SSTN Interviews Marty Appel
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 Empire was 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?
Mantle and 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!