.90 ERA as a rookie. He began the
following season 4-3 with a 5.66 ERA and then was sold to the
Washington Senators. Carlos appeared in only six games during
the rest of '69 and was called up and played in five games in
'70 before being sent back to Triple A Denver.
After pitching for four more years without getting back to the
majors, Carlos took a job in sales at a kitchen design center.
"I was having so much fun, and the money was good," says Carlos,
Though Carlos never fulfilled his boyhood dream of pitching
against the Yankees in the World Series, a fantasy that he
played out often in the backyard of his parents' home in
Monrovia, Calif., he hit a home run in the kitchen cabinet
business. In 1989 he acquired his own company, Cabinets by
Design; his staff of five now sells and installs cabinets in 80
to 100 kitchens a year. Baseball never piqued the interest of
his sons, Christopher and Stephen, but cabinet sales runs in the
family. Christopher, 34, helps Carlos run his business, while
Stephen, 37, works for another cabinet company in Phoenix.
Now golf is what Carlos and Pepper have in common. Carlos
organizes and plays in celebrity golf events that benefit
Arizona Little League teams and youth baseball clinics; Pepper
squeezes in a round with Dottie when they have time off
together. Raising turkeys, pumping gas and outfitting kitchens
don't compare with the bright lights of the big leagues, but the
two former prospects are happy with the way things turned out.
"You have second thoughts, but you can't have any regrets about
it," says Pepper. "If I had stayed in baseball, who knows what
Dottie's career might have been? My job now is challenging in a
different way, and I'm still competitive--even if I'm not on the
COLOR PHOTO: ERIC SCHWEIKARDT (COVER) SPRING FEVER Touted rookies (clockwise, from top left) Pepper, Bench, Foster, Carlos and Torrez.
COLOR PHOTO: GREG FOSTER
COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT TROYANOS SALES PITCH For the past 14 years Carlos has run his own kitchen design company in Arizona.
Pepper is director of maintenance for a chain of 315 restaurants
and the proud father of LPGA golfer Dottie Pepper.
Carlos joined the White Sox' rotation after going 2-0 with
an 0.86 ERA during a 1967 call-up.