Robert Grable, the principal of Mount Sinai High School and a former professional baseball player who nearly made it to the big leagues but later devoted himself to teaching children, died Friday morning, the school district said. He was 49.
Details on the cause of death were not immediately available..
Tom Migliozzi, who was very close to Grable and his family, said he was with Grable and other friends and relatives at the Oakdale Brew House listening to live music on Thursday night until about 10:30 p.m.
“He was totally fine,” Migliozzi said. “He was strong as an ox when he left and everything was fine. He was all set for the next day.”
Migliozzi said he is in contact with Grable’s family, and they have not been informed yet of the cause of death. The Suffolk County Medical Examiner took the body for examination, he said.
Migliozzi discovered Grable’s body about 8:15 a.m. Friday. He went to his apartment after Grable was not responding to text messages. He said Grable worked out regularly.
“The community, school district and its teachers, administrators and staff are devastated by his untimely loss,” Mount Sinai school officials said in a statement, adding that they were “in shock.”
Grable “was a strong educational leader” and “innovative administrator” who “will be incredibly and sorely missed,” the statement said.
Calling hours will be 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday at Raynor & D'Andrea Funeral Home, 245 Montauk Hwy., West Sayville. Funeral Mass will be at 9:45 a.m. Wednesday at St. John Nepomucene Roman Catholic Church, Bohemia. Interment follows at St. Lawrence Cemetery, Sayville.
After ending his career in professional baseball, where he played at the Triple-A level in the Philadelphia Phillies organization, Grable went into education. He joined the Mount Sinai school district in 1998, rising from fourth grade teacher to high school principal in 12 years.
A lifelong resident of the Connetquot school district, he also served on the Connetquot Board of Education. He was the father of three girls.
Grable was inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame at Connetquot High School, St. John’s University and Suffolk County. He was a three-sport athlete at Connetquot in the late 1980s, playing baseball, football and basketball, and he attended St. John’s on a full scholarship for baseball. He was a third baseman and started for three years until he was drafted by the Detroit Tigers after his junior year in 1991.
Migliozzi, who played and roomed with Grable at St. John’s, called him a major figure in the communities of Connetquot, St. John’s and Mount Sinai.
“His strongest attribute is how to be a friend,” Migliozzi said. “He is a very good friend to so many people.”
Migliozzi added that “whatever he put his name on, there was an extreme amount of pride” and drive for excellence, whether it was on the baseball diamond or in the halls of the Mount Sinai schools.
In 1995, when Grable was playing for the Phillies’ minor league teams in Reading and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, he led the team’s minor league affiliates with 21 home runs and 91 runs batted in. Grable was considered a major league prospect.
But he eventually gave it up and opted for the classroom.
“He was just an incredible person. I worked with him for 20 years. He was an outstanding role model for the students here,” said Scott Reh, Mount Sinai’s athletic director. “He was a great athlete, but an even better person. He was all that Mount Sinai stood for in terms of excellence in education, athletics, and just being a good person.”
Grable once recalled how his background fascinated many of his students.
“They’re intrigued by where you’ve been when they hear that you played with Derek Jeter … or you got a hit or struck out against Andy Pettitte,” he told Newsday in 2013.
Outside the classroom, he moonlighted as a hitting instructor and was considered one of the best on Long Island.
Kenneth Wei, a 2019 Mount Sinai High School graduate who was senior class president and class salutatorian, said, “His ability to empathize with people was amazing.”
“At first glance, he seemed kind of intimidating and didn’t speak too much, but once you got to talk to him he was actually very understanding,” Wei said. “He was very good at putting himself into your shoes and understanding how you felt when you were successful or at your lowest of lows.”
Grable earned a bachelor’s in athletic administration and elementary education from St. John’s and a master’s in secondary education and administration from Dowling College as he carved out a second career.
He started in Mount Sinai teaching fourth grade, then moved to fifth and sixth grades in the middle school, before being named middle school assistant principal in 2002. He became middle school principal in 2005 and moved up to the high school five years later.
“I know for a fact that he gave out his cell number to the kids, and he was someone that the kids could always talk to,” Reh said. “He needed to be tough when he needed to be tough, but he was also someone that they could talk to at any time. Kids understood that and that’s why they loved him.”
Migliozzi said that when Grable went into education, he attacked it with the same passion and intensity he had shown during his sports career.
“When he went to be a teacher, he went at it hard,” said Migliozzi, who also went into teaching and coaching on Long Island. Grable “went through Dowling quick and moved up the chain quick. He caught up to everyone, because he came out late out of the minors” playing baseball. “He was five, six years behind us.”
Grable’s death is “unbelievable,” said Wei, who won Newsday’s Marcus A. Henry Award this year for academic, athletic and leadership excellence. “We’ve been pretty close, especially this past year, and he’s given me a lot of advice in the past. To hear this has happened is just, I don’t know what to say.”