Al Naples, 93, Baseball and IBM Computers
In the film "Forrest Gump," Tom Hanks opens a letter with the rainbow-colored Apple Computers logo, acknowledging that Lt. Dan has invested Bubba Gump Shrimp Company’s profits in “some kind of fruit company.” At the time, Forrest had been an Olympic athlete, a war hero and a shrimp boat captain who'd lived a seemingly unparalleled life.
No so. At 93, Cape Cod's Aloysius “Al” Naples, Jr., played MLB, helped launch the computer revolution, and served in the Navy during WWII. In 1949 Naples debuted as a shortstop with the St Louis Browns, facing the Boston Red Sox. Today, he's is among 200 major-league players credited with exactly one base hit during their career—a footnote, eclipsed by his amazing life guided by faith, a gift for math, and an abiding love of family (including his wife Rose, also 93, 7 kids, and 15 grandkids), former students and friends.
Al grew up in Staten Island, New York, where he took batting practice as a teenager at Polo Field and Yankee Stadium. Right out of high school he enlisted in the Navy in 1944 where he served aboard the USS Roosevelt, "dodging icebergs" in the North Atlantic, and a destroyer hunting subs off the coast of Cape Cod. When he came home from the service Al devoured math courses and majored in Latin at Georgetown University on a basketball and baseball scholarship. Today he's honored in the Hoya's Athletic Hall of Fame.
Though his MLB career was short-lived, due to a broken finger during fielding practice, in my opinion, Al's hands-on role in the introduction of computers defined his legacy. After his wife Rose, also 93, encouraged him to leave a humdrum accounting job at Bethlehem Steel to teach, he chaired the math department at River Dell High School in Oradell, New Jersey, for more than 30 years. Former students include Hall of Fame coach Bill “The Big Tuna” Parcells, and Billy “The Whopper” Paultz, who spent five seasons with the New York Nets.
Like the mathematicians in "Hidden Figures," Al was one of the first instructors to collaborate with Watson Labs, the founder of IBM, and Hewlett-Packard, to bring the first computers into schools. He told SABR that people had no idea how to run the massive computers with punch cards. Al found instructors, who could explain how the complicated thinking machines worked. “One of the best teachers I hired was a bartender down on the Jersey shore—students loved him,” he said. By the 1970s, the first desktop Apple computers were used in classrooms nationwide.
Al lives on the Cape, where he moved to a nursing home at the beginning of the year. I've never met him but his daughter Alyce told me that father is super disciplined, and vigilant about learning new things with each day. “When you are with him, you’re gonna learn something new too. I promise you that,” she said. Rose told me that her husband of 70 years has never been alone. “When Al was recovering from leukemia back in the 80s, and retired, all of his students and teachers came to the house to visit. That was such as beautiful thing to do. I tell you truthfully, it won my heart to see them.” To this day the faculty at River Dell are in awe of Al's contributions. A former student said,"I have good memories about Al ( and his wife, Rose, who officiated Field Hockey games for us) as an unbelievable athlete and Great Math teacher. What I remember most about Al's coaching days was him shagging fly balls to his outfielders, with a full swing and a fungo bat! He could put the ball anywhere he wanted it and a mile in the air! His outfielders were READY! How he had time, with so many kids at home, and his Dep't. Responsibilities, to work with ourselves as athletes, I'll never know."