“Arthur George, you’re on the air.” I can’t tell you how many times I heard those words during the early 1980s. With that unusual greeting, Art Rust Jr., who died earlier this month from Parkinson’s disease at age 82, welcomed his callers to the WABC airwaves to take part in his iconic sports talk show. This was before the inception of all-sports radio, first introduced by WFAN in 1987 and now a common format to most major markets. Prior to WFAN, Rust’s nighttime show represented the sum of sports talk radio in the tri-state area; it became a must-listen for rabid sports fans.
With his deep, distinctive voice, acute knowledge of baseball history, and willingness to interview beat writers and columnists, Rust provided listeners like me with an opportunity to dissect the controversial issues of the day, while also learning about some of Rust’s favorite old-time ballplayers, like Marty Marion and Terry Moore. The show was especially good during the winter, with Rust tending to baseball’s hot stove like a master chef. Ironically, the show achieved a huge jump in popularity during the baseball strike of 1981; with no games to be watched or heard, thousands of sports fans tuned in to WABC to hear Rust pontificate about the latest issue of the day.
Unfortunately, the show began to lose credibility with me one winter, when Rust made a series of predictions about the Yankees’ off-season plans. He stated plainly that the Yankees would make several blockbuster moves, including a trade that would send Willie Randolph to the Cubs for Bill Buckner and another deal that would land Buddy Bell from Texas for some unknown package of talent. Rust said the trades were “done deals” that would happen, without question. Well, none of those trades ever took place. Rust never apologized for being wrong–he made a backhanded excuse about why they didn’t happen–and with that, I began to lose a little faith in his on-air proclamations.
Nonetheless, Rust supplied baseball fans with plenty of entertainment during the 1980s. With all-sports radio and the Internet unknown concepts yet to be introduced to the public, Art Rust, Jr. made many winter nights far more passable. For that, I owe Arthur George Rust, Jr. a debt of thanks…
My wife was recently cleaning out our bedroom when she made a worthwhile discovery amidst the piles of paper and assortment of junk, turning up a copy of one of my favorite baseball books, Now Pitching for the Yankees. I had assumed that the book was lost in the flooding we experienced in the region back in 2006. Thrilled to see that the book had been resting safely in one of the lost corners of our room, I decided to re-read the Marty Appel page-turner.
If you’ve ever wanted to read some insider’s knowledge about the Yankees from the late 1960s through the late 1970s, this is the book to possess. As one of the major players in the Yankees’ public relations department–first as the assistant to Bob Fishel and then as head of the department–Appel provided a collection of insightful stories, ranging from colorful to comic to dramatic. In re-reading Appel’s tome, I’ve been reminded of some of the more amusing figures who crossed paths with the Yankees during that eventful era.
*Sportswriter Joe Trimble, at the time working for the New York Daily News, might have been the oddest character to ever cover the Yankees. Poorly dressed and generally unkempt in appearance, the overweight Trimble liked to take a drink or two during the course of the game. One night, he spent the first seven innings in the press room, where he helped himself to a series of drinks. Finally staggering into the press box in the eighth inning, Trimble unpacked his portable typewriter, took his seat on press row, and promptly proceeded to urinate in his pants. As the rest of the media looked on aghast, Appel wondered what to do. Ultimately, he decided to do nothing, letting Trimble finish out the game while typing gibberish into his typewriter. Luckily, fellow sportswriter Jim Ogle wrote a story for Trimble and filed it with the Daily News.
*After the 1971 season, the Yankees made one of their worst trades in franchise history, sending useful right-hander Stan Bahnsen to the White Sox for infielder Rich McKinney. Yankee GM Lee MacPhail, now a member of the Hall of Fame, believed that McKinney would solve the Yankees’ longstanding problem at third base, but Appel suspected that there would be problems almost from the start. Shortly after the trade, McKinney joined the Yankees’ winter caravan, which was an annual effort to promote the team throughout the tri-state area. McKinney took his seat on the team bus next to Appel, introduced himself, and then promptly asked where he might be able to score some marijuana. The request left Appel confused. Either McKinney had no respect for Appel as a member of the team’s front office, or the new infielder simply lacked common sense and smarts. Either way, Appel said nothing of the incident to his superiors, but watched McKinney lose his job less than halfway through the seasons amidst a montage of errors and punchless at-bats. No wonder McKinney was known as “Orbit” during his playing days.
*Billy Martin had strange reasons for disliking certain players. Two players in particular angered Martin during his first stint as Yankee manager: Larry Gura and Rich Coggins. One day, Martin noticed that Gura was wearing shorts and carrying a tennis racket. Martin hated tennis, which he considered a “sissy” sport. That was enough to put Gura on Billy’s black list. As for Coggins, he showed up at the ballpark one day wearing a long African garment that did not have pant legs. In Martin’s eyes, Coggins was wearing a dress. There was no way that Martin would put up with that. So he joined Gura in the doghouse. Martin wanted both players off the team. He eventually received his wish, as Coggins and Gura were both traded in May of 1976…
With Jerry Hairston, Jr. having signed a free agent contract with the Padres, where he’ll be reunited with brother Scott, it’s assumed that Ramiro Pena will be the Yankees’ primary utility infielder 2010. Pena is likely the favorite, but I think the Yankees will give Kevin Russo a long look this spring. Primarily a second baseman during his minor league career, Russo also has experience playing third base. The question is this: can the 25-year-old Russo play shortstop? The Yankees gave him his first dose of the position last summer at Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre; he played six games there without making an error. On the offensive side, Russo is unquestionably better than Pena. In four minor league seasons, he’s batted an even .300 with an on-base percentage of .360. Russo is one of those players whom scouts don’t seem to love, in part because he’s short and has virtually no power, but who plays bigger than his raw talent. On a team that figures to have few positional battles, Russo vs. Pena could be one of the intriguing matchups to watch.
Bruce Markusen, a resident of Cooperstown, has written seven books on baseball.