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.
“They may hate the cultural context they now find themselves teaching in, but they love their work. The Achilles’ heel of schoolteachers, one all too easily exploited by politicians, is that they love their students.”
(One of the best reads in the NYT these days is Margaret Renkl, in Nashville. In her latest post, Renkl describes the dedicated core of “born teachers” – the majority, she submits.)
(From Madeleine Albright in one of her final interviews in February):
“Putin is small and pale,” I wrote, “so cold as to be almost reptilian.” He claimed to understand why the Berlin Wall had to fall but had not expected the whole Soviet Union to collapse. “Putin is embarrassed by what happened to his country and determined to restore its greatness.” – Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, recalling her first meeting with the relatively unknown Vladimir Putin in 2000. – The New York Times, Feb. 23, 2022.