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Charles Einstein, 80; author of memoir on Willie Mays

March 16, 2007|Valerie J. Nelson | Times Staff Writer

Charles Einstein, a writer best known for his books on baseball, including a well-regarded memoir of Willie Mays, has died. He was 80.

Einstein died of complications related to old age March 7 at St. Anthony Memorial hospital in Michigan City, Ind., said his son Michael.

In "Willie's Time," published in 1979, Einstein set the story of Mays' years in the major leagues against a backdrop of U.S. history from the early 1950s to the 1970s.

Calling the book a "breezy, engaging pastiche" of statistics and social-political history, The Times' 1979 review said Einstein was at his best spinning "baseball yarns far more absorbing than the game itself."

"He was a brilliant guy," Albert Brooks, the writer-actor-director who was Einstein's half-brother, told The Times this week. "And he would tell stories and jokes as long as you would listen."

Einstein wrote or edited more than 35 books.

His first novel, "The Bloody Spur," about a killer who terrorizes Chicago, was turned into the Fritz Lang movie "While the City Sleeps" in 1956.

As an editor, Einstein oversaw a four-volume anthology, "The Fireside Book of Baseball," published between 1956 and 1987. His effort created a "monument to baseball literature," the baseball magazine Elysian Fields Quarterly said in 2004.

Born Aug. 2, 1926, in Boston, he was the son of Harry and Lillian Einstein. His mother taught English, and his father was the radio comedian known as Parkyakarkus.

After his family moved to New York City, his parents divorced and both remarried. His father had three more sons: Brooks; Bob Einstein, a comedian who uses the name Super Dave Osborne; and Clifford Einstein, an advertising executive who is chairman of the board of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art.

Journalism was an early calling: At 5, Charles typed up a newspaper that featured stories on his stuffed animals and delivered it to neighbors, his son said.

At the University of Chicago, he met his future wife, Corrine Pendlebury, and earned a bachelor's in philosophy in 1945.

He became a sportswriter in Chicago for International News Service and in 1958 joined the San Francisco Examiner, eventually covering the Giants.

Baseball turned into a passion, and in the late 1960s he wrote a weekly column about the game called "The Einstein Theory" for the San Francisco Chronicle.

He left the newspaper in 1970 and worked in public relations in New York City.

In retirement, he wrote a weekly column for almost 20 years on the Atlantic City entertainment scene for the Star-Ledger newspaper in Newark, N.J.

Several of his books were about blackjack, and versions of a card-counting system he developed for the game in 1968 remain in use.

Corrine, his wife of 42 years, died in 1989.

In addition to his son Michael and three half-brothers, Einstein is survived by his daughter, Laurie; sons David and Jeffrey; and three grandchildren. *

valerie.nelson@latimes.com

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