Saturday, January 17, 2009

Pinch-Hitting for Peter Abraham: Q & A with Marty Appel

Once again we had the chance to do a January guest blog appearance for Peter Abraham. As you may or may not recall, last January we did a piece on the new Stadium vs. current/old Stadium. This time around it's a Q & A with former Yankees PR director, Marty Appel. You can also read the piece on Peter Abraham's site. Enjoy.

If you were a fan of the Yankees in the 1970s, the name Marty Appel is synonymous with Yankees baseball. He was the Yankees head of PR from 1973-1977...that's right, the early George Steinbrenner years. He went on to work for Major League Baseball, became an accomplished author, and is very involved in today's sports scene as head of the Marty Appel Public Relations agency.

He graciously consented to answering some questions recently in an email interview. We talked about the Yankees past and present, Major League Baseball, and his career. Here's what Marty had to say.

Q: You were born in Brooklyn. Were you a Dodgers fan growing up? Who were your sports idols as a kid?

A: My first awareness of baseball was the 1955 World Series. Mantle was my first favorite player, but I later joined the Bobby Richardson Fan Club (as listed in SPORT Magazine) because everyone liked the Mick and I sort of wanted "my own guy". Bobby and I are friends to this day and we speak to each year the day after the World Series to do a (non-alcoholic) toast to his RBI record lasting another series.

Q: You majored in political science in college. How did you end up getting involved in sports?

A: I was also editor of the campus newspaper, so there was this journalism thing going on with me. I wrote a letter to the Yankees PR director, Bob Fishel, in 1967 and he hired me to answer Mantle's fan mail because it was not getting answered and they needed someone to tackle it. Otherwise, lots of unhappy fans. What a break that was for me.

Q: What was it like taking care of Mickey Mantle's fan mail? Did you interact much with him? Personally, I would have been starstruck.

A: I was starstruck, and really, still think about the fact that Mickey Mantle knew who I was. Unimaginable. But he liked me - he would give me all of his gift certificates when he'd do radio interviews. $10 off Thom McAn shoes. Imagine him not wanting that! We were good friends until he died, but the "awe" factor never fully went away. He was the Mick!

Q: You began your time as the Yankees' publicist at the same time George Steinbrenner was taking over ownership of the ball club. What was your initial impression of him? How would you characterize your relationship with him during your time as PR Director?

A: I did spend 5 years with the Yankees when CBS still owned the team. It was a break for me that Mr. Steinbrenner came along. I think the top people for CBS would always have seen me as the "fan mail kid", even though I had become assistant PR Director. When Bob Fishel left, Mr. Steinbrenner gave me the top job - the youngest ever in baseball - and I'll be forever grateful to him. Not every day was sweetness and roses, there was a lot of pressure to work for him, but it made us all better. Or tougher. He wanted the whole front office to excel and thought that would represent the play on the field too. I earned that World Series ring, let me tell you.

Q: You ghost wrote a biography for/with Thurman Munson. How cooperative was he in the process?

A: He was cooperative to a point - talking about his career. Personal stuff was more difficult for him. He hadn't had a perfect childhood. Now, (glad you asked), I've completed a full length biography which has everything about his youth, and of course, all the information about that awful accident. Doubleday is publishing it in July, near the 30th anniversary of his death.

Q: Bobby Murcer was my idol growing up and I was deeply touched by his death last year. What are some of your memories of him?

A: Bobby was as regular a guy as you could find in a baseball clubhouse. Let's face it, even the nicest of players is still, in an understated way, "I'm a player and you're not" and today, "I'm a millionaire and you're not." Bobby was always one of the regular people. His emails during his illness were not to celebrities, but just ordinary friends he made along the way. It was just awful that he died so young.

Q: What is your favorite memory of Yankee Stadium? Were you able to get any souvenirs of the place at the end of last season (don't worry I won't tell)?

A: I got my scoopful of dirt, but to me the real souvenirs were the ones from 1973 before the remodeling. I had 7 seats - I have 2 now - and some cool things from the clubhouse. We didn't think much of souvenirs back then. I was editor of the Yankees Yearbook each year and I took home one for myself. That's it. I have one of each, even with name on page one. And I think those are worth about $100 each now.

Q: You won an Emmy Award as executive producer of Yankees' broadcasts for WPIX. What does the executive producer of a Yankees broadcast do?

A: It involves contracts with the announcers, hiring a director, coordinating technical preparations with the engineering department, interfacing with the team on their needs, sometimes accommodating sponsor needs, hiring production facilities on the road, maintaining a budget, planning special material like pre-game features, helping to develop opening animation, etc. Technically, I was Phil Rizzuto's boss, but who's kidding who - he ran everything and still left after 6 innings no matter how many times I told him not to!

Q: Which Yankees were your favorite to deal with? If you're comfortable saying, who were 1 or 2 of your least favorite to deal with?

A: There really wasn't anyone I didn't like to deal with, and I'm not just being kind. Ballplayers are generally terrific people. Hey, Alex Johnson had a horrible media reputation when we got him and I really liked AJ! Munson could be rough with the press, but we were close friends. I loved Catfish Hunter, he was special because of the circumstances under which we got him. I loved Steve Hamilton, who could have solved all of baseball's labor problems if they'd let him. Ron Blomberg and Roy White were at my wedding. Guys who just passed through briefly like Tippy Martinez and Fran Healy remain friends. But to pick one? I'd have to say all of those from my childhood who I spent a lot of time with were the most special - Mick, Whitey, Yogi, Bobby.

Q: What do you think of the Yankees' recent spending spree? Is it good or bad for the game?

A: Hey, I'm still a Yankee fan. It may not be great for the game, but it's been 8 years since a world championship. Gotta shake things up. Go for it. After 8 years, we're due, doesn't matter if it's good for the game. Although the truth is, when the Yankees are strong, baseball is strong.

Q: How did you become involved with the Israel Baseball League? Do you think that the league will ever produce a major league-ready prospect?

A: I was asked to handle the PR through my company, Marty Appel Public Relations. I brought in Blomberg and Art Shamsky as managers. But the league was underfunded and didn't get to a second season. There will be new attempts at it I think - a lot of good people would like to see it happen. As for major league prospects, the league was not made up entirely of Israeli players. It was an international league, and there were a lot of Dominican players, a few of whom were signed to pro contracts in the US.

Q: I appreciate your taking the time to answer my questions, Marty. One final topic: If there's one thing that you could change about the game today, what would it be?

A: Oh, definitely the pace of the game. It continues to have too many slow moments. Did you see Larsen's perfect game on the MLB Network? The batters never left the batter's box between pitches. I'd love to see a return to those days, to 2:20 games. Oh and a ban on people sitting behind home plate waving to the cameras while they talk on their cellphones. Those people need to be ejected.

Drew: Thanks Marty, that was great!

Marty: It was fun, good questions.

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