Harvey Frommer, Historian of Sports and New York, Dies at 83

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Harvey Frommer, a sports historian who wrote extensively about the Yankees and collaborated with his wife on lively oral histories of Brooklyn, the Catskills and Broadway, died on Aug. 1 at his home in Lyme, N.H. He was 83.

His son Frederic said the cause was metastatic lung cancer.

Mr. Frommer’s fascination with baseball began in Brooklyn during the 1940s and ’50s, when the Dodgers, Yankees and Giants dazzled New York City with star players like Jackie Robinson, Joe DiMaggio and Willie Mays. In his book “New York City Baseball: The Last Golden Age, 1947-1957” (1980), Mr. Frommer described a three-team universe captured by radio.

“Radio was always on, always ritual,” he wrote. “Followers of the New York City teams could go to a butcher shop, a candy store, a laundromat, moving from one to another virtually without missing a pitch.”

Mr. Frommer (pronounced FROME-er) maintained a torrid pace of writing for 40 years. His dozens of books include an exploration of Robinson’s breaking baseball’s modern color barrier in 1947 and Shoeless Joe Jackson’s banishment from baseball for his supposed role in fixing the 1919 World Series with seven Chicago White Sox teammates.

He also wrote autobiographies of Hall of Fame personalities like the fireballing pitcher Nolan Ryan, the Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett and Red Holzman, who coached the Knicks to their only two N.B.A. championships.

Mr. Frommer focused on the Yankees in the 1990s with books like “The New York Yankee Encyclopedia” (1997); “A Yankee Century: A Celebration of the First Hundred Years of Baseball’s Greatest Team” (2002); “Five O’Clock Lightning” (2008), about the slugging 1927 team led by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig; and “Remembering Yankee Stadium” (2008), in which he combined oral and narrative history.

ImageMr. Frommer’s celebration of the old Yankee Stadium was published in 2008, a year before its replacement opened.

For his celebration of the stadium before it was razed and then replaced in 2009, the Yankees refused to cooperate with him, he said, despite his long association with the team, during which he wrote articles for Yankees Magazine. (The Yankees had been preparing their own book on the stadium at the time.) So he sought stories from people out of the team’s reach, like Duke Sims, a Yankees reserve catcher who hit the last home run at the original Yankee Stadium in 1973 before it closed for two years of renovations.

“I ran around the bases thinking that I would be going behind the plate for two more innings,” Sims told Mr. Frommer. “It never crossed my mind that I might have hit the last home run in ‘The House that Ruth Built.’ ”

Harvey Frommer was born on Oct. 10, 1935, in Brooklyn and grew up in the Williamsburg neighborhood. His father, Max, drove a cab; his mother, Fannie (Wechsler) Frommer, was a homemaker. Though living in Brooklyn, young Harvey was not a fan of the Dodgers; he followed the St. Louis Cardinals because of their star slugger, Stan Musial.

Still, it was Red Barber, the Dodgers’ famously literate radio announcer, who inspired Mr. Frommer. He said that hearing Mr. Barber call play-by-play and tell stories “got me interested in speech, in literature and also baseball,” he told The New York Times in 1980.

Mr. Frommer graduated from New York University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and then earned a master’s in English before becoming an English teacher, first at New York City high schools and then at what is now called New York City College of Technology, a part of the City University of New York.

He went on to study for a doctorate at N.Y.U. in the 1970s, writing his dissertation on the intersection of sports and television. It whetted his appetite for writing, and his first book, “A Baseball Century: The First 100 Years of the National League,” was published in 1976.

By 1989, after publishing more than a dozen more sports books, he and his wife, Myrna Katz Frommer, had begun their oral history collaborations with “It Happened in the Catskills” (1991). They had planned the book as a conventional history of the summer resorts and bungalow colonies known as the Borscht Belt, but realized that the stories told by the owners, guests, tummlers and waiters would be better told in oral history form.

“We became captivated by the people we spoke to, so distinctive in voice, so specific in recollection of detail, so accurate in description and evocation of time and place,” the Frommers wrote. They followed the book with “It Happened in” oral histories of Brooklyn, Broadway, Manhattan and Miami.

Kirkus Reviews said of “It Happened in Brooklyn” (1993), “This paean to a bygone place throbs with life and affection.”

Image“This paean to a bygone place throbs with life and affection,” Kirkus Reviews said of the Frommers’ 1993 oral history of Brooklyn.

Mr. Frommer had been a professor of liberal studies at Dartmouth College since the mid-1990s, retiring in May. He also taught an oral history class there with his wife until 2017. She survives him.

In addition to her and his son Frederic, Mr. Frommer is survived by a daughter, Jennifer Frommer; another son, Ian; and six grandchildren.

In 2007, while promoting “Five O’Clock Lightning,” Mr. Frommer discussed the work ethic behind his long years of teaching and voluminous writing.

Recalling an interview with the comic actor Al Lewis for his and his wife’s oral history “Growing Up Jewish in America” (1995), Mr. Frommer told New Jersey Jewish News, “I got a great line from him which has become my personal creed: ‘You’ve got to outwork the horse.’ ”