When he was growing up in Brooklyn, Harvey Frommer played third base on sandlot teams and often took the trolley to Ebbets Field to watch the Dodgers. He once met the team’s biggest star, Jackie Robinson, who in 1947 became baseball’s first African-American player of the 20th century.
He may not have had the talent to make the Dodgers as a player, but Dr. Frommer went on to chronicle the team’s history, as well as the fortunes of other New York teams, in dozens of books, many of which were about baseball.
Like the Dodgers themselves, who left Brooklyn for Los Angeles after the 1957 season, Frommer moved away from his native borough. He eventually became an Ivy League professor, teaching courses on sports journalism and oral history at Dartmouth College.
He was 83 when he died Aug. 1 at his home in Lyme, N.H. The cause was lung cancer, said his son Frederic Frommer.
Frommer wrote several books about the Dodgers, including a 1984 biography of Robinson and another about how Brooklyn’s team president, Branch Rickey, engineered Robinson’s rise to the major leagues.
“Rickey and Robinson: The Men Who Broke Baseball’s Color Barrier” was praised in a 1982 review by Washington Post sportswriter William Gildea as “a vivid account of the two as principled, determined men — genuine American heroes.”
In 1980, Frommer published “New York City Baseball: The Last Golden Age, 1947-1957,” a history of the final decade in which the city had three teams: the Dodgers, the New York Giants and the New York Yankees.
During those years, New York teams won 17 of 22 major league pennants and nine of 11 World Series championships. In 1955, less than a week before Frommer’s 20th birthday, the Brooklyn Dodgers won their first and only World Series title, beating the Yankees.
“The victory of the Dodgers of Brooklyn over the Yankees of New York was the triumph of the underdog over the fat cat, the people over the corporation, Brooklyn over the rest of the world,” Frommer wrote in “New York City Baseball.” “In Flatbush, Bensonhurst, Bay Ridge, Greenpoint, the citizens of Brooklyn were triggered into wild tribal jubilation: bonfires in the streets, prideful speeches from the top of stoops. . . . Thousands were content just to gather on sidewalks and porches and bang spoons against pots and pans. It was the happiest time in the long history of Brooklyn.”
Harvey Frommer was born on Oct. 10, 1935, in Brooklyn. His father drove a taxicab, and his mother was a homemaker.
Frommer graduated in 1957 from New York University, then worked briefly as a sportswriter in Chicago. After Army service, he received a master’s degree in English from New York University in 1961.
He spent a decade as a high school English teacher in New York, then taught at the City University of New York for about 25 years. He received a doctorate in media and communications from NYU in 1974, writing his dissertation on the intersection of sports and television.
Frommer’s first book, a history of baseball, appeared in 1976. He quickly began publishing books — often several in a single year — on baseball, the Olympics and other sports. He was the co-author of autobiographies by baseball pitcher Nolan Ryan, basketball Hall of Famers Nancy Lieberman and Red Holzman, and football players Tony Dorsett and Don Strock.
Despite his Brooklyn upbringing, Frommer became perhaps the leading authority on the history of the Yankees, publishing “The New York Yankee Encyclopedia” (1997), “Five O’Clock Lightning,” about the 1927 New York Yankees (2007), “Remembering Yankee Stadium” (2008) and “The Ultimate Yankee Book” (2017).
At Dartmouth, where Frommer joined the faculty in 1996, he often taught graduate-level courses in oral history with his wife, Myrna Katz Frommer. They wrote several oral history books together, including “It Happened in Brooklyn” (1993), “Growing Up Jewish in America” (1995), “It Happened on Broadway” (1998) and “It Happened in Manhattan” (2001). Frommer also published several books with his son Frederic Frommer, a Washington-based author and sports publicist.
In addition to his wife, of Lyme, and son, of the District of Columbia, Frommer’s survivors include two other children, Jennifer Frommer of New York and Ian Frommer of New London, Connecticut; and six grandchildren.
Frommer wrote about the storied rivalry between the Yankees and Boston Red Sox and, in 2011, published a lavishly illustrated coffee table book about Boston’s Fenway Park, the oldest ballpark in the major leagues.
In an interview with Bloomberg News broadcaster Tom Keene in 2011, Frommer noted that Fenway seemed alive with the “ghosts of Ted Williams and Cy Young and Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr,” and other Red Sox legends. “All these people are still there. So I think it’s a place of mysticism, magic and memory.”
His exploration of the history of Fenway Park led to an unlikely conversion for a New Yorker who had spent so much of his life chronicling baseball in his hometown.
“I have a confession to make to you and to everybody else,” Frommer told Keene. “I was a New York Yankees fan until I wrote this book. I changed. People change religion. I have changed my rooting interest, and now I’m joined with you as part of Red Sox nation.”