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A Conversation with Marty Lurie

Marty Lurie
Marty Lurie

Anyone who enjoys talking baseball would enjoy a conversation with Marty Lurie. Not only has he closely followed the game for nearly 60 years and done over 5,000 interviews, he’s watched many of the great players from different eras that are only black and white clips to many of us. Growing up in Brooklyn and attending games at Ebbets Field in the 1950s allowed him to watch plenty of Hall of Famers. He’s a living, breathing baseball archive.

Spend some time talking with Marty and two things are quickly evident; he doesn’t dwell on the past, using it as a reference instead, and he has a true passion for the game. The man loves talking baseball!

Marty hosts Giants weekend pre-game and post-game shows on KNBR. His show is for people who want real baseball talk, love the game and aren’t interested in zany sound effects, dramatic rants or a host that’s more interested in talking about his playing career than today’s game. You can follow Marty on Twitter as well as his own site. Marty was nice enough to spend some time "talkin' baseball" with McCovey Chronicles.

Let’s start with your roots. You attended your first game in Brooklyn in 1954. What kind of impression did that leave?

I remember it well. It was a very exciting time in New York; you’d take the trolley down Church Avenue, then take the bus and run down to the ballpark. It was an amazing experience walking through doors that lead to the inner part of the ballpark. Having only seen the game on black-and-white TV, you had no idea what you were going to see and there were all the colors -- the green grass, the white uniforms, the visiting uniforms…and that’s how it was for me. It was a perfect scene and it made sense to me, even as an eight year old. There was a beauty to it. We had stickball and baseball cards…and all of the sudden we were looking at the baseball cards come to life. It was a magical moment for a young kid in Brooklyn. I got to see Dodger greats like Roy Campanella, Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese and Don Newcombe, I loved watching him hit…and the great teams that would visit; the Giants, Reds, Cardinals. The early years cemented it for me; I bonded with the magic and beauty of the game.

What memories do you have of the Giants back then?

As a 10-year-old kid, I took my mother to the Dodgers-Giants on Mother’s Day of 1956 and saw Carl Erskine no-hit the Giants. I’ve asked Willie Mays about that game 10 times. Willie doesn’t remember too much about the game, but we’ve talked about it a lot. I also saw one of the greatest plays he ever made against the Dodgers, throwing Billy Cox out on a sacrifice fly attempt. Willie was in really deep right-center field and threw a strike to the plate, maybe the greatest throw he ever made.

Having seen only old footage of that era, my impression is that the crowd was made up of primarily white men in suits, ties and hats…is that what it was like? A lot of that footage would be from the World Series, but the day-to-day crowd had a lot of diversity; men, women, kids, including African Americans. Brooklyn was a working class borough and very diverse neighborhood and the Dodgers had African American players. New York baseball at the time captured everyone’s attention twelve months of the year. You had your team and if someone down the street had another team, you didn’t like them. Baseball consumed everything. Other sports didn’t matter.

Is the fan experience at the ballpark today a lot different?

I think it’s very much the same because we’re coming back to small ballparks. It really became different in the 70s when they built big cookie cutter ballparks like Veterans Stadium and Three Rivers, but what I feel now going to places like AT&T Park and Camden Yards is the Ebbets Field experience again. It’s intimate and very similar to what I had as a kid, with closer proximity to the players.

Besides the obvious difference of the money involved now, how is the game different from that era?

The biggest difference is pitchers pitched. You expected guys like Larry Jansen, Sal Maglie, Jim Hearn and Robin Roberts to go deep in games, there were very few relief specialists in the game. The other thing was every team had sluggers, guys like Ralph Kiner, in the ‘50s and ‘60s on teams like the Giants and Reds. There were only 16 teams back then, so these guys had to really fight to keep their jobs. Just 16 teams also meant you knew every player on every team. Today that’s more difficult because you have so many more players and players go up and down a lot more. Back then, there were about 200 players and rosters didn’t change as much.

It’s fun to look at the stats of players from other eras and wonder how they’d do in today’s game. Do you think the game has changed so much since the ‘50s and ‘60s that it’s hard to compare?

There’s no question in my mind that the players today are better. You had great players then, but the amount of great players today…they’re bigger, stronger, faster..their defense is unbelievable…the gloves, the equipment, the ground they cover. The game today is so much better. When you look at film of the All-Star Game or World Series from the ‘60s, you may see an exceptional pitching performance here or there, but the defense is shocking how bad it is…the ground that they didn’t cover.

So many of the hits back then wouldn’t be hits today because of the defense?

Yeah. But also the game is played differently today. Back then, you were playing for a run or two as opposed to playing for a big inning. Starters also had to pace themselves a little more because you didn’t go to the bullpen at the first sign of trouble, so it was a different game. Kind of like in football when players used to go both ways, players had to do more. You had to be able to play defense, steal a base, hit behind the runner. Those were staples of the game. Back then, it was a fabulous and romantic game, but the players of today are so much better than before on the whole that it’s almost shocking, along with the depth of pitching staffs. You might have a few guys who would come in late, but look at the Giants today; they have five guys who can come in and throw over 90 mph.

Since you brought up the Giants, let’s talk about them. The 2010 Giants, being so full of characters and so focused on team results as opposed to individual achievements, almost seemed like a throwback to a different era. Did you have that impression?

Absolutely. It was one for all and all for one and you don’t always see that type of camaraderie. But the most important thing is, and I don’t care what era you’re talking about, you have to pitch, and they pitched! You have to catch the ball, and they caught the ball. It was the year of the pitcher and they had a pitching staff that could dominate, so they didn’t put a lot pressure on the defense and they got hits when they needed them. The starters and bullpen were so good that they kept them in every game. They played the game the right way. They didn’t beat themselves. They ran the bases correctly. Their run through September was one of the most amazing runs in National League history.

You’re doing the radio pre-game and post game shows on weekends. Do you see your role as journalist, commentator, cheerleader, or therapist for distraught fans after a tough loss?

I think I’m a baseball historian and a fan. I’m like everybody else; I can’t wait for it to start and I can’t wait for the next day’s game. That’s what I bring to the table. I’ll set the game up; I’m excited about what’s going to happen and afterwards take the game apart and talk about what happened, what should have happened, how they played it and then get you ready for the next day.

I do understand that there’s a rhythm to a baseball season and you can’t panic and do knee-jerk reactions. I mean, Huff has a bad game on Sunday. You can’t say, "That’s it. He can’t play right field anymore." You have to be patient and even it costs you, he’s your #3 hitter. You have to be patient with a guy like Brandon Belt and let him get his at bats. You have to be patient and see what you have as a team. So in that regard, yeah my job is to be somewhat of a therapist for the fans during the rough parts. The key to this team will be the bullpen; that’s the most important job of a manager.

Bruce Bochy seems to be much better than his predecessors at that.

Yeah and he’s not afraid to use his bullpen. Sometimes you look at a bullpen and say "Geez, I hope that guy never comes in.", but he has a deep bullpen and lots of guys he can go to. He has one of the best closers in the game. He has three lefties and guys like Romo, who was fabulous down the stretch.

That’s a luxury.

It’s a fabulous luxury! But it changes over the course of the year. A guy like Affeldt gets hurt and Lopez steps up. A guy will give you a great month, then can’t find the plate. It’s a constant balancing act and that’s the toughest job of the manager; getting the right guys in there and not giving up on them.

It sounds like you don’t subscribe to the theory than the GM does the hard part and a manager just needs to fill out a lineup card.

Absolutely not. It’s the opposite of that; the GM gives you the player, but the manager has to run the game. There are so many decisions that you have to make during the game…you’re the artist and captain of the ship. I love asking Bochy after a game about the thinking behind different decisions during the game. You also have to manage men. Derosa hasn’t played for three or four days, he’s probably in Bochy’s office saying, "Hey when are you going to play me?" You gotta keep guys happy and not lose them. You have to manage 25 different men…and they all make more money than you do. It’s a tough part of the job.

Let’s shift to the 2011 Giants. Did you make a prediction?

I think they’ll win the division. I believe I said they’d win the 91 or 92 games, similar to last year. I’ve got the Braves winning the East, the Cubs winning the Central and the Phillies winning the wild card. For the Giants, the big question is the starting rotation. You’d like to see 65 wins out of the five starters if you can. They’re going to win if they pitch like crazy…that’s the key to the team.

I suppose the starters staying healthy again is also key.

Yeah. The mosaic was perfect in 2010. Wellemeyer went down, Bumgarner came up and the rest was history. Lincecum had a rough August and put it together in September. Affeldt and Runzler got hurt and Lopez comes in and saves them. It all worked. Health is an issue. You also have to catch the ball and defense might be a challenge with Sandoval, Tejada and Burrell on the left side.

Do you think the 2011 team will find it challenging to maintain the "team first" attitude, or is there a risk guys start putting themselves first?

They’re the World Champions and they’re challenged because no one’s picking them to repeat. So, they have a real incentive to do it again. But it’s hard to do it again and there’s pressure they’re going to put on themselves. I think you saw that in the first road trip; they were very uptight. They almost need to settle in and realize who they are again. I think coming home is huge for them this weekend and against the Dodgers. You’re going to see a different team on the field.

What do you think about Sandoval, his off-season transformation and his apparent defensive improvement?

He’s still learning, but he’s a bad ball hitter that reminds me of Manny Sanguillen and Yogi Berra. He also has legitimate power, especially from the left side. Not only is he in shape now, but he’s all business once he hits the field. There’s no laughing, looking in the stands…he’s trying his hardest to become a baseball player now. In spring training he was sweating every single day. I don’t mean just to stay in shape, but from a baseball sense.

He’s an average defender, but hitting is his strong suit. Compared to last year, he can get to more balls, his arm looks better and he’s freer. Last year, he threw a lot of balls in the dirt, now he’s hitting the first baseman. His footwork, everything’s better, but there’s still room for improvement and this team and this staff requires that the defense makes the plays.

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and perspectives. We really appreciate it.

I enjoyed it and really like McCovey Chronicles. You all do a great job. I loved meeting your group at The Public House last season and hope you guys come down so we can meet up again!