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Tuesday, June 24, 2003
Koppett analyzed baseball in different ways news services

Leonard Koppett, 79, a sportswriter and author of 16 books whose career spanned nearly six decades, died June 22 in San Francisco.

Koppett died of an apparent heart attack at Davies Symphony Hall, where he and his wife were to attend a concert, Koppett's son, David, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

"He was one of the most innovative, knowledgeable and astute thinkers in the game of baseball," said Ross Newhan, the Hall of Fame baseball writer for the Los Angeles Times. "I think with all of the years he spent writing about the game, he brought a fresh perspective to complex subjects."

Koppett's sportswriting career began in New York and continued when he moved to Northern California in 1973, becoming the New York Times' first West Coast sports correspondent.

In 1992, Leonard Koppett was elected into the writers' wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

He also covered the National Basketball Association in its formative years and was voted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1994.

He later became editor of the San Francisco Bay area's Peninsula Times Tribune, after which he wrote a general interest column for the paper.

After leaving the Times Tribune in 1993, he continued to write columns for many other newspapers around the country, from his home in Palo Alto.

Koppett was a fixture in the press box at San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics games. He was one of the first writers to use statistics not readily found in box scores.

"He would compare how many home runs were hit in the 1930s with the kind of ball they used, and how they changed the height of the mound in the '40s and '50s. He really broke it apart and was great at comparing the eras," Oakland radio broadcaster Marty Lurie told the Chronicle.

Koppett was born in Russia and moved with his family to New York -- one block from Yankee Stadium -- when he was 5. A 1944 graduate of Columbia University, he worked for the New York Herald Tribune and New York Post before moving to the Times in 1963.

He wrote about the great home-run race between Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle in 1961. His recollections were sought frequently when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa raced to break Maris' home-run record in 1998.

David Koppett, a television producer for Fox Sports Net Bay Area, said his father and the A's announcer Bill King sometimes sat in a car listening to the Metropolitan Opera from New York while waiting to go into the stadium for a ballgame.

"He had an amazing interest in many things," David Koppett said. "That's what made him so unusual as a sportswriter. He had interest in astronomy, history, literature, all those things."

Besides his wife of 39 years, Suzanne, and his son, Koppett also leaves a daughter, Katherine, a corporate training consulting.

David Koppett said a public memorial will be planned.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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