Marty Noble, whose capacity to report on baseball and write artful prose about it was surpassed only by his love for the sport, died Sunday evening during a trip to spring training in Florida, a family member said.
Noble was a mainstay on New York baseball coverage at Newsday for more than two decades and shaped the way the paper approached his favorite game. He was 70.
Noble grew up in the Bronx and New Jersey, where he attended Waldwick High School, and played basketball for Lyndon State College in Vermont, but he was best known as a source of information and perspective on the Mets. He chronicled their rise in the 1980s and their ups and downs in the 1990s. He developed close relationships with players, front office executives and support people. Noble was on either a first-name or nickname basis with an A-list that included Tom Seaver, Whitey Ford, Keith Hernandez, Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry and David Wright.
“We are saddened to hear of the sudden passing of Marty Noble,” Mets owner Fred Wilpon and chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon said in a statement. “Marty was a part of the baseball scene in New York for decades. He was a fixture around Shea Stadium and Citi Field and helped make the New York Baseball Writers’ Dinner one of the best in the country. Our heartfelt condolences go out to his wife, Yvette, and their two daughters, Carolyn and Lindsay, as well as their four grandchildren.”
The man whom fellow writers considered a wordsmith began his reporting career in New Jersey at the Herald News in 1970 and moved to the Bergen Record in 1972, joining the baseball beat there in 1974.
He arrived at Newsday in 1981. During his early years, the paper had writers switch beats during the season, so he went back and forth between the Yankees and Mets. He covered the Mets exclusively from 1990 to 2004 and later worked for MLB.com.
“When I came up in 1980, I met Marty. He was a good person and good writer,” said Wally Backman, who played for the Mets from 1980-88 and is now the manager of the Long Island Ducks. “We had a lot of times together in spring training when I was with the Mets. We used to always joke about who was going to buy dinner and stuff, because we went to dinner multiple times in spring training. [On top of] being a writer, he turned into a very good friend.”
Noble was widely recognized for decades worth of scoops, from his days with Billy Martin’s Yankees to his seasons with Bobby Valentine’s Mets. When the Mets were flailing in 1999 and replaced three coaches during a Subway Series against the Yankees, it was Noble who came up with the story a day before the club made its announcement.
Noble was among the first reporters to bring the Newsday readership into the inner workings of major league baseball at a time of labor strife and escalating player salaries. “He had a pretty good gift for making complicated things simple or at least available to people,’’ retired Newsday sports columnist Joe Gergen said. “He seemed to approach everything with a lot of enthusiasm. That’s a hard thing to do in that area. He could always find a smile somewhere, no matter how dour the subject was. He was so enthusiastic about anything that had to do with baseball.”
Former Newsday sports columnist Steve Jacobson added: “He loved what he did and worked at it honestly and vigorously. He had a gift for people trusting him and living up to it. He was very diligent and uncovered stories that other people didn’t touch, like alcohol problems and things like that.’’
Noble spearheaded Newsday’s coverage on the substance abuse problems of Gooden and Strawberry in the mid-1980s.
“Marty was a good writer,” Backman said. “He didn’t give you any slack in New York. In the '80s and '90s, there was no slack. If you were bad, he would write it. But there was always a good rapport. He was truthful, honest, said what he believed, and always gave you the opportunity to say what you wanted to say. He was a well-respected man.”
Noble covered the Mets-Braves game in Atlanta on July 4, 1985, that went 19 innings and lasted 6 hours and 10 minutes.
Long before baseball discovered analytics, Noble was into numbers, and he often used them in his stories and Sunday columns. He was a strong devotee of the Baseball Hall of Fame, usually attending induction festivities even when he was not assigned to cover them.
His ability to dig for stories and find unusual angles became a model for a generation of baseball writers, many of whom wrote for him in his most recent role as editor of the program for the annual New York Baseball Writers’ Association of America dinner.
In the most recent edition, Noble expounded for several pages on some of his favorite things in the game. That list was long and eclectic, reflecting his knowledge of baseball, especially New York baseball, and his passions for storytelling and the newspaper craft itself.
“Marty Noble, a pleasant and familiar presence at ballgames in New York for more than four decades, had a passion for baseball, an encyclopedic knowledge of the game and invariably a good story to tell,” the Major League Baseball Players Association said in a statement. “He was generous with his time, his insight and his perspective. Marty’s legacy and love for the game will live on through his words.”
He maintained his sharp reporting instincts when he later wrote for the major leagues’ digital platform. He covered the Mets for MLB.com and also compiled numerous extremely detailed and engaging obituaries.
He prepared those long before his subjects died, interviewing people who were puzzled by the process. He occasionally spoke about the time he called Ford about a contemporary and explained that the fellow was not dead but that his website wanted to have something ready for when the day did arrive. Ford wondered if his own obituary had been prepared yet. Noble told him it had, and Ford offered some additional information.
If there was anything that captured Noble’s heart as much as the sport and his family, it was music. He had wide-ranging knowledge of and a passionate devotion to all kinds of music, particularly early rock. His email address was “dw5254,” representing “doo wop” and Mickey Mantle’s two highest home run totals for a season.
“Obviously got to talk to him a lot, dealing with the baseball writers’ banquet, and what a tremendous guy,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. “I think everybody’s going to miss him. Great Mets historian. He would always tell me a story about the Mets that I didn’t know. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family at this time.”
Information on funeral arrangements was unavailable.
With Steven Marcus, Jordan Lauterbach and Tim Healey in Sarasota, Florida.