Stan Isaacs, former Newsday sports columnist, dead at 83

Former Newsday sports columnist Stan Isaacs died in

Former Newsday sports columnist Stan Isaacs died in his sleep April 2, 2013. He was 83. (Credit: Newsday)

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Stan Isaacs took pride in being known for something he had taken. He swiped the Brooklyn Dodgers 1955 world championship pennant from Los Angeles and brought it back to what he considered its home. For generations of readers and colleagues at Newsday, though, he is known for what he gave: a whole new way to view and appreciate sports and reporting.

Isaacs, once one of a group of industry-changing young reporters known as Chipmunks and later a pioneer as a columnist writing about televised sports, died in his sleep at home in Haverford, Pa., Tuesday night, his daughter Ellen said. He was 83.

In his final column for Newsday in 1992, Isaacs wrote that he subscribed to Joseph Pulitzer's ideal that newspapers should "inform and enlighten." That would explain his famous question to Yankees pitcher Ralph Terry, who said his wife listened to a World Series game while feeding her baby: "Breast or bottle?"

"He saw humor in things, lightness in things that very few guys did. A lot of us at Newsday learned to do that from him," said Steve Jacobson, a fellow Chipmunk in the 1960s and then a longtime Newsday columnist.

The Brooklyn native and longtime Roslyn Heights resident balanced a sense of hearty irreverence and a deep social conscience in a career that saw him cover Bobby Thomson's famous home run in 1951, Roger Maris' record home run chase in 1961, the birth of the Mets, the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fights and the Islanders' Stanley Cup run.

His daughter said the two things he was most proud of were taking that Dodgers banner, which he always saw as having been earned by the sweat of players in Brooklyn and which now is at the Brooklyn Historical Society on Pierrepoint Street, and pushing to have a statue built that depicted Pee Wee Reese with his arm around Dodgers teammate Jackie Robinson, the player who integrated the major leagues. The statue stands outside the minor league ballpark at Coney Island.

It was no accident that his column for many years was called "Out of Left Field" because it took a different tack than most sports reporting at the time. He would use phrases such as, "To quote William Shakespeare, 'Oy vey.' " Having heard many ballplayers say during spring training that they would be ready "when the bell rings," he once clanged a cowbell in the press box on Opening Day.

"He had a perpetual smile on his face," said Tony Kornheiser, a popular commentator on ESPN who grew up on Long Island reading Isaacs, then considered it the highest honor to join his favorite writer on the Newsday staff. "I adored Stan Isaacs, I idolized Stan Isaacs, I revered Stan Isaacs."

When Kornheiser began in the sports department, Isaacs had just started a tenure as a news columnist. "I found Stan's desk, I found his typewriter. I just felt some of his humor, some of his talent would rub off on me," Kornheiser said. "I think of his acerbic humor, his intellect, his drive to demystify sports. When I think of the Chipmunks, I remember that I not only wanted to be like them, I wanted them to like me."

Stanley Isaacs was born -- without a middle name -- on April 22, 1929 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (his daughter joked that the wedding license might list "Plain" as his name because he told officials that he was "just Stanley plain Isaacs"). He attended Eastern District High School and Brooklyn College before going to work for the Daily Compass and moving to Newsday in 1954.

His diverse career included a short term as sports editor. But it was reporting and writing that were his strength and his passion. When he began the TV sports column in 1978, The Boston Globe was the only other paper that had one.

Long before the Internet, he had an interactive relationship with his readers, holding an annual Grab Bag contest at Christmas and sending out various items of memorabilia. Every April 1, he wrote his Isaacs Ratings of Esoteric Distinction in which he ranked everything from the world's best chocolate ice creams to the top Giants (Carl Hubbell was No. 1, Goliath was No. 3).

Ellen Isaacs said her father never was the same after the death of Bobbie, his wife of 58 years, in January, 2012. Still, he remained interested in sports and writing. A chapter is devoted to him in Dennis D'Agostino's new book on baseball writers. On the final day of his life, Isaacs emailed D'Agostino, asking if there would be a sequel because he had more stories to tell.

Along with Ellen of San Jose, he is survived by his daughters Nancy of Philadelphia and Ann Isaacs Basch of Melrose Park, Pa. and four grandchildren. A memorial service will be held Saturday at the Quadrangle Senior Living Facility in Haverford, Pa.

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