By Jim Moyes
Special to LocalSportsJournal.com
The 1951 Muskegon High School graduate and former serviceman who served during the Korean conflict passed away Monday, May 27 following a short illness.
Okkonen authored a slew of books on baseball over the years, including his incredibly researched “Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century” that is a fixture on many of the office desks at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
In 2014 Okkonen was presented with the coveted Henry Chadwick Award by the Society for American Baseball Researchers, and the following tribute from that award captures how highly he was thought of by his peers in baseball:
“Much of what we know about the history of baseball uniforms we owe to Marc Okkonen,” the award said. “A public relations consultant, freelance artist and writer professionally, Okkonen exhaustively cataloged major league uniforms dating back to 1900, research he turned into a ground-breaking book, Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century: The Official Major League Baseball Guide.”
Okkonen also produced a series of books titled “Baseball Memories,” using a distinctive collection of photographs and illustrations to capture various decades in the twentieth century. Additionally, Okkonen authored the first book on the Federal League, an achievement and resource that stands the test of time with a matchless collection of photographs, ballpark information and drawings, and front office and roster information.
Okkonen also created the invaluable 2000 Cups of Coffee, containing images of players whose major league careers lasted for 10 or fewer games during the 1900-1949 era. By following his curiosity and pursuing his passion, Marc Okkonen left baseball researchers with a singular legacy.
Although he was renowned for his work in baseball on a national scale, Okkonen’s greatest passion for baseball was right here in his home town of Muskegon. His book “Baseball in Muskegon” is a must read for any fan of the game in the Port City.
Other than a library, where he would meticulously scour microfilm for some nuggets of interest, his favorite place on this planet was historic Marsh Field. With his beloved Detroit Tigers currently in a tailspin, Marc’s favorite team of late has been the Muskegon Clippers, who are the top attraction at the Muskegon stadium.
Clippers Manager Walt Gawkowski, upon hearing of the passing of perhaps his team’s number one fan, spoke highly of Okkonen.
“He was a good man who loved the game of baseball,” Gawkowski said. “I could always count on seeing him at Marsh Field nearly every day in the summer. He always had a story to tell. He will be missed!”
Okkonen served on the board of directors for a number of years for the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame. Fittingly, it was Marc who did the research on the late Charles W. Marsh, giving the committee little doubt that Marsh was an easy choice for the organization’s Distinguished Service Award. The committee was adamant that the humble Okkonen should give the speech at the induction ceremony honoring Marsh.
Although his tribute to Marsh in 1995 was well-received, Marc wanted no part of the limelight, as he confessed to me later that he was petrified to speak in front of the packed house.
I would often accompany Marc on his frequent jaunts to Lansing where he would be working on other baseball projects. It was during this time, in the late 1990s and into the early part of the 21st century, that Okkonen wrote a pair of baseball books, including The Ty Cobb Scrapbook: An Illustrated Chronology of Significant Dates in the 24-Year Career of the Fabled Georgia Peach.
Marc was the chief designer and wrote the majority of the articles for a former Muskegon Chronicle publication called “Muskegon Stories,” which was a collection of memorable tales from the Port City’s past.
One of his many friends who will sorely miss Marc is fellow local historian, Ron Pesch, who partnered with Okkonen a number of years back to publish the history of Muskegon Big Reds high school football.
“He’s always been an interesting guy, set in his ways and a challenge to understand sometimes,” Pesch said. “But this town’s been blessed to have him digging into the archives to help tell its story. And, of course, baseball, SABR, and fans of the grand old game are blessed that he cast his skills and talents that way. I feel lucky to have met him so many years ago.”
Although Marc is no longer with us, his numerous books still remain perched on our bookshelves as we reflect back on the proud history of the great game of baseball and his hometown of Muskegon.
You’ll be missed, old friend.