Marty Appel got his dream job. Like many of his contemporaries, Appel, as a kid, worshiped Mickey Mantle — but he had the chutzpa to do something about it.
As a teenager in the 1960s, he reached out to the NY Yankees to offer his services in whatever capacity they might have available. He lucked out: the team needed someone to answer the overload of Mantle’s fan mail.
As he writes in his new book, Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees from Before the Babe to After the Boss — the first definitive history of the team in almost 70 years — “[Mantle] saw right through my scheme of saving up ‘important mail’ to review with him personally. There was no important mail. Everyone just wanted an autographed baseball.”
Unlike the New York Giants of John McGraw’s era who actively sought to scout and sign Jewish players to take advantage of the city’s large Jewish community, the Yankees declined using such a tactic. “I found nothing that indicated that the Yankees ever had such an agenda,” Appel said, adding that he found the team’s lack of proactive moves similar to its slowness in integrating the team. (The Yankees signed Elston Howard, their first African-American player, eight years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s infamous “color line” with the Brooklyn Dodgers.) “The reason was that they were winning every year; they didn’t feel the need to do anything bold or dramatic to shake things up. They were just winning all the time anyway.”
Now that Appel has finished his magnum opus, he has a new focus of attention: helping Israel garner attention as it prepares for its entry into the World Baseball Classic. The Israeli team has already secured the services of former Jewish Major Leaguers Brad Ausmus, Shawn Green, and Gabe Kapler; Ausmus will serve as team manager.
“It’s an exciting project,” said Appel. “The larger goal of this is just to direct awareness to baseball in Israel. They still need facilities, they need fields built, and that’s sort of the greater good.”
Appel has been down this road once before — he served in the same capacity for the short-lived Israel Baseball League, which debuted (and shut down) in 2007.
First up: a qualifying tournament with teams from France, South Africa, and Spain in Florida either in September or November. The former date would preclude active Major Leaguers such as Ryan Braun, Ike Davis, Ian Kinsler, and Kevin Youkilis from participating. While that may be a disadvantage in building the Israeli team’s “brand,” Appel thinks it could work out for the better.
It would be a shame for Appel because, he said, “as a publicist…I’d rather have the big names to work with. But it actually might be to the advantage of the Israeli team because if you get minor leaguers, they’ll get them in shape, having just finished their seasons. If they get Major Leaguers in November, a lot of those guys will not have played in two months and may not really be up to playing competitive baseball after just two or three days of workouts.”