SSTN Interviews Marty Appel
September 3, 2020
SSTN: We are here with the legendary Mr. Marty Appel, considered by many to be the foremost expert on the Yankees and all things Yankee-related. Marty’s resume is long indeed. For many years, he was the Public Relations Director of the Yankees. He is also the author of numerous books that focus on baseball and the Yankees including Casey Stengel: Baseball’s Greatest Character;Pinstripe Pride: The Inside Story of the New York Yankees; Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankees Captain; Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees from Before the Babe to After the Boss; the autobiographical “Now Pitching for the Yankees”; and Slide, Kelly, Slide, a biography of baseball’s first superstar. He also did collaborations with Thurman Munson, Tom Seaver, umpire Eric Gregg and Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, and frequently writes baseball historical columns (found at www.AppelPR.com). He is the magazine historian for the Baseball Hall of Fame’s “Memories & Dreams” magazine, and for 21 years, participated in the writing of the copy on the Hall of Fame plaques.”Kelly” and “Casey Stengel” both won the Casey Award as best baseball book of the year. Marty Appel won an Emmy Award as executive producer of Yankee telecasts on WPIX.
Marty, it is great to have this discussion with you. I greatly appreciate the kindness and support that you have always provided to me. You are one of the classiest individuals I know. Thank you for coming to Start Spreading The News.
It’s my pleasure, particularly during this pandemic shutdown when any diversion to the day is welcome.
Let’s start at the beginning, or close to it, because this is such a great story and a lesson to all who wish to find success and follow their dreams. How did you, a kid without a lengthy resume at the time, originally get a job with the New York Yankees?
I was a first generation fan, and became one during the 1955 World Series. We were living in Brooklyn and I was supposed to be rooting for the Dodgers, those great Boys of Summer, but when the Yankees lost, I felt badly for them (I was seven). I decided then to root for the underdog and I became a Yankees fan. In that sense, my whole life has been a mistake, but at least the Dodgers didn’t break my heart when they moved to LA.
In 1967, having written sports for my local newspaper, the Rockland Journal News, I decided to send a letter to the Yankees looking for an undefined summer job. The letter arrived on a day the PR man, Bob Fishel, was feeling overwhelmed with unanswered Mickey Mantle fan mail and he knew it was bad PR to leave it unanswered. So I had an interview (I was still in college at SUNY Oneonta), and was hired to work during the long summer vacations one gets from college. The key to this all was that no one else was writing in the late ’60s looking to break in. Baseball wasn’t very cool then; college students were more interested in football and basketball.
Sometime life is all about timing.
What were your primary responsibilities with that position?
The responses were to sort through the letters and to send form letters, apologizing for not being able to send a signed baseball. But I always managed to save up a few letters to go over personally with Mickey, and from those few minutes a day, a friendship formed. We kept in touch until his death 27 years later.
Once you started with the Yankees, you rose through the ranks to eventually become the Public Relations Director. Who were the individuals within the organization that helped you find success and who encouraged you as your career advanced?
I was lucky to learn my craft from Bob Fishel, who was the Yankees PR man for 20 years…..it was like learning democracy from Thomas Jefferson. He was the best in the game. His assistant, who I succeeded in 1970, was Bill Guilfoile, a wonderful man who went on to become the PR Director of the Pirates and then of the Hall of Fame. Bill offered me a chance to go to Pittsburgh with him as his assistant, and it was a tough choice, but….hey, it was the Yankees. And I should add that George Steinbrenner had the confidence in me to make me the youngest PR Director in baseball in 1973, and I will always owe him gratitude for that. He may not have been the easiest boss, but boy, every day was exciting.
One of your responsibilities with the Yankees was organizing Old Timers’ Day. Can you share a special Old Timers’ Day memory?
I loved those days, and the opportunity to get to know Yankees going back to the ’20s, and even before. It wasn’t just a handshake on Old Timers Day – it was weeks of communications. Waite Hoyt, Bob Shawkey, Earle Combs, Joe Dugan, Lefty Gomez, Red Ruffing, Tommy Henrich, Bill Dickey, Mrs. Babe Ruth, Mrs. Lou Gehrig, and of course Joe DiMaggio – were all regular phone calls. For a Yankee fan who loved the team’s history, it was heaven. Later on of course – Mantle, Ford, Martin, Berra, Howard, Mel Allen, and my boyhood hero Bobby Richardson, all those great names. During my days as a fan mail clerk, I volunteered to help out with the event and wound up helping to write the programs the fans were given.
For one special memory, I’d say 1970 when Casey Stengel returned for the first time. He’d been fired after the 1960 World Series. But hatchets were buried and he had a wonderful time.
It is always great to know that our heroes are also good people. You have known and worked with hundreds and hundreds of Yankees players. Which player or players were the most kind?
Mantle was great to me and always gave me the gifts he would receive for being on a pre-game show. There was a good chance he wasn’t going use that $10 off coupon for Thom McAn shoes in Yonkers, so I got it. And those shoes were always “Mantle shoes” to me.
But some of the really kind players were not necessarily the famous ones. Steve Hamilton, Bill Robinson, Ruben Amaro, Mel Stottlemyre, Bobby Cox, Fritz Peterson, Sparky Lyle, and Rob Blomberg are among those who come to mind. Baseball players are, by and large, a wonderful group of guys – especially I suppose when I was their age, and our salaries weren’t all that different! We’d split the dinner checks.
I love hearing about great people being down to earth, kind, and generous. Thanks for that.
What was the greatest baseball moment you experienced in person?
Chris Chambliss’s pennant winning home run in 1976 was a “Bobby Thomson moment” for my generation, and Chris was a close friend which made it even more special.
Having a hand in the planning of Mickey Mantle’s Retirement Ceremony in 1969 was historic and really came off well.
On a more humorous note, I was the manager of the National League old timers at a Cracker Jack Old Timers Game one year, and went to the mound in Buffalo, NY, to remove Sandy Koufax after one batter. (This was pre-arranged). I stuck out my hand and said, “I don’t like what I’m seeing here, Sandy,” (not pre-arranged dialogue) which made us both laugh.
That is wonderful. Imagine, asking Sandy Koufax for the ball… Amazing!
You’re written countless wonderful and award-winning books. Which of these was the most fun to write?
Pinstripe Empire was the most important. It was the first narrative history of the Yankees since Frank Graham wrote one in 1943. So it was an important book, and at the same time, it made me an arbiter of “what gets in.” That was a high honor. Can you write the history of the Yankees without mentioning so and so? Decisions needed to be made. In the end it was well received, which made me quite proud. And the oddity of it all was that from 1903-1954 it was largely through research (knowing where to look helps a lot), but from 1955 on, it was as though I had actually lived it! Research at that point was just to make sure my memory was correct.
The Casey Stengel biography was, I would say, the most fun, because of what a character Casey was and all the new stories I discovered.
Which was the most challenging?
The most challenging book to write was called Hardball: The Education of a Baseball Commissioner. It was the memoir of Bowie Kuhn’s 17 years as commissioner. As such, it had to be perfect in a legal sense. He was a fine writer, although we didn’t always agree on everything. It was my last pre-computer book, and it would have been a lot easier if we were just exchanging word documents back and forth. But each version was typed, which was a very lengthy process. Fans today don’t view his administration in the highest regard, but it was a really important book covering the turmoil of those years (1969-85) of emerging free agency and the first strikes. And it was certainly interesting working for well over a year in his basement office in Ridgewood, NJ with access to all the correspondence of that era.
Please tell us about any new books or projects that you have in process.
Until another good idea comes along, I’m not working on any baseball books now, but I’m passing the pandemic time trying a political novel. I’ve never written a novel and I’ve never written politics, although I was a political science major in college. This may never see the light of day, but it gives me something to do.
If you need a reviewer or proofreader, just ask. I would be glad to help.
I know you also do a great deal of motivational public speaking. Last year you came to my school in Ridgewood, New Jersey to inspire the faculty in what was probably the best professional development we ever had. How can people seek out your expertise?
I do my best to respond to all my emails – AppelPR@gmail.com. I may not have all the answers, but I enjoy the exchanges.
I can speak from experience that you always respond to your e-mails. I appreciate this very much.
Yankees history is replete with great names and moments. Is there a particular Yankees story that you would like to see a book written about?
The original idea for Pinstripe Empirewas going to be a biography of Jacob Ruppert who owned the team from 1915-39. He was a former US Congressman, inherited New York’s largest brewery, bought Babe Ruth and built Yankee Stadium. That idea grew into a full history of the Yankees, but I still think Col. Ruppert is worthy of his own stand alone biography. Maybe one day.
In the book and the movie The Natural, the main character wants nothing more than to walk down the street and have people say, “There goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was.” Who is the best baseball player you ever saw or played with?
I was too young for DiMaggio, and in New York, we didn’t see enough of Ted Williams or Stan Musial. So I’m a Mickey Mantle guy. He was the Man for all of us baby boomers. More selectively, I would name Dave Winfield and Bobby Bonds (Barry’s father) as the best athletes I ever saw on a day to day basis. And I loved watching Don Mattingly and Derek Jeter. Clearly Willie Mays was extraordinary and I’m in awe of him just watching highlight films. A player just a bit before my time who was considered by his Yankee teammates to be the best all around athlete among them was the diminutive pitcher Bobby Shantz. Bobby, almost 95, and Willie, 89, are both still with us!
Our final question is really just a collection of short answers…
What was your favorite baseball team growing up?
Who was your favorite player?
Mantleand Bobby Richardson. Everyone loved Mantle in my time, and I wanted my own hero. Bobby and I are still friends to this day; we spoke about Horace Clarke’s passing just the other day.
What is your most prized collectible?
For more than 25 years I had Mantle’s last bat – he popped out to short left field in Fenway Park in his final game in 1968. Eventually I parted with it, and it paid for my son’s freshman year of college. Of what I have today – a leather bound copy of my first book, Baseball’s Best, which featured biographies of all the Hall of Famers. Over 100 of them have signed the book. Oh, and my World Series ring, of course.
Who is your favorite musical group or artist?
I know as much about the Beatles as I do about baseball. I saw them perform at Shea Stadium in 1966. I spent an evening with John Lennon in 1971. My wife and I have been to London/Liverpool numerous times, and I’m friends with Mark Lewisohn, the acknowledged Beatles historian. Their music takes me back to happy times in my life – even the sound of the first chord of side one on an album still resonates. If I hear the chord – I can play the whole album in my head. I got all of their original albums for $1.79 at E.J. Korvettes on Route 59 in Nanuet NY. (I went to Spring Valley High School).
An obscure mention though: Judith Durham, lead singer of “The Seekers” has gotten into my head. She is amazing – a national hero in Australia.
What is your favorite food (if it is pizza, what is your favorite pizza restaurant)?
Filet Mignon, medium rare, at a great steak house……
Please share anything else you’d like with our audience –
A chance for a family mention? My wife Lourdes is getting through the pandemic with her 40 hobbies, she is an amazing woman. My daughter Deb handles event planning for G/O Media after many years with CBS Interactive. And my son Brian created and produces the annual Boston Calling Music Festival on the Harvard athletic fields each May. His son Casey Joe Appel, (my 3 1/2 year old grandson), can sing “All Together Now”, his first Beatles song. Another generation is hooked. (But I think he’s going to be a Red Sox fan).
It’s okay to have Red Sox fans in the family. My dad is one still. He is 82-years old and he never gets tired of talking about Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky and the others… It’s fantastic.
Thank you so much for your time Marty. This was so fun to do together. I wish you continued success, always. I hope to see you soon!
03/04/2016 01:04 pm ET
by Michael Levin, NYT Bestselling Author, Amazon Kindle #1 Business Book Author; CEO, BusinessGhost.com, BooksAreMyBabies.com
Marty Appel, the Yankee fan’s Yankee fan, has been a part of the team’s universe for nearly a half a century – or even more if you count his time as a young fan. He had personal contact with all of the legends, from Yogi, Casey, and Mickey to Rizzuto, Torre, and Jeter. Who better to teach your kids about the Yanks?
Appel has captured Yankee magic and history in his magnificent Bombers history for kids, Pinstripe Pride. The book is coming out this month in paperback from Simon & Schuster.
I caught up with Marty to get a sense of what Yankee tradition means to the ultimate Yankee traditionalist.
Michael: To be a Yankee fan is such a father-to-son tradition. Is that still the case today? Does baseball still link the generations?
Marty: The link from generation to generation has always been one of baseball’s strengths. Like your father seeing Mickey Mantle play and your grandfather seeing Joe DiMaggio play, and then comparing the. Yankee stadium is royal territory not only for Yankee fans but baseball fans everywhere.
Michael: By the way, who came before DiMaggio?
Marty: Earle Combs. A forgotten guy today. Most people wouldn’t know his know his name. But he was a Yankee centerfielder in Babe Ruth’s time, and he’s in the Hall of Fame, and he was the first 6-footer who was a leadoff hitter in baseball. He revolutionized the position in that sense. So one of the little things that’s so satisfying for me is to make people aware of forgotten names like that, and to help them realize when you’re talking about centerfield Yankee Stadium, it doesn’t begin with DiMaggio. It began with Earle Combs.
Michael: How did you know all that?
Marty: When I was a kid, it mattered! I’m also aware of the fact that when I was a kid, we only had 50 years of baseball history to catch up with. Today’s kids have more than double that, so it’s a much more daunting task today. That’s part of why I wrote Pinstripe Pride, to give kids a chance to get caught up!
Michael: One of the big changes from our era to the current one is simply the cost of a ticket, or the cost of going. It’s almost prohibitive to take a family of 4 or 5 to a game.
Marty: What you’re saying is true, but yet when I was a kid and the tickets were $3.50 and $2.50 and a buck and a half, it’s hard to believe now, but it was a leap to go from $2.50 to $3.50, and we never did it. I never could afford or imagine having box seats. $2.50 was just right. $3.50 was unimaginable. It sounds ridiculous to say that today, but that was the way it was.
Michael: How do like Yankee Stadium compared to the prior version?
Marty: I like it. I hear a lot of criticism from people who talk about it being a giant shopping mall and all of that. But when I’m looking out on the field, it’s Yankee Stadium to me. They managed to capture the original stadium, and the grandeur and the history, and that’s good enough for me.
Michael: How did you like the previous version of the Stadium?
Marty: I’m the last guy active in the field of sports who worked in the original stadium. I knew every inch of it and I loved it. But the remodeled stadium from ’76 to ’08 — that place rocked when times were good. There was excitement. When people say, “Oh, it wasn’t like the original,” they’re forgetting that the original had all these obstructed views and no escalators. So I thought that second version was awfully good.
Michael: What are the stories that you tell in “Pinstripe Pride” that kids most resonate with?
Marty: Reggie Jackson’s three home runs in the World Series in that last game in ’77. It was not only history, but it was the culmination of a dramatic year. It was his first year with the Yankees. The manager didn’t want him hitting cleanup. His teammates didn’t like him. The fans felt he wasn’t giving them enough. And then like a Shakespearean drama, he rises to the occasion on the last day and just sets baseball history with those three home runs. He looked so heroic doing it — the way he would just hit the ball and strike that pose at home plate watching it settle into the stands.
Michael: Were they all on the first pitch, or is that just an enhancement of the memory?
Marty: It wasn’t first pitch; it was first swing. He didn’t hit any foul balls or swing and miss. It was the first swing on all three of them.
Michael: How do you look back on the Steinbrenner era?
Marty: I was the Yankees’ PR guy when Mr. Steinbrenner came along at age 42 and bought the team. Of course, we had no idea the impact he was going to make on the game and the importance he himself was going to have in baseball history. But by the time it was done, he had really changed the way owners perform.
He became an activist owner which not too many of them had existed before. And although he wasn’t a New Yorker by birth, he had that swagger. He became a symbol of New York excellence. The fans easily bought into that, because that’s the style they liked to identify the Yankees with.
Michael: Of all the people you’ve worked with, the players, or the people on the inside, or that broadcast with the Yankees, who do you look back on most fondly?
Marty: Yogi. He was just a remarkably special guy. He was so real and if you spent enough time with him, he would give you a Yogi-ism every day. Maybe a fresh one. You always felt good to be in his presence. And at the end of the day, you would just pinch yourself and say, “I was with Yogi Berra today, and what a remarkable guy he is.”
Michael: I’m wondering if you could tell me a Yogi Berra story, and it doesn’t even have to be true.
Marty: Some of them were! I may have been fortunate enough to be present for the last Yogi-ism. He spent his final days in an assisted living care facility in New Jersey, and I didn’t visit him the whole time he was there, out of respect for his privacy. And then this past summer, I just thought, why am I doing this? He’d probably love a visit from somebody he knows and to talk a little baseball.
So I went out there and spent a couple of hours with him in his room, and around the time I was getting ready to leave, there was a nurse in the room, and he said to the nurse, “What time is 3:30 Mass?” And I thought to myself, I don’t know how long Yogi’s got, but this may be the last Yogi-ism, and I was here for it.
Michael: You started off handling fan mail for Mickey Mantle.
Marty: That’s absolutely true. For a kid who grew up as a Yankee fan in New York where Mickey Mantle was such a God, I would drive home at night and just say, “Mickey Mantle knows my name. Imagine this.”
The letters weren’t especially interesting. They pretty much were all requests for autographed balls, but I always managed to somehow squirrel away two or three that I needed to go over with him in person, making it up just so that I could have some face time with Mickey. And he kind of saw through me, he knew that I really didn’t need to go over these letters with him in person, and he was kind of amused by that.
Michael: You were 19 when you started with the Yankees.
Marty: I was the youngest guy on the scene, and I had such an appreciation for baseball history. I was meeting sportswriters who had been covering the team since the 1920s, and I couldn’t ask enough questions.
Michael: Was there a story you heard that you couldn’t necessarily put in Pinstripe Pride?
Marty: I’ll tell you one. Lou Gehrig’s successor at first base was a fella named Babe Dahlgren, and he was a pretty good ballplayer, because the year he succeeded Gehrig in 1939, that team won the World Series and is considered one of the best teams in baseball history. That’s with Dahlgren at first. In 1940, the Yankees finished third, but just a hair out of first place, and that interrupted what would have been 7 straight pennants. Amazing.
At the end of the season, the writers are in manager Joe McCarthy’s office, listening to him discussing what could have been. And he says, “Well, if we don’t lose that doubleheader in Cleveland around Labor Day, we would have won this thing. And we wouldn’t have lost that doubleheader if Dahlgren hadn’t have dropped that throw at first. And Dahlgren’s a marijuana user and that’s probably why he dropped the ball.”
Marty: How did I learn this? One of the writers in the room was John Drebinger, who was still on the scene when I started. And Drebinger just told this story one day about what McCarthy said. Nobody back then wrote it, but that was Drebinger’s story. I don’t really think it was true – baseball and marijuana in the 1930s? I mentioned it in “Pinstripe Empire,” the adult version, but I didn’t put it in “Pinstripe Pride.”
Michael: That story sheds so much light on the relationship between the press and baseball figures and the managers and players back then, because he knew that no one would ever put something like that in the paper.
Michael: You knew Casey Stengel.
Marty: I did. I was the Yankee PR guy, so I who arranged for his Old-Timers’ Day returns. He came back five times to Yankee Old-Timers’ Days, and I was the coordinator for all of them. So that was genuinely a treat. He had old world politeness about him. When he would go back home to California, he would send a postcard which made its way to me, and in his big handwriting he would just write, “Mrs. Stengel and I had a marvelous time. Thanks to everyone, and thank you for my prize.” We gave everybody a gift, and he called it a prize. “Thank you for my prize.”
Michael: Tell me about Phil Rizzuto.
Marty: I had the pleasure of not only working alongside him when I was the PR guy, but later in my career I became the producer of the telecasts, so I was his boss. And what a kick that was!
Nobody’s kidding anybody here, he was the boss, but what I came to appreciate in that was, what a gifted broadcaster he was, even though he would never admit to it, and never want people to think of him that way. He liked people thinking of him as just this lucky player who loved baseball and had this chance to be a broadcaster.
Michael: Bill White, who worked with Rizzuto, was no slouch, either.
Marty: I remember one where it was some Italian thing going on. Rizzuto was naming Italian restaurants he liked to go to, and he said, “Oh, you always have to be partial to the guys whose names end in vowels.” And Bill White said, “Like White?”
Michael: Is it harder to win today with the multi-tiered system of playoffs and free agency, or was it harder to win when you had to come in first in your league to advance?
Marty: I don’t want to take anything from all of those Yankee teams of the 20s, and 30s, and 40s, and 50s, and 60s, but it’s much harder today. You’ve got 13 competitors in your league, not 7. You’ve got 3 rounds of playoffs. You’ve got players who are long-term contracts who speak so many different languages. And the Yankee situation, in this market, you’ve got all the second-guessing going on with sports talk radio, and social media second-guessing, you can’t just ever shut it off and go home and tomorrow is another day.
So it’s much tougher today, and that’s why, I think, Joe Torre, is probably the best manager in the history of the Yankees, with all due respect to the others, but he had all this to deal with, plus a very demanding boss, and the other guys didn’t have anything like that at all.
Michael: How do you like the Yankees this year?
Marty: I’m very excited for this year. People talk about the relief pitchers and how thrilling that might be, those three studs, but I’m really excited to see Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro at shortstop and second. I think that could be a really entertaining second base shortstop combination. And if you’re strong up the middle, you’re going to contend. And I can’t wait to see those 2 guys playing together.
Michael: Is it still as much fun for you as when you were a kid in the 60s?
Marty: it’s still a tremendous amount of fun, but it’s never like when you were a kid and it just meant everything. I can still remember what street corner I was on when I opened a pack of cards and got Mickey Mantle. It’s memories like that, on 65th Place in Maspeth, Queens, opening the pack, standing right there by the seesaw in the playground and getting a Mickey Mantle. I remember that like it was yesterday. So when you’re an adult, you never quite recreate that. But it’s still tremendously entertaining.