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Alex Isabel story. Ed Sullivan correction

By: Bob Cudmore

Date: 2017-10-07

Alex Isabel, sports champion
By Bob Cudmore, Focus on History, Daily Gazette, 10-07-17

Amsterdam’s popular city recreation superintendent, Alex H. Isabel, died unexpectedly of a heart attack at his Forest Avenue home on a Sunday morning in January 1953.

The night before, Isabel, 53, had spoken at the St. Agnello Club, an Italian-American organization in the West End, a neighborhood where he had spent a good part of his early life.

As did many West Enders, the Isabels traced their roots to Pisciotta, a hilltop community near the Mediterranean Sea in the Campania region of Salerno province in southern Italy. Alex was born in Pisciotta and came to New York City at age six where he lived on Little Italy’s Cherry Street before his family settled in Amsterdam.

Isabel’s athletic prowess became apparent when he played baseball for Amsterdam High School before World War I, getting an offer from the New York Giants organization. Instead, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and suffered hearing loss while on the battleship Michigan.

After the war, Isabel finished high school and played baseball at St. Mary’s Institute. He married Anne Murphy in 1923 and they had three children.

Isabel played and coached baseball in the semi-professional leagues of the day. He pitched for the Gloversville-Johnstown Twin Cities and played and managed the Ticonderoga team in the Northern League in 1925 and 1926. He played baseball for teams including the Mohawk Mills Karnaks, Tonquas Tribe and the West End Athletic Club of Albany.

He began coaching baseball at St. Mary’s Institute in 1940, adding basketball coaching duties a year later.

“The one thing that you didn’t want to do was to sit next to him at a basketball game,” said one of the members of the St. Mary’s hoop team, the late John Szkaradek. Isabel enthusiastically gave “the elbow” to whomever was next to him when he saw something he liked or didn’t like in the game.

Isabel became Amsterdam’s acting recreation superintendent in 1944 while Superintendent S. Joseph Golden was serving in the Navy. Golden returned but resigned shortly after the war. Isabel became superintendent in 1946.

He spearheaded improvements at city playgrounds and led local baseball teams into national tournaments. He made college possible for many youngsters and was lauded for his efforts in fighting juvenile delinquency by keeping youth busy with productive pursuits. He brought in drama teacher Bert DeRose to begin a popular series of summer musicals.

Isabel was also a Brooklyn Dodgers scout and was still basketball and baseball coach at St. Mary’s Institute at the time of his death. As a scout for the Dodgers, Isabel scoured Upstate New York and parts of New England and Canada. His best-known find was Johnny Podres of Witherbee, New York, who went on to pitch for the Dodgers in several World Series.

The week that Isabel died, city recreation activities halted in Amsterdam. His funeral mass at St. Mary’s Church attracted a huge crowd of state and local dignitaries, a Brooklyn Dodgers delegation, St. Mary’s students and 115 boys from the Little League and Little-Bigger League.

Three years later, a Little League baseball field on upper Locust Avenue was dedicated in his honor.

ED SULLIVAN CORRECTION
The parents of newspaper columnist and television star Ed Sullivan were Peter Sullivan and Elizabeth Smith, originally from Amsterdam. A 2014 story in Focus on History and my book “Lost Mohawk Valley” incorrectly stated that Peter and Elizabeth had a son named Florence who died as an infant in 1899.

Thanks to Ed Sullivan’s granddaughter Margo Precht Speciale for pointing out the error and suggesting this correction so that future genealogists and historians would not repeat the mistake.

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