Audio tape donation from former sportswriter preserves history in Cooperstown

Part of the BASEBALL HISTORY series
Written by: Roger Lansing

The Louisiana drawl is immediately recognizable, certainly if you are a fan of a certain age and a certain team, but recognizable to baseball fans of all stripes. The audio coming out of the cassette deck speakers is clear, the sounds of baseball in the background providing context.

It’s 1978 at Spring Training in Florida and the Yankees Ron Guidry, coming off a breakout season in 1977, is trying to explain to a reporter why his ’77 season started so poorly.

“I didn’t throw many sliders or curveballs,” Guidry said. “Hitters were not being fooled last spring.”

The reporter, Barry Levine, a sportswriter and columnist for the News Tribune and Home News in Brunswick, N.J., follows the question with the next logical one, “What will you do differently this spring?”

In that slow, comfortable Cajun drone, the pitcher nicknamed “Gator” answers: “I will bring out my other pitches earlier. One of my goals is to work on an off speed pitch. Art Fowler and Whitey Ford will help me. You know, I want to see what it feels like to be a 20-game winner.”

The 1978 season for Guidry was a monster one. Not only did he learn what it felt like to win 20 games, he won 25. He struck out 18 in a game against the Angels on June 17. He set team records for lowest ERA by a left handed pitcher (1.74), highest winning percentage (.893), most strikeouts (248) and most shutouts (9).

He won the one-game AL East playoff against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, then pitched Game 4 of the ALCS, beating the Royals to put the Yankees into the World Series. For a finale, Guidry helped the Bronx Bombers beat the Dodgers in six games for their second consecutive championship and was unanimously named the AL Cy Young Award winner.

Hearing these stories and words in the voices of the people directly involved is not only an immeasurable benefit to a history museum, but a joy to baseball fans. And it is especially gratifying when those voices and stories are brought to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum by those that respect and honor the history of our game enough to donate them.

In this case, the cassette tape that contains Ron Guidry’s 1978 Spring Training interview came from the family of Barry Levine. Levine, a long-time sportswriter and columnist in New Jersey and then Georgia, passed away in September of 2019. He saved this and 29 other cassette tapes from his years working the baseball beat in New Jersey. Barry’s sister, Madeline Berman, and her husband Charles were surprised to find the collection of tapes mixed among Barry’s music collection after his death.

“Barry had an intense, heartfelt love of baseball, and especially the New York Yankees,” Madeline wrote to the Hall of Fame in a letter accompanying the collection. “His love of baseball and the Yankees began when our mother took him to his first Yankee game when he was four years old. Every year, when the first pitch of the season was thrown, his life seemed reborn.”

The collection of interviews span the early 1970s into the mid 1980s. And while there is a heavy concentration of Yankee players, coaches and managers, there are plenty of others.

There’s Mike Schmidt in the spring of 1986 telling Barry that he enjoys his role as a veteran player mentoring the youngsters on the team. There’s Thurman Munson in the spring of 1973, about to begin his fourth full season with the Yankees, explaining that his goal for the year is to not only be a better all-around player, but improve on the .280 batting average and 46 RBI from the 1972 season. (He did better at both in ’73, by the way, averaging .301 and recording 74 RBI).

There’s AL umpire Al Clark in the spring of 1978 talking about how umpires prepare for the upcoming season. There’s Roger McDowell, pitcher with the Mets, telling Barry during Spring Training in 1986 that the Mets experience with a pennant race in the previous season should help the team in the upcoming one. (It did, to the chagrin of Red Sox fans.)

There’s Roy White, with the Yankees in 1973, talking about how the new American League designated hitter rule might help him. There’s Tommy Lasorda, in the spring of ’78, answering questions about the challenges of overcoming the pressure of maintaining the success of the previous Dodger season and his upcoming “sophomore season” as full-time Dodger manager.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum has long worked to preserve thousands of hours of audio, video and film, including interviews, highlights, home movies, oral histories and more in its recorded media collection. It is vitally important that this history of our game be protected not only for the enjoyment and edification of fans today, but for those in the future who will want to study and know more about baseball and its players, managers, umpires, executives and more.

The Barry Levine Interview Collection is now a part of the Museum's permanent collection.

“Barry never spoke about the interviews that he did. Humility was part of his being. I was extremely surprised to find these cassette tapes amongst his rock-and-roll collection,” Madeline Berman explained. “Needless to say, I am very proud to know that these interviews are where they belong. My deepest regret is that I can’t tell him he finally made it to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Maybe, somehow, he knows.”

Roger Lansing is the recorded media manager at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

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Part of the BASEBALL HISTORY series