Stan Isaacs Influenced a Generation
My friend and mentor Stan Isaacs died last Tuesday at 83. Selfishly, my first reaction is, now I can’t call him with questions about the early days of the Mets, or the old days of the Polo Grounds, or the pioneer days at Newsday when we were creating something.
(I say “we” the way ball players talk about their first team, where they learned to play the game.)
Stan has been eulogized as a leader in the so-called Chipmunk movement in the early ‘60’s –chattering young infidels, long on psychology, short on details. It’s easy to get stereotyped by time.
Stan Isaacs was so much more than a rumpled sportswriter who appropriated the Brooklyn Dodgers 1955 championship banner from an alien site in Los Angeles, who watched a game with the sheep on the hill behind right field in Kansas City, who heard Ralph Terry’s wife was home feeding their new baby and blurted, “Breast or bottle?”
He came with a point of view advertised in the title of his column – Out of Left Field. That was a political statement, dudes. He was an old-fashioned share-the-wealth lefty out of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a few generations back, before its recent yuppification. He brought a desperately-needed strain of Brooklyn to the Long Island suburbs, maintained his hearty mistrust of authority and establishment in politics, in business, and in sports, which was an extension of all of that.
As I was sitting at the lovely service for him in Haverford, Pa. on Saturday, a new friend from the retirement home alluded to Stan’s interest in college basketball – not the top-20 version but Swarthmore-Haverford, in his new back yard.
I thought, I’d love to hear Stan go off on the subject of Rutgers, which took way too long to notice a coach was mistreating his players. I could see Stan shake his head and mutter at the spectacle of college sports.
In the ‘60’s, the Newsday of Alicia Patterson was a great newspaper, looming to the east of the city, keeping a lot of other people honest. If Stan skewered a local team, or detected racism in the attitude of a manager or coach, or questioned the wisdom of using public money to build stadiums for rich owners (“socialism at the top,” he would sneer), it was a bit harder for the city’s columnists to go their formulaic ways.
I just found an email Stan sent a few years back when I asked about his career:
“I think I brought a mixture of idealism and tomfoolery to Newsday's sports section. I initiated Newsday's policy on official scoring. When it came my turn to be an official scorer I urged that we not do baseball's work for them. (Jack) Mann agreed wholeheartedly and Newsday was the first paper to refuse to allow our guys to work as official scorers.”
That was “us” - shaking things up.
One other thing I want to say about Stan – what a lovely family he has. We were reminded of that Saturday when his three daughters, Nancy, Ann and Ellen, and other family members graciously greeted visitors. Stan had not been himself since Bobbie died in January of 2012. I would call him and he would try to get off the phone. We all understood his grief: Bobbie was one of the wisest people I ever met. As one of Stan’s friends said at the service the other day, he died of a broken heart. His was a big heart, beating inside a very big-time sports columnist.
Note: Stan Isaacs continued writing for The Columnists. Please see:
Many colleagues have written lovely tributes to Stan. Well worth reading.
4/8/2013 03:36:05 am
4/8/2013 05:27:41 am
Gary, good to hear from you. I have never heard that story but Jerry has always been on top of that issue.
4/8/2013 05:43:15 am
4/8/2013 05:39:32 am
4/8/2013 05:52:25 am
Alan, sometimes I want to call Jack Lang who passed a few years ago. Jack kept all the negative statistics in the Mets' early years. He called them "neggies" -- drove the Met staff crazy.
4/8/2013 10:06:53 am
4/8/2013 12:55:54 pm
GV - Back in the early Eighties I attended a Saturday afternoon game at Shea and the guest National Anthem singer was a young female Chinese national who had made her Metropolitan Opera debut the previous evening. The trouble began early, apparently because Francis Scott Key neglected to write his piece in either Italian or Mandarin. She couldn't even fake the words, eventually sighing and making animal noises until she figured it was time to stop. It was a positively Spike Jonez musical moment, but nobody EVER mentioned that episode except Stan Isaacs, years later, in a column relating to the odd things he had witnessed on the baseball field. Other than Rusty Staub, nobody in the Mets organization could recollect the performance to Stan. He was very noble about the stonewalling, but he was right. I'm here to testify. R.I.P. Stan.
4/8/2013 04:08:22 pm
Charlie, thanks, anybody who ranked chocolate ice cream annually would also have an eye for anthem failures.
4/9/2013 03:10:44 pm
And my apologies to you George for forgetting to offer my condolences. My sympathies to you on the loss of a good friend.
4/9/2013 02:14:35 pm
4/11/2013 01:48:45 am
The term "brilliant young writer" could have, or should have, been coined for Stanley. It was a pleasure to know him, and an honor to sit beside him in a press box.
3/3/2014 07:31:05 pm
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From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.