NEW YORK -- Mostly, I remember being wary of what awaited me on the other end of the telephone line. Worst-case scenarios flitted through my mind as I stood in a subway tunnel, close enough to the entrance that I wouldn't lose cell service. This was 2007, after one of my first days as an MLB.com intern. Though I was to cover the Mets that summer, the company sent me first to Yankee Stadium to learn the basics. Now that orientation was complete. I would start at Shea Stadium the following morning, working under MLB.com's larger-than-life beat writer, Marty Noble, whose reputation concerned me. Other sportswriters told me he would be cranky. They told me he would be eccentric. They told me enough that I found myself pacing a Bronx subway corridor, hesitant to call Marty and say hello.
Perhaps they should have also told me he would be kind, gentle and, in so many ways, unlike anyone I had previously encountered in life. Perhaps they should have told me he would become a mentor and a friend.
Marty Noble passed early Sunday at the age of 70. Two days earlier he was at the Mets' Spring Training complex, joking about his "unretirement." He had recently published a tribute to ailing Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, leading it with a phrase that was distinctly Noble: “Damn it.”
Damn it, Marty. Not you, too.
He stood tall, a full head taller than most, which is how he told me I'd recognize him that first day at Shea Stadium. "I'll be the big, blond one,” he said, insisting that I wouldn’t be able to miss him. I didn’t. He sat on the left side of the press box, away from the other writers, so he could glean tidbits from Elias and the Mets’ PR department. Marty was particular in that way. When Citi Field was built, he demanded his seat go in a similar place.
Sometimes I was summoned to fix something on his "damn machine," Marty’s laptop, which had a habit of misbehaving in ways other machines didn't. I watched him slam his fist upon it on more than one occasion. Marty hated technology, distrusted it. He used a flip phone until the day he died. He considered the address book superfluous, having long ago memorized the only numbers he'd need. “I don’t text,” he often said. “I don’t tweet.”
How a man of those predilections wound up at one of the sports industry’s online empires was a matter of at least some irony. Marty began his career in Vermont, at the Caledonian Record, before returning to his native New Jersey to work for the (Passaic) Herald-News and, later, the (Hackensack) Bergen Record. Eventually, he made it across two bridges to Newsday, where his relentless reporting style and melodic prose made him a force on the Mets beat. When the newspaper business soured, he found an unlikely home at MLB.com. He continued on the beat here until 2010, then in a more general role until his retirement in 2016.
He loved big, chunky ledes and spiffy turns of phrase, often comparing the present-day Mets with those of the 1970s, '80s and '90s. He detested split infinitives. He could recall stories in an instant and told them loudly, with laughter, making no secrets about the former players he loved and loathed. His memory was photographic, his Mets knowledge encyclopedic. When he sunk his teeth into something, he could really write.
Marty enjoyed finding stories no one else could, plopping himself onto clubhouse stools to chat with players for hours. But there was little time for that on my first day at Shea Stadium, the home opener, with all the pomp and circumstance such games entail. The Mets broke out for seven runs in the eighth inning thanks to an error by Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, whose “team to beat" proclamation had incited preseason headlines. It was a juicy story. Near the end of the game, Marty turned to me and said, “You write the inning, I’ll write the game.” He gave no further instructions.
Whatever I wrote that day, Marty liked it enough to work toward changing my life. In the months that followed, he became my chief backer, espousing me to anyone who would listen, and for that support I’ve always been grateful. One day shortly after the opener, I approached Mets pitcher Mike Pelfrey to introduce myself. I shook his hand and stated my name.
"I know you,” Pelfrey said. "You work with Marty. He wrote the game, you wrote the inning."
In retirement, Marty remained active with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, holding the country’s 10th-longest tenure. He spent hours working on “Scorebook,” the BBWAA’s annual New York chapter dinner program, which he considered sacred. He cared so much about every page.
He loved Elvis and Mickey Mantle, taking delight in the secret code that made up his email address -- the two highest home run totals of Mantle’s career. It also included a reference to doo-wop, his favorite type of music, which he listened to often. For years he shipped his stereo and CD collection down to Spring Training. At night he drove aimlessly around Florida, listening to his discs. His embrace of that music, of that era, of his passions, was full.
Marty is survived by his wife, Yvette, and his two daughters, Carolyn and Lindsay. Beyond that he is remembered by a generation of Mets fans who, through his work over parts of five decades, grew to know him well. Marty was distinctive. Marty was so far from what I envisioned.
Damn it, he’ll be missed.