JUNIPER BERRY. Winter 2019
By Caroline D. Roswell
In May of 2018 the school that I currently work at, located on the border of Maspeth and Woodside, celebrated its 50th Anniversary. This is not such a big deal when you consider that most schools in our city are over 100 years old. But as it turns out, PS229, located near Fisk Avenue (now 69th Street) and Maurice Avenue, opened in 1967 as a replacement for PS78, which was built in 1899 but had fallen into disrepair. As a technology teacher and amateur historian, I volunteered to write the history of both schools for PS229’s 50th Anniversary journal. In order to personalize the story, I started contacting former students from both schools via Facebook. Enter Marty Appel.
Appel had posted class photos on the PS78/229 Facebook page, and had shared some fond memories with me about PS78, which he attended from 1956-1960. He recalled with pride being Captain of the Triple A safety patrol, and told me about his favorite teacher, Mr. John Coppinger, whom he had in the 6th grade, and who was still teaching at PS229 into the 1980s. He remembered well how Coppinger played his students the 1812 Overture and taught them about Magellan’s trip around the world. But apparently Marty, who lived at Ridgewood Gardens on 65th Place, got a lot more from his Maspeth upbringing and education than a love for history. For one, Marty and his friends played every type of street baseball known to man: stick ball, slap ball, as well as organized baseball with the Police Athletic League (PAL) at Maurice Park. Even though he was born in Brooklyn, he ended up “adopting the Yankees when they lost the World Series to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955. An avid baseball fan of old can tell you the ’55 and 56 seasons were some of baseball’s greatest, with such all-star players as Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, and Mickey Mantle, and manager Casey Stengel for the NY Yankees, and Jackie Robinson hitting and fielding for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
So, when young Marty walked to the corner luncheonette on 65th Place and bought the 1956 Yankee Yearbook, he never in his wildest dreams imagined he would one day be its editor and produce the team’s televised games! Appel grew up to become the youngest PR director for the New York Yankees and in baseball history, and is arguably America’s premier historian for the Yankees, as well as baseball in general. In addition, he became the executive producer of the game broadcasts on WPIX. Marty Appel has also written 24 books about baseball including best sellers, Pinstripe Empire, Casey Stengel – Baseball’s Greatest Character, and his bestseller of all, Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain. Appel accredits growing up during the 1950s & ’60s “Glory Days of baseball for his interest in turning his passion into a career.
So now that we know the Who’s on first’ and ‘What’s on second of this story, I’m sure you’ll want to know how this student from Maspeth end up scoring big and fulfilling some of his wildest dreams. Appel started writing his own news papers” as a kid at PS78 and says that he and his friends weren’t just into watching and playing baseball, they were completely absorbed by the statistics, and by every word uttered by the announcers. He actually still remembers where he was standing in the playground at Ridgewood Gardens when he opened a pack of Topps baseball cards in 1958 and it had a Mickey Mantle card in it. “What a joy!” Appel exclaimed in our conversation. Little did he know that he would get to meet Mickey Mantle, and that Topps would later be a PR client of his! Although the Appel family moved out of New York City after Marty graduated from PS78, he started writing while a sports editor for his junior high and high school newspapers, and also served as editor of his college paper, which he likens to being a political correspondent because of the tumultuous antiwar sentiments of the late 1960s. Ironically, Marty was a Political Science major at his Alma Mater SUNY Oneonta, mainly because Journalism wasn’t a major being offered. Coincidentally, Oneonta is only 19 miles from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.
When the summer of 1968 was upon him, Marty decided he would write a letter to the NY Yankees PR director Bob Fishel to inquire about a summer internship/job. While he never expected an answer, this is where the timing part comes in because as it turns out, baseball just wasn’t very popular with college kids in the 1960s as football and basketball were taking center stage. Appel received a reply to his letter stating that they needed someone to answer Mickey Mantle’s fan mail, and the rest is history. That history officially lasted from 1968-1992 but Appel never stopped writing for, and/or being involved with the Yankee Organization, even up to today. To say Appel worked hard is an understatement considering today there are easily 60 people doing the jobs he did for the Yankees in his early years with the team.
Appel still remembers how it felt that summer to just think and dare say, “Mickey Mantle knows my name!” And he reminisced on how “Mickey Mantle was the last of the great stars on the team from “The Glory Days’ of baseball.” As far as George Steinbrenner goes, Appel explained, “He was tough, but the perfect boss for the Yankees,” and that he was extremely charitable. According to Appel, “He quietly put a lot of kids through college, set up the Silver Shield Foundation for widows and children of New York police and firefighters killed in the line of duty, and put profits back into the team, always giving the fans a great product.” Appel joked how “He wasn’t too far off from the Steinbrenner depicted on Seinfeld,” and how some people actually think Appel is the inspiration behind George Costanza, in his role working for the Yankees!
Marty Appel is happily married, has a son and a daughter, the latter of which works in event planning for Major League Baseball, and is a proud grandfather as well. He lives in NYC and his accolades include an Emmy Award as producer of Yankee broadcasts, two Casey Awards for Baseball Book of the Year, and is a member of five Halls of Fame: Larchmont, NY, Spring Valley High School, SUNY Oneonta; the New York State Baseball Hall of Fame; and the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.