Yankees' success had a lot to do with Wheeling native Newman
Mark Newman once compared his formative baseball years in the powerful Arlington American Legion program to the New York Yankees.
"Maybe it sounds a little corny," Newman said in a 1976 column by legendary Daily Herald sports editor Bob Frisk on Arlington coach Lloyd Meyer, "but it's like the attitude you associate with Notre Dame, the Yankees, the Marines. Winners."
The Wheeling High School Hall of Famer could not have envisioned the significant role he ultimately played in the restoration of the Yankees as one of the world's most iconic sports franchises. But winning was a major part of a life that came to an unexpected end when he was found dead last Saturday at age 71 at his home in Tampa, Florida.
"It hit me very hard," said former Arlington High and Legion star Tom Reichel, who was a four-year all-conference shortstop when Newman built Old Dominion University into a Division I power.
"He never forgot where he came from, whether it was the Mid-Suburban League or Legion," said Bob Whisler, who was a 5-year-old bat boy when Newman starred for Arlington's 1965 American Legion World Series qualifier. "He would set up Lloyd at Yankees spring training and he treated Lloyd like a million bucks.
"'Newms' was always a back of the scenes guy. But baseball guys in the business knew who Mark Newman was, and the Yankees, they knew his value."
Newman joined the Yankees in 1989 and served as their Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations from 2000 until his retirement in 2014. He was instrumental in the development of the group led by shortstop Derek Jeter, closer Mariano Rivera, pitcher Andy Pettitte, catcher Jorge Posada and outfielder Bernie Williams that helped the Yankees win the last five of their Major League Baseball-record 27 World Series titles (1996, 1998-2000 and 2009). Newman produced a 500-page manual for the organization to cover situations such as the famous play in the 2001 playoffs where Jeter scrambled all the way to the first-base line to grab a missed cutoff throw from right field and flip it to Posada for an out.
"You can't reflect on the championships and postseason appearances during Mark's time without recognizing how much he meant to the organization," said Yankees Senior Vice President and General Manager Brian Cashman in a statement. "He had a great baseball acumen but also an uncanny ability to cultivate incredible loyalty and work ethic from the players he worked with, which was especially notable among our Latin players, whom he treated with a special care and respect. Countless players, even after achieving success in the Majors, would always go back to him for advice."
The level of respect Newman had with the Yankees was evident during Meyer's decade of Spring Training trips to Tampa. Meyer fondly recalled the opportunities via Newman to talk with legends such as Yogi Berra, Joe Torre and Don Mattingly and laughed about a meeting with demanding owner George Steinbrenner's parking spot.
"I had free rein and Mark introduced me to everybody," said Meyer, who coached the Arlington Legion team for more than 60 years. "One time I pulled into their parking lot and the attendant directed me to a spot. I said, 'That's Steinbrenner's spot.' He said, 'I know, he's out of town.' I didn't want to park in his spot, but the guy said, 'No, you park here.' "
Newman, a 1966 Wheeling graduate, was a standout in baseball, basketball and football in the first two years the school was open and he starred for four summers in Arlington's Legion program. He was one of the leaders of the 1965 fifth-place national finisher with Paul Splittorff, the winningest pitcher in Kansas City Royals history, and two years later he played with future big leaguers Dave Kingman (442 career home runs) and catcher Tom Lundstedt (three seasons with Cubs and Twins). Newman went to Southern Illinois and played on College World Series teams in 1968 (national runner-up) and 1969.
While Newman was in law school at Illinois he came back in the summers to coach with Meyer and found his calling as a judge of baseball talent. That became clear during an eight-year stint as SIU's pitching coach under Hall of Famer Richard "Itchy" Jones where the Salukis finished third in the College World Series in 1974 and 1977. Newman also established a pipeline of Arlington players to Carbondale that included future big leaguer George Vukovich, retired Hersey coach Bob Huber, Jim Locascio, Jim Bokelmann, Gary Kempton and Mike Wilbins.
"He just picked everything up," Meyer said. "I know after he came back from Southern he was teaching me things and I learned so much from him. Just knowing him opened up so many avenues. He just knew so much about pitching and hitting. He knew every facet of the game."
In 1978, Newman thought All-American outfielder Dave Stieb could help an injury-plagued SIU pitching staff. He taught Stieb the signature slider that helped him become the best pitcher in Major League Baseball in the 1980s with a WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of 45.2 for the Toronto Blue Jays, seven All-Star Game appearances and a 176-137 career record.
"He knew everything about coaching, but what I'd say he was best at was pitching," Reichel said. "His acumen was off the charts."
Newman got his shot as a college head coach in 1981 at Old Dominion and Reichel was part of his second recruiting class. Newman went 321-167-3 with two NCAA regional appearances and five straight seasons ranked in the Top 25 before moving on to the Yankees.
Reichel said Newman was very demanding and disciplined and their pregame infield looked like something out of Navy SEALs training. But the reward for Reichel was the opportunity to play high-level summer competition in the prestigious Cape Cod League, in Alaska and with a team that included future big-league stars Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro and Pete Incaviglia in the outfield.
"He just had a huge influence on me," said Reichel, who ranks fourth in career hits at Old Dominion and played two years in the White Sox system. "No one had heard of Old Dominion outside of women's basketball and field hockey. By my junior year we were ranked seventh in the country and finished 51-11 and that's a tribute to him. He was the smartest guy I ever met and that includes trading on the floor for 20 years. He was an amazing public speaker and motivator."
Newman also made sure numerous area players had the same experiences he had in the Arlington Legion program. Meyer and Whisler said Newman's yearly support ranged from financial to pairs of gray Yankees pants, boxes of bats for wood-bat tournaments and baseballs.
"He would say, 'You know you got me into this stuff,' " Meyer recalled with a laugh.
"He loved that Lloyd and I were still involved," Whisler said. "Legion baseball was everything in getting him started in baseball."
Newman also had an eye for instructional ability that led former Old Dominion assistants Pat Roessler (current Nationals hitting coach) and Dan Radison (former Cubs coach) to the big leagues. First-year Pirates manager Derek Shelton, a 1988 Warren High grad, got his professional start with the Yankees and fulfilled Newman's 2002 prediction that Shelton would become a big-league manager.
"It was a gut punch, man," Shelton said Saturday on mlb.com of Newman's death. "Seriously, besides my dad (Ron, former coach at Warren), he's probably been the greatest influence in my professional life."
Newman was part of the second class of the Wheeling Hall of Fame in 2008 and was inducted into the SIU and Old Dominion halls of fame. He is survived by his wife Pat, a stepdaughter and two grandsons.
"It's very cliché, but it's so true, he had the biggest influence on our lives to this day and we're in our 50s now," Reichel said of himself and about a dozen of his Old Dominion teammates. "He was very tough to play for but he made you better. He was very committed, so smart and tough and well-rounded."