Monday, September 16, 2013
Marchfeld, fixture at MSG, dies at 80
By Ian Begley
NEW YORK -- Madison Square Garden's three-year renovation will be complete next month. That means there will be new suites, new concession stands and even two new bridges suspended above the hardwood at the World's Most Famous Arena next season.
But an important part of MSG will be missing when the doors open for business again in late October. Al Marchfeld won't be at his customary seat in the press box, greeting fans and reporters with a handshake and warm smile.
Marchfeld, a Garden employee for more than 60 years, died earlier this month. And he left a void that will be nearly impossible to fill.
Marchfeld worked several jobs throughout his long-lasting run at MSG. A diamond-setter by trade, Marchfeld started out as a statistician, and later worked on the Knicks' game-night staff in the press box. "His life was the Knicks," Marchfeld's wife, Annette, said last week.
Marchfeld's career at the Garden started on Sept. 1, 1949. To put that in perspective, Ted Williams won the AL MVP that year, George Mikan led the Minneapolis Lakers to the NBA (then known as the BAA) title, and Harry Truman was president.
His first job was to keep track of player fouls. Working in the days before statkeepers had access to computers, Marchfeld held up flags at the scorers table to indicate which player had committed a foul and how many the guilty party had in the game.
Being close to the action gave Marchfeld a unique perspective. It also allowed him the opportunity to develop close relationships with many players, his son, Larry, said. "They all loved my father and they all respected him," Larry said in a telephone interview. "Unlike other people, he was never looking for anything from them. So they trusted him."
Marchfeld also worked with the Brooklyn Dodgers and on the pro tennis tour, where he befriended players such as Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova, according to his wife. "He knew everybody," Annette said. "He was the king of the schmoozers."
Marchfeld also felt a responsibility to help others. He was constantly giving tickets to friends and family and helping them meet their favorite players. He also worked with children in the Bahamas, speaking at orphanages and hospitals, often handing out basketball paraphernalia. "He just loved to see people smile," Larry said. "He was all about making people happy."
Marchfeld attended nearly every Knicks home game during his long tenure at the Garden. The Knicks honored him in 2009 -- his 60th season -- with a jersey during a halftime ceremony.
Last year, as his health deteriorated, Marchfeld could only attend a handful of games. His presence was missed.
A handful of Knicks staffers attended Marchfeld's funeral in Long Island several weeks back. His children made a collage of photos of Marchfeld with the Knicks, Dodgers and Yankees. The photos told the story of a life intertwined with some of the biggest and brightest names in New York sports.
"He was that kind of guy," Annette said. "What can I say? It was all just amazing."