By Marty Appel
It was in fourth grade that I did a book report on Mickey Mantle of the Yankees by Gene Schoor.
Come to think of it, I did a book report on the same book in fifth and sixth grades too.
Gene was to baseball biography what John R. Tunis was to the baseball novel – the author you couldn’t avoid. He wrote ‘em faster than you could read ‘em, and they must have loved him at Messner and Putnam, his two primary publishers in the ‘50s. He probably didn’t miss any deadlines.
For Messner, he wrote biographies of Jim Thorpe, Leo Durocher, Ty Cobb, Jackie Robinson, Stan Musial, Casey Stengel, Christy Mathewson, Pee Wee Reese, Bob Feller, Ted Williams, Red Grange, Jack Dempsey, and Bart Starr. For Putnam, aside from Mantle, there were biographies of Roy Campanella, Willie Mays, Red Schoendienst, Lew Burdette, Bob Turley, and Sugar Ray Robinson.
Over the course of nearly half a century of writing, he also found other publishers for biographies of Joe DiMaggio, Babe Didrikson, Vince Lombardi, Billy Martin, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Dave Winfield and Tom Seaver.
Out of sports, there was Douglas MacArthur, Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy.
And there were team histories and great rivalries, and did we mention The History of the World Series?
When Gene Schoor passed away just before Christmas at the age of 79, there is a good bet that they found him with his fingers curled in typing position. He surely knew his way around the ol’ Royal manual typewriter.
It would be fashionable today to look back at the body of his work and say it was too filled with hero worship, too glamorized a vision of individuals who could have well been viewed warts and all. That seems to be the way we like our biographies today. It would almost be unthinkable to finish Richard Ben Cramer’s current biography of Joe DiMaggio and follow it with a Gene Schoor book.
But Gene was not only a product of his time, he really defined it. Give him the player’s year by year stats, throw in some good newspaper clips with some quotes about how the scout discovered him, create some locker room conversation between the star and his manager, sprinkle in some self-doubt after that .222 average in the first month of the rookie season, and bang, you had a 190-page book at $4.95 with a handful of some of the team’s best free publicity photos tucked in.
It was a formula that worked beautifully until Warren Spahn got hold of a biography written about him by Milton Shapiro and decided that unauthorized bios didn’t put much cash in his wallet. Spahn sued – over a small misstatement – and for a time, laid rest to the quickie sports hero biography while the matter moved slowly through the courts.
That was when Schoor went onto team histories and pretty much left the bio business to others.
In the sixties, Jerry Kramer wrote a breakthrough book about the Green Bay Packers with Dick Schaap, and looked at Lombardi, warts and all. Instant Replay was a new way to cover sports personalities, and the ‘50s style stepped aside.
Schoor was born in Passaic, New Jersey on July 26, 1921. He graduated from Miami University in Coral Gables, was an amateur boxing champion, and then was a phys. ed. instructor at NYU, the University of Minnesota, and City College of New York. During World War II, he was a Public Information Officer in the Navy.
He set up a PR business in New York after the war, and represented such people as Jayne Mansfield, Cindy Adams and Bess Myerson. He became a radio producer for Joe DiMaggio, Jack Dempsey, Tommy Henrich and Phil Rizzuto. His programs had titles like “Champ of the Week,” “Sports Club of the Air,” and “Hour of Champions,” and stressed good sportsmanship and good citizenship. He later did PR for New York- based restaurants, like the landmark Luchow’s, and opened his own place, Gene Schoor’s Steak House.
His first book, the Giant Book of Sports, was published in 1948.
Gene was an affable type, but he was not a frequent figure at the ballpark, and later day journalists came to resent his style of researching material from their columns, and then expanding it into books. He didn’t invent that style, but he certainly mastered it.
The last two years of his life were spent at a home for the aged in Manhattan. His wife had died, he had no other family, and the nursing home costs depleted all of his remaining money. Kind people at the home tried to sell his remaining author copies of his own books to get him some spending cash, but he was suffering from mild dementia and lacked memory recall.
In researching this column, I went to Amazon.com to see which of his books might still be in print.
It turned out, there is one more still to be published.
In February, 2001, comes The Illustrated History of Mickey Mantle, by Gene Schoor. It will be his 54th book.
And maybe there will be a fourth grader out there to do a book report on it.
Note: Thanks to reader Tom Zocco who noted that Wes Ferrell was the one player who wasn’t photographed for “Who’s Who in the Major Leagues” in 1933, apparently because he wanted money to be included. Imagine!
In July 2010, 9 1/2 years after the above column was written, a Terrance Shore contacted us to say that he was Gene Schoor’s son, born out of wedlock while Schoor was married, and not raised by Gene. The accompanying documentation including letters to Terrance and the dedication of one of Gene’s books to him makes the story highly likely to be correct, and thus, updating the story, he did appear to have “other family” who survived him.