Award-winning baseball author Markusen uses baseball to educate children from Cooperstown


Bruce Markusen conducts an educational program at the Baseball Hall of Fame. (Photo courtesy National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

For a baseball author and historian there’s no better place to be than in Cooperstown, New York. Luckily for his readers, Bruce Markusen lives there.

Markusen is the manager of digital and outreach learning at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. His job is to help kids learn through the subject of baseball.

The New York native is one of the best baseball authors in the field today, and the winner of the coveted Seymour Medal for his book Baseball’s Last Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Oakland A’s. Markusen specializes in biographies and team profiles and he’s written seven books to date, but for his readers there are many subjects out there for Markusen left to tackle.

Though he’s a Yankees fan, Markusen has been writing for the Detroit Athletic Co. blog for the last two years, providing writers with stories about Detroit baseball history, often from the 1960s and 1970s. One of his signatures is the “Card Corner” where he looks at a former ballplayer by examining one of his baseball cards.

This interview, which we conducted via phone from Markusen’s office at the Hall of Fame, is the second in our series on Detroit Athletic Co. writers.

You seem to be a fan of many different teams. Why is that?

Even though I grew up a Yankee fan I always followed the game across both leagues and I had a special interest in the Detroit Tigers in the 1960s, because Norm Cash was one of my favorite players. I liked a lot of players on the Tigers: Dick McAuliffe, Al Kaline, Mickey Lolich, Denny McLain, Gates Brown.

My father would buy me baseball books. He was a Mets fan and I rebelled and became a Yankee fan. We would have good-hearted arguments about who was better. He followed the history of baseball. Every year I would get baseball books from him for Christmas.

My first game at Yankee Stadium was Yanks/Tigers in 1973 late in the year. Woodie Fryman started for the Tigers, and my Dad talked to me about what sort of pitcher he was and his career.

Were there baseball books that made an impact on you?

One of the first books I remember reading was about minor league promotions: Hit The Sign and Win a Free Suit of Clothes from Harry Finkelstein by Bert Randolph Sugar. The forward was written by Bill Veeck. I met Sugar later at the Hall of Fame and that was cool.

I liked Ball Four [by Jim Bouton, 1970] and Denny McLain’s first book called Nobody’s Perfect (1975) – it was pretty racy for my age, but it gave me a lot of insights into the game.

Every few years I reread Ball Four, that’s been the most influential. The Bronx Zoo [by Peter Golenbock, 1979] That got me very interested in reading. Today I’m starting to read the new Dick Allen biography.

What are your memories growing up as a Yankee fan?

The ’72 team was the first I remember, the year I started collecting baseball cards. They were not very good teams, but you love the players and you become attached to them. That Yankee team had a lot of name-brand players but they were all on the downside of their careers, like Johnny Callison, and Felipe and Matty Alou.

By the mid-1970s I was watching every game during the summer, usually about 100 games. I followed them really closely.

One thing I really remember is the newspaper strike in New York in 1978. The Yankees got off to a bad start, Billy Martin was fired, and it didn’t look like the team was going anywhere. Then the strike happened and the team started to play better. There was no one there to stir up trouble. Sure they were talented, but the newspaper strike probably helped that team and of course they won the World Series.

Why did you create “Card Corner?’

The cards enhance my enjoyment of the game. Whenever I see a baseball card I immediately think back to when I was collecting. I went to school in Westchester County in New York and we all had collections. We had serious arguments over cards at times. Looking at cards brings back memories of being in the schoolyard, and on the school bus.

There’s often something unusual about the card. One of my favorites is the Joe Rudi 1973 Topps card which shows three players but none of them are Rudi. So they misidentified Rudi (it was Gene Tenace).

There can be quirky things on baseball cards, or mistakes that catch my eye. Sometimes the airbrushing is so off that it’s comical. Those cards are often the interesting ones to write about.

If Topps ever allows me use the images, I will do a book. I love the Topps cards. There’s usually an interesting backstory, especially from the 1970s. Which is why I love writing about Norm Cash, Willie Horton, and Gates Brown. 

You’ve had a chance to interview many baseball players and figures. What can you tell us about them? 

You’ll probably never meet a nicer guy than Brooks Robinson. He really takes an interest in you and he’s one of my favorite baseball people.

A guy I interviewed more than anybody was Bob Feller. I was intimidated the first time I met him because I heard he was cranky. We sort of became friendly, because he always saw me. I still see his widow every Hall of Fame Weekend and she remembers me.

I enjoyed interviewing Denny McLain. He’s had his problems of course, and I have written critical articles of him. But he sent me a Facebook friend request and I was shocked. I interviewed him on the phone and he was interesting to talk to. He takes care of his wife, who is sick with Parkinsons’ Disease. He had surgery to lose weight and take care of his wife. I got the sense that he seems to be on a good path.

I interviewed Frank Howard when he was in Cooperstown. I love guys like Howard, who are baseball lifers, they have so many stories.

I love players from the 1960s and 1970s. They really appreciate the careers they had. It’s very rare that players from that era have an ego that makes them difficult to work with. 

What’s it like working at the Baseball Hall of Fame?

I have been back since late 2013 [Markusen was previously manager of programs for the Museum] and I enjoy working in education. Between my job at the Hall of Fame, writing and raising a ten-year old, I’m very busy.

I do the video conferencing for the Hall of Fame with school groups who can’t come to Cooperstown. We can connect through the computer, I can see them, they can see me. It’s really interactive. I did one recently on “pop culture through baseball cards” — we use baseball to teach things that are taught in basic elementary or high school curriculum. It’s cool to use baseball to teach. We do 200 of them a year. We have 16 onsite modules, and we have ten conferencing.

You also had a career in broadcasting. Who are your favorite broadcasters?

I got to meet Ernie Harwell at spring training years ago when was recording public service announcements for the Hall of Fame. He was so easy to work with, so nice, as you’d imagine him to be. It was cool to meet him.

I listened to Phil Rizzuto, Bill White, and Bobby Murcer for the Yankees and Ralph Kiner and Bob Murphy for the Met growing up. They were the same guys every year. Today it’s different, they have so many different guys each year for TV and radio.

Bill White loved to antagonize Rizzuto and poke fun at him. White is one of the best broadcasters I have ever heard. It’s a shame he left to become league president.

The most influential for me was Tony Kubek, on cable in the 1990s. I learned more about baseball listening to him than anybody. I met him in spring training one year. Sometimes when you meet your idol you are disappointed. But he was great. He was the same in person as he was on television.

Vin Scully and I went to the same high school: Fordham Prep in The Bronx. The alumni newsletter usually has something about him. I have never met him. When I went to Fordham I had no idea he was an alumnus. Fordham Prep was an all-boys school with a dress code. We took the train in and it was in a bad neighborhood, but it was a good school.

Where can your readers find you?

I write regularly for the Hardball Times, the Hall of Fame’s website, and Detroit Athletic Co.

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