Hall of Fame writer Jack Lang dead at 85
He advised 44 ex-players of their election to Cooperstown
NEW YORK -- Jack Lang, whose baseball writing career spanned half a century and included coverage of the Brooklyn Dodgers of the Jackie Robinson era, the New York Yankees of the Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris era and the New York Mets for 25 years from their inception, died Thursday at the age of 85.
Lang, who was honored in 1986 with the J.G. Taylor Spink Award at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony for "meritorious service to baseball writing," had been ill the past year from various ailments, according to his attorney, Kevin Brosnahan. Lang, who lived in Kings Park, N.Y., on Long Island, underwent triple-bypass heart surgery and hip-replacement surgery in 2005 and recently was hospitalized because of cellulitis.
"He was a man that loved baseball to the core of his soul, and he was a good friend and objective as well," Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver said from his vineyard in northern California. "I knew him through my whole career. He was a consummate professional. When you were good, he said you were good. When you stunk, he said you stunk and rightfully so."
Seaver was one of the 44 players Lang notified of their election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his capacity as secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, an organization he served on the national and local level for more than 40 years. Lang was national secretary-treasurer from 1966-1988, secretary emeritus from 1989-1993 and assistant secretary from 1994-2001.
In that role, Lang also conducted the elections of the BBWAA's annual awards: Most Valuable Player, Cy Young Award, Rookie of the Year (named after Robinson since 1987) and Manager of the Year.
One of Lang's rules regarding elections was that he would only call the winners. He did make an exception, however, in the case of former Dodgers catcher Roy Campanella, who was paralyzed as the result of an automobile accident in 1958.
"Campy told me that in his situation he would need advance notice for him to get to New York for a press conference if he made the Hall," Lang recalled. "He was the only person I called when he didn't make it. They were tough calls because he didn't get in until his fifth year on the ballot . That was a very satisfying call."
Lang's Hall of Fame calls covered every player elected by the BBWAA from Red Ruffing in 1967 to Steve Carlton in 1994. Billy Williams, who was elected in 1987, dubbed Lang the "good news man."
And a newsman Lang was, beginning in 1946 with the Long Island Press, a Newhouse publication based in Jamaica, Queens. Lang, a Brooklyn native who served 38 months in the U.S. Army during World War II, got the opportunity to cover his favorite team, the Dodgers, during one of the most pivotal periods of baseball history -- the coming of integration with Robinson's arrival in 1947.
The famous "Boys of Summer" that included Robinson, Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Carl Erskine, Gil Hodges, Carl Furillo and Preacher Roe, among others were on a first-name basis with Lang, who kept in contact with many of them long after their careers ended. After the Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles in 1958, Lang covered the Yankees for four seasons before he was shifted to the expansion Mets in 1962, becoming reunited with manager Casey Stengel.
"Jack was always a gentleman with us," Mets owner Fred Wilpon said. "Jack loved the game. He was from an era of 16 teams and traveling on trains with the guys. There was a different relationship with the beat writers and the players at that point. A good guy, a good man. He was in the generation of Red Smith and Dick Young."
Young was the sports editor of the New York Daily News in 1977 when he hired Lang to cover the Mets that March after the L.I. Press folded. Lang remained with the News until his retirement in 1988. From 1963-1996, Lang was the New York Chapter BBWAA secretary-treasurer and oversaw the annual Baseball Writers Dinner, a major event on New York's winter social calendar. This year's dinner is Sunday night.
Lang also supervised the old BBWAA charter flights, known as "Aer Langus," during the World Series in the 1970's and '80's, which earned him the nickname "Captain Jack." The coming of frequent-flier programs in the early 1980's led to the charter's demise.
Among the books he authored were "The Fighting Southpaw" with Whitey Ford, "Baseball Basics for Teenagers" and "The New York Mets: 25 Years of Baseball Magic."
On the day he received the Spink Award in Cooperstown, Lang said, "I'm sure there are an awful lot of English teachers I had in my early years that must be whirling in their graves at the thought that I won an award for writing."
Lang is survived by his daughter Victoria and sons Randy, Brian and Craig. A Mass of the Resurrection will be at 11 a.m. Monday at St Phillip of Neri R.C. Church in Northport, N.Y. Burial will be at St. Patrick's Cemetery in Huntington, N.Y.
Jack O'Connell is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.