By Marty Appel
Maury Allen’s 36th book, Brooklyn Remembered, celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Dodgers’ only world championship in Brooklyn. Maury has been so closely identified with the Mets over the years, that we found it necessary to ask which was his favorite franchise – the “Bums” or the “Amazins.”
“Oh, the Dodgers, no doubt,” he said, speaking from his new home in New Jersey. “You always love your childhood team.”
The prolific Allen, now 73, has turned out biographies on no less than Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Billy Martin, Jackie Robinson, Reggie Jackson, Roger Maris, Ron Guidry, Jim Rice, Casey Stengel and Lou Piniella, the only one he did as a collaboration.
One of his real favorites though, was one of his first – a biography of the legendary Bo Belinsky, who was, he says, “Walter Winchell’s last great discovery. Winchell made Belinsky, found him to be the partying baseball player that Hollywood loved, and helped put the Angels on the map when they were trying to get attention.
“Bo was a fabulous character,” says Maury. “The greatest womanizer I ever saw. He stayed with me in Dobbs Ferry, New York for a week while we did the book. Every waitress in every restaurant we visited fell in love with him. He could have had them all.
“He never brought any of them home, but when the week was over, my wife said, ‘I think we should boil the sheets. God knows where he’s been!’”
Maury loves to speak in superlatives. “More than any player, Mickey Mantle handled every at bat like it was the seventh game of the World Series. He swung at every pitch like he wanted to hit a 600 foot home run.”
The Allen-Mantle relationship, chronicled in Memories of the Mick, was rooted in Mantle finding displeasure over something Maury had written in his New York Post column one afternoon. At the ballpark that evening, Mantle took batting practice while Maury watched. When Mantle came out of the cage, he looked at Allen and said, “you piss me off just standing there.”
As a working newspaperman, first for the Post, and later for the Journal-News in Westchester County, Maury had to be in front of the players every day. He would bat out his stories in the press box, and then go home and keep pounding on his Smith Corona portable, churning out books. They came easily because he was living his subjects on a daily basis. The anecdotes often worked from book to book. But the books would occasionally require some detective work.
“I found the first Mrs. Reggie Jackson, which really upset Reggie,” he recalls. “She was great, a teacher, very bright. Reggie was not happy that I interviewed her, but being Reggie, he was also hot and cold on the subject. ‘She really said that?’ he’d ask me, surprised by a compliment. I think he wanted to be mad at me, but I think he was happy with the way it turned out.”
Casey Stengel was the subject of two Allen books. “He’s my number one guy in all of baseball history, and an important American historical figure. A great humanist. I really believe he was the most hip baseball guy I’ve ever known. He lived through so many decades, and he adjusted to them all. Some guys thought he was a bit of a racist because of things he’d say – he was born in 1890 in Kansas City, after all – but Elston and Arlene Howard loved him. If he was managing today, he’d be rapping and hip hopping with all the modern athletes. A fascinating character, and the greatest salesman the game has ever known. “
Maury’s book with Piniella, written while he was still a Yankee player, is the only biography of Lou to date. “He was so much fun to work with; so different than the hot-tempered, intense guy we knew on the field. We worked from 8 in the morning to 9 at night for two straight weeks, and I never had a bad moment with him. We laughed and laughed, and I could never connect the lunatic on the field with this great charmer sitting next to me in Allenwood NJ.”
Jackie Robinson, a tough and complex subject, was someone Allen knew in his post-playing life. “I was on the same flight to Cincinnati for the ’72 World Series as he and his family was on,” he says. “He was 52, but he looked 82, it was so sad. He died just a couple of weeks later. We disagreed on Stengel – he thought he was a racist, and I didn’t, and maybe he would know better than I would, but I defended Casey to him. He didn’t like that. Jackie was a guy I never saw relaxed; I think he carried the burden of being Jackie Robinson with him throughout his life.”
The book, Where Have You Gone Joe DiMaggio, was his biggest seller. Naturally, DiMaggio wouldn’t talk to Maury after it came out, because it dealt with his marriage to Marilyn Monroe.
“Joe always had these great ‘seconds’ in his stable. He would never tell you the book sucked, he would always have someone tell you for him. Like, ‘You should know, Joe’s pretty upset with you about the book.’ But you deal with it. Things change. When I was with the Post, they wanted a 40th anniversary story on his hitting streak. He said I could have 15 minutes with him at the Plaza Hotel. I got there; he was in silk pajamas in his suite. He ordered breakfast. He ordered lunch. We finished 15 hours later. He was unbelievable. I got a terrific, two-part column, but of course, I never asked him about Marilyn. That would have been the end of the interview.”
On Roger Maris: “He’s the guy I changed my opinion on the most. I thought he was a red-ass ballplayer. But he was a helluva guy, and the most honest player I ever met. He kept saying the only reason I wanted to do a book on him was because he was dying. I was telling him it was because the 25th anniversary of his home run mark was coming up. But he was right, and he saw through me, and he was still great to me.”
On After the Miracle, his book revisiting the ’69 Mets, 20 years later: “I called Jerry Grote, who everyone hated, he was such a misery when he was a player. I wasn’t looking forward to the call. He said, ‘Maury! So great to hear from you!’ It reminded me of the old Frank Graham line about the Yankees Bob Meusel – ‘he learned to say hello, just when it was time to say goodbye.’”
Thanks to reader Dave Oliver, our last column about author John Durant can now be closed, as we have learned that he died January 18, 1983 in Naples, FL.