The late New York Post author leaves a catalog of stories for all who met him

He was a necessary Flavor, the answer to a question nobody asked. He was a personality who produced friendly newspapers without even trying.

Mike Marley, a New York Post sportswriter – but above all a boxer unrivaled for approach, sarcasm, creativity and the ability to dine at the best restaurants without picking up the check – died last week at the age of 72 years in Cape Cod, Mass.

Marley was part of a post-sports crew of wistful post-adolescents who were blindfolded by the late sports editor Jerry “Blackie” Lisker – another character with a love for boxing known for her scowl and soft touch.

Lisker was more the director and warden of a boys’ camp for portable typewriter outlaws than the sports editor of a Gotham newspaper. More comic creation than advisor, he made it work and proved that there’s a lot to be said for neglect.

He would do the hiring – no résumé required – and then disappear, dropping his new children into the laps of beleaguered assistant sports editors Greg Gallo and Dick Klayman to berate and scold them.

Lisker always had a fresh tan. Walking through the newsroom with a bag of clothes, Lisker came across layout artist Dom Marrano, another unforgettable newsman who passed away last year.

Marrano: “Hey, Blackie, you look great. Where have you been?” Without breaking stride, Lisker growled, “London.” It was early March. And Lisker had indeed just returned from London. With a tan.

Marley was Lisker’s pride. And when Marley dressed in what could best be described as ensembles from Gentlemen’s Disorderly (he was later spotted wearing a pink fedora), he left as many Damon Runyon stories about himself as he wrote about others.

Mike Marley with Muhammad Ali and Don King
Mike Marley with Muhammad Ali and Don King
Michael Brennan

Since he was crazy, everyone had a Marley story:

Harvey Araton, who rose to the Knicks beat under Lisker and was honored by the Basketball Hall of Fame, recalls a party where Marley passed out. Waking up on a couch early in the morning, Marley called for a ride back into town. When Araton ignored him and refused to open his bedroom’s locked door, Marley began feeding lit matches underneath – until he set the carpet on fire. Marley won.

Kenny Moran was in Miami on assignment as our fishing and hunting columnist – from the movie “Fat Chance” – when he met up with Marley, who was covering the Muhammad Ali camp before Ali’s fight with Larry Holmes in 1980. Marley adored Ali – and apparently vice versa.

“Mike and I followed Ali and [trainer] Angelo Dundee back to his hotel suite where Mike tried to get his story but the place is so crowded and noisy we end up in the bathroom.

“Mike is in the bath with his reporter’s pad and I’m sitting on the edge of the sink while Ali pokes my face in laughter. Unforgettable scene.”

Marley had a weakness I could never come to terms with. He was attracted to villains.

He left The Post after 13 years to work with obnoxious self-promoter Howard Cosell on his ABC SportsBeat show while attending Fordham Law School. Marley eventually became a criminal defense attorney.

Mike Marley
Mike Marley

He then went on to work as a recruiter for Don King, an incongruous gig since it was King who so cruelly exploited Marley’s husband Ali for every headshot he was worth.

Another random Lisker employee, Bob Drury, remembers Marley, the attorney.

“We’re with Elaine. It’s late. (Elaine’s was the place to go when it was time to go home.) Marley enters, leading a small entourage. He flies happily, buys drinks. It’s a celebration. I ask what’s going on.

“He’s holding up the Village Voice. Ten photos. The headline “NYC’s Ten Worst Landlords.” Marley cheers:

“‘I represent four of them!’ ”

And it was Drury who spent the first night of the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid jail after he and Marley were arrested for breaking into US team grounds. Her aborted assignment: an interview with the reclusive star skater Tai Babilonia.

“The desk sergeant says he has to hold one of us for 24 hours. With our one call, we reach Lisker at 3 am at home. First Marley spoke to him, then I: “I’m sorry, Bobby, Marley is better on appointment. You stay.’ ”

The copy that Marley produced of those Olympics remains unforgettable. In a glossary of event terms, he explained giant slalom as “the big freshwater fish” and figure skaters as “the farm team for ice capades.”

Then there was Post Nightside sports editor Pat “Hondo” Hannigan’s outdoor wedding. With Marley taking an early lead, the Post’s Sports Department table, way back, was nearing its drinking limit when Marley asked baseball author Steve Wilder if he liked tossed salads.

When Wilder, perhaps unfamiliar with Marley’s blank insanity, said this, Marley threw his salad at him and covered him in the house dressing. Wilder struck and tabloid hell broke loose.

Mike Marley
Mike Marley
Stacey M Snyder

Lisker dashed through the guest tables from his front seat to break them up, roaring in his New English accent that if we’re going to fight, we should do it “on a barge”! – although it is still remembered and imitated as “On a Bahge!”!

When Lisker returned to his table, he was asked what happened. With a devilish smile he proudly piped: “These are my boys!” Then he sat down as if nothing had happened.

My indelible memory of Marley is from the 1984 Marvin Hagler-Mustafa Hamsho Middleweight Championship at the Garden, back when HBO was making boxing special despite boxing promoters.

It was rumored that Lisker owned a piece of hamsho. Who knows? Blackie’s sense of journalistic propriety was nil.

His job was to organize a great, aggressive, all-in sports section – which he did with the likes of horse racing columnist Ray Kerrison, Mike McAlary, Steve Serby and Hockey Hall of Fame honoree Larry Brooks, along with the aforementioned .

Just because it was a great section doesn’t mean Lisker read it. Occasionally he would suggest ideas for stories I had already written.

However, Marley and I, sitting near the ring, ended up with Hamsho’s blood splattered on our clothes. I couldn’t wait to go to the men’s room and try to wash it off.

Marley said he would leave his stains where they were as they were indistinguishable from the other blood on his clothes.

Greg Marotta, a well-known sports thinker, was a frequent observer of Marley’s ways and means.

Marotta recalls Marley’s oft-quoted law firm selling point: “Reasonable doubt at a reasonable price.”

No one who met Marley could leave without a story or at least a confused look. In a room filled with Jerry Lisker’s mostly young, blind-hired characters, Marley stood out. And for a character who seemed to pop up everywhere — even when invited — it’s odd to consider that he’ll never be seen again.

Those of us who shared him—including those whose homes he tried to burn down or whose summer suits he tried to soak in salad oil—cherish the memories, the laughter. Those were the days my friend.

Ten bells and a top of a pink fedora for Mike Marley. The late New York Post author leaves a catalog of stories for all who met him


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