by Richard Goldstein
Art Rust Jr., a pioneering figure in New York radio sports talk shows and a sports historian whose books focused on the interplay of race and athletics, died Tuesday at a hospital in Manhattan. He was 82. The cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease, said his daughter, Suzanne Rust.
In the 1980s Mr. Rust became a familiar voice with his Sportstalk show on WABC Radio. “Every time I’d go out in the street, somebody would shake my hand to get an autograph,” he told MSG.com in 2003.
Mr. Rust was not the first New York radio sports host who bantered with listeners over the phone; Bill Mazer had an earlier popular program. But Mr. Rust “certainly set the groundwork and the foundation for a WFAN,” Steve Somers, a host for that station, told the MSG Web site.
Steve Malzberg, Mr. Rust’s producer, said “there was a warmth” to Mr. Rust’s broadcasts. “It was feeling like you knew Arthur George Rust Jr. and he was in your home,” he said.
Mr. Rust reveled in his love of sports history. He was also known for his Rustisms. A left-hander was a “portsider” and home plate was the “dish.” He called Yankee Stadium “the big ball orchard in the South Bronx.”
Back in the 1930s, Mr. Rust was a youngster living in Harlem whose hopes of playing in Yankee Stadium some day seemed more like an outlandish dream. In his 1976 book Get That Nigger Off the Field!, a history of black baseball, Mr. Rust remembered how “baseball was my life.”
“At one time I wanted to be a major league ballplayer, but I was black,” he wrote. He told of racial epithets being hurled at him by some visiting ballplayers when he attended games at Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds.
Mr. Rust and his wife, Edna, collaborated with the heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis on the 1978 autobiography Joe Louis, My Life. Mr. Rust gained widespread attention when he collaborated on Darryl (1992) with Darryl Strawberry, the often-troubled outfielder who starred for the 1980s Mets. The book gained notice for Strawberry’s strong opinions but also for “how ornately they are expressed,” as Richard Sandomir wrote in The New York Times.
“I’m not putting words in his mouth,” Mr. Rust said. “I might change a phrase, but not the meaning.”
Mr. Rust, a graduate of Long Island University, got his broadcasting start at the New York radio station WWRL in the 1950s. He was a sports broadcaster and covered general news for WNBC-TV in the late 1960s and early 1970s and later worked at WMCA and WINS Radio before developing his Sportstalk show, which combined interviews with sports figures and calls from listeners. He broadcast for WBLS Radio in the early 1990s.
In recalling his Harlem youth, Mr. Rust wrote about the passing of the years and the changes in the United States. As he put it in 1976: “I lived to see blacks elected to the Hall of Fame. I lived to see Emmett Ashford, the first black umpire. I lived to see Aaron break Babe Ruth’s home-run record. I lived to see Frank Robinson become the first black manager in the major leagues. The system is breaking. However,” he added, “an interesting development: My 10-year-old daughter, Suzanne, wants to know why women can’t play major league baseball.”
In addition to his daughter, Mr. Rust, who lived in Manhattan, is survived by his second wife, Patty, and two grandchildren. Edna Rust died in 1986.