If you’re a Yankee fan, you know Marty Appel. He’s one of the franchise’s great historians. So, who better to write an account of the franchise’s long history?
Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees from Before the Babe to After the Boss will be released next month.
We talk about the monumental task of writing a team history, his personal experiences in Pinstripes and what he likes to watch for on the Yankee Stadium Scoreboard.
SCP: When we first discussed this interview, you said ” ‘Good first question could be “why hasn’t anyone done such a book in almost 70 years?’ ” So… Why hasn’t anyone done a definitive history of the Yankees in 70 years? And why did you decide to tackle the project?
MA: I think publishers probably felt it was unmanageable, too many seasons, too many personalities, to get into a single readable volume. When i was a boy, I read Frank Graham’s ‘New York Yankees’ history and wondered if anyone would update it. Then I realized, ‘maybe I’m the one.’ Bloomsbury contracted it for 115,000 words and i gave them 235,000. I was delighted that they liked it as it was, and changed their plans to publish it at that length. And by the way, Bloomsbury is in the historic flatiron building, which was where the Yankees (Highlanders) offices were first set up in 1903.
SCP: How did you even start? Who was the first call?
MA: First I replayed a tape I did in the early ’70s with Roger Peckinpaugh, who managed the team in 1914 and was team captain. I got a lot of unpublished material from that. And I had a friendship with Bob Shawkey who pitched the first game in Yankee Stadium in 1923 and managed the club in 1930. I spoke to descendants of Jacob Ruppert and Dan Topping. But my actual first call was to Whitey Ford. People forget that when he broke in, Connie Mack was still managing.
SCP: Who’s the most important figure in Yankee history?
MA: Jacob Ruppert is largely forgotten, but if George Steinbrenner liked to say that buying the Yankees was like buying the Mona Lisa, Ruppert was the man who painted Mona Lisa. He built Yankee Stadium, bought Babe Ruth and created the Yankee Dynasty. He was a wonderful owner, and he belongs in the hall of fame.
SCP: Along the same lines, I interviewed Tyler Kepner from the New York Times last year after he wrote the forward to book about Derek Jeter. Here’s part of that interview:
SCP: As far as I’m concerned, the list of all time Yankees goes Ruth, Mantle, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Jeter. What’s your list look like? Is there anything Derek Jeter can do to move up that list or even end up at number 1?
TK: I’ve thought about this, and it’s really hard to put anyone else in the top four besides Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle. But Jeter does have more hits than anyone, and more championships with the Yankees than Ruth. So he’s right up there, with Mariano Rivera very close behind. You could argue Rivera over Jeter, because Rivera is without question the best at his role, by far, in his era, and probably of all-time. But Jeter, as an everyday player, has a more important role, and is status as captain and the unofficial face of the Yankees’ brand carries extra meaning.
Agree? Disagree? Is there any way a current Yankee can ever compete with the legends of yesteryear.
MA: I agree with Tyler that the historic ‘core four’ – Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle – can’t be replaced. But think about this — we don’t know how Robinson Cano’s career plays out yet, but after 110 seasons, 27 world championships and 1500 players, it’s amazing to think that with Cano, Jeter, A-Rod and Rivera on the field at the same time, you are possibly seeing the best second baseman, shortstop,third baseman and pitcher in Yankee history – all at once. That’s pretty amazing to me.
SCP: You have a long personal history with the Yankees. Can you tell us a bit about your career? What’s been the highlight? The lowlight?
MA: I became a fan during the 1955 World Series, and a Yankee fan when they lost to Brooklyn. I felt a connection to the underdog. Imagine how wrong I was, but that was my initial attraction. In 1968, I was hired by Bob Fishel to answer Mickey Mantle’s fan mail during summer vacation from college. A highlight was being promoted by George Steinbrenner in 1973 to succeed Fishel as pr director. Until then, no one in their 20’s ever served as a pr director in Major League Baseball. He took a chance on a kid in the nation’s biggest market and I’ll always owe him gratitude for that. A lowlight? Hard to name anything of significance, because every day I worked there was magical. You didn’t know what the day would bring, but you knew you’d be on the back page of the News or the Post the next morning. I think maybe losing the division title on the last weekend in ’74 was tough – you never know when that chance comes around again. We were so close and it looked like the long wait for a pennant might be over.
SCP: Billy Crystal and Bob Costas are Mickey Mantle fans. Lot’s of people swear by DiMaggio or Thurman or Jeter. I’m a Mattingly guy. Who was your favorite growing up? Has your personal experience changed that at all?
MA: My favorite was Mantle, who just had all this glamour about him, but he was also everybody else’s favorite. I kinda wanted my own guy, and that became Bobby Richardson, who like me, was a little ‘height challenged’ and played second base. I wore number 1 as well in Little League (actually Police Athletic League). I joined a Bobby Richardson fan club that was listed in Sport Magazine. Bobby and I later became adult friends when I went to work for the Yankees. I call him each october now and we ‘salute’ over the phone, another year in which his World Series RBI record of 12 is still standing. 51 seasons now.
SCP: Yogi Berra wrote a foreward for your book. Bernie Williams wrote an introduction. Why did you choose them specifically?
MA: I wanted an old timer and Yogi goes back to 1946, and I wanted a contemporary player so that the representation would be wide ranging. Both of them delivered very touching pieces on the meaning of being a Yankee. I also got a special introduction from Frank Graham Rr., who is 86, and whose father wrote the last team history in ’43.
SCP: Where do you stand on Old Stadium/New Stadium?
MA: The most important thing about the new stadium is that it still feels like you’re in Yankee Stadium when you go there. That was the big test. There are times when I’m watching a game that I don’t even think I’m in a new place. I do like that you can see the field from the concourses, and I like that you can walk the full circumference – the bleachers aren’t cut off. I like the Yankee museum a lot too.
SCP: Give us one great George Steinbrenner story.
MA: This is a tough town in which to emphasize fan friendliness as 50,000 people pour into the park, but he was always very insistent on a good fan experience. Constant cleaning during the games. People greeting you politely. He also won one of the first battles of the 1970s graffiti wars. He was determined to paint over any overnight graffiti on the Stadium, figuring he could outspend and outlast the graffiti artists. And he did. Graffiti at Yankee Stadium ended before it did on the subways or anywhere else. An early victory.
SCP: Let’s look ahead 70 years, to the next great Yankee history book. Who’s the next star people will revere? What are the issues that provide the greatest drama?
MA: It’s funny you ask that because my book ends in just such a way – speculating on the kids being born in the Far East, in the Latin American countries, and of course here, learning to play the game. Fans fall in love with anyone who produces – the culture doesn’t really matter. Look at how the city took to Hideki Matsui, and we barely ever heard him speak! I have no idea what the greatest issues ahead are; nobody saw steroids coming in the ’90s. But I’m pretty sure I know a place for a new Yankee Stadium if this one ever ages and needs replacement. How about the site of the old one?
SCP: 4 train, D train or B train. Who should I bet in the scoreboard race next time I’m at a game?
MA: Oh, absolutely the 4. No wait, the D! Or the B, it’s due. Actually I do better at the trivia quizzes.