The baseball community has suffered another great loss when news struck that longtime sportswriter Marty Noble passed away Sunday in Florida. He was more than just another baseball beat writer. He was old school in a modern way, writing the game by getting behind the stories, with a unique approach that drew the respect and friendship of the players, managers and executives in his features.
Noble was on the Mets beat for decades, and his loss sent tears throughout the baseball media and clubhouses, as immediately evidenced by this official release by Fred and Jeff Wilpon:
“We are saddened to hear of the sudden passing of Marty Noble. Marty was a fixture around Shea Stadium and Citi Field and helped make the New York Baseball Writer’s Dinner one of the best in the country. Our heartfelt condolences go out to his wife, Yvette, and their two daughters, Carolyn and Lindsey, and their four grandchildren.”
The Writer’s Dinner was one of Marty’s great passions, along with doo-wop music and a long time reverence of Mickey Mantle. Held every January in New York City, the Writer’s Dinner brought together the award winners from the previous season, along with other baseball luminaries feted for various achievements. It was baseball’s “Oscars” night, as the players were first handed trophies such as their Cy Young or MVP plaques and to hear their acceptances.
It is a great undertaking, coordinating players and personnel from literally all over the world, and it also fell to Marty to write and edit much of the Dinner program, a chore he relished annually.
Born in the Bronx in the late ‘40s, and raised in New Jersey, Noble grew up in baseball’s golden era when three baseball teams dominated the many newspapers of the region. His love of the written word was birthed by first reporting for a paper in Vermont, having attended Lyndon State College there, and not long after for the Herald News in Passaic, New Jersey in 1970. He was on the baseball beat for the Bergen Record by 1974.
His beat bounced between the Mets and Yankees in the ‘80s for Newsday, beginning in 1981. By 1990, he was exclusively on the Mets beat through 2004. And when websites began to dominate the sports scene, Noble was recruited by mlb.com as one of their leading baseball writers, where he wrote continually, even as recently as this year, although he “officially” retired in 2016.
Former Newsday sports columnist Steve Jacobson remembered his good friend in Newsday’s obituary. “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 other people didn’t touch, like alcohol problems.”
A rather large and tall man topped by a familiar shock of blond hair and well-trimmed beard that turned glowingly white-grey in recent years, everybody in every press box knew Marty. His friendly presence was a welcomed sight by all, ever-smiling, and quick with a baseball story that made you smile or laugh.
From a personal standpoint, in full disclosure, he was a friend. In fact, just about everybody in baseball was a friend, from the MVPs to the rookies, from his longtime fellow writers to the young, nervous sportswriter “rookie” covering his first game.
By now, you’ve seen the controlled chaos that transpires in a locker room, when as many as 20 or 30 reporters or tv personalities crowd around the featured player of the day before or after the game for their soundbites. Allow me to paint this picture for you, having witnessed for some 30 years-plus myself what would occur when Marty was on the scene…
Noble might be in the scrum as well, or at least on the edge, but when the crowd might disperse, targeting the next candidate for an interview nearby or on the other side of the locker room, Marty would sometimes linger.
And only then he would get to the meat of the matter, getting to the heart of the story that perhaps the scrum may have overlooked, and the beauty of that interlude would find its way into his column.
I always observed and appreciated how some of Marty’s questions would be unique as well. Where many of the other reporters might ask the typical, “What kind of pitch did you hit?”, or “Did you think you could pitch another inning?” type of query, Marty’s questions would invoke something personal, perhaps from something off the field, and often with a sense of humor.
And over the years, when a member of the baseball community passed, you knew you would get great insight in the obituary composed by Mr. Marty Noble.
Noble wrote or co-wrote books about baseball players, including one, “Nails,” the “autobiography” of Lenny Dykstra, where he famously, or perhaps, infamously, wrote in Dykstra’s naturally salty language. Yes, that means he cursed!
But he never wrote his own book, an oversight I occasionally would tease him about, one that might include the hundreds of great inside stories he was so quick to relate with small audiences on the press level.
In “retirement,” he continued to write, like a fisherman who could never give up the rod and reel. Some retirement. Noble continued to appear in press boxes frequently, and continued to arrive in Cooperstown during Induction Weekends. When news of Tom Seaver’s Lyme Disease was reaching a point that caused the onset of dementia, Noble lead the piece with angry declaration, “Damn it!”
And there he was in spring training, doing what he loved, watching baseball, writing about baseball, and being with baseball people. Perhaps it was in some small way a solace that he “died with his boots on,” being amongst baseball.
But no, he died too young, as if there ever is a good age to die.
Rest in peace, Marty.