“There comes a time in every man’s life, and I’ve had plenty of them.” – Casey Stengel
As the only person to have worn the uniform, as player or manager, of all four Major League Baseball teams that played in New York City in the 20th Century, Charles Dillon “Casey” Stengel enjoyed more times than most men.
Whether Stengel was known as “Dutch”, “The Ole Perfessor” or “Casey”, the Hall of Fame manager will be forever remembered for his unique presence in baseball.
Many people believe Casey Stengel suddenly emerged on the scene from nowhere on October 12, 1948. That’s when the New York Yankees, for twenty-five years the gold standard of baseball excellence, shocked the baseball world by announcing that the much-traveled Stengel would succeed the popular and well established Bucky Harris as the Bombers’ manager. The public thought of Casey, if they knew him at all, as “colorful” at best and “clownish ” at worst. The Babe himself, who had succumbed to cancer a few months before Stengel’s appointment, called Stengel “one of the daffiest men I ever met.” New York’s tough and seasoned press corps clamored: “Are the great and dominant Yankees on the cusp of a mistake of monumental proportions?”
But the Yankee brass knew what the public did not. Casey had deep roots in the game, was coming to the team as a superior tactician, and could perform nicely in the clutch. Forty years before landing with the Yankees, Charles Dillon Stengel began his baseball career in the minors at precisely the same time and in same league as Shoeless Joe Jackson. Stengel shared the diamond with hard-nosed royalty like Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner who ruled in the dead ball era. Over 14 seasons found “Casey” (Kansas City) playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Phillies, John McGraw’s powerful New York Giants, and finally the Boston Braves.
Casey was a good ballplayer in his own right. He was an accomplished batsman with a respectable .284 lifetime hitting average and distinguished himself magnificently when it counted. He smacked a torrid .393 over three World Series. Playing outfield for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Stengel first saw Babe Ruth as a pitcher in the 1916 World Series. In the 1923 World Series, playing for the rival Giants, Stengel nearly outshone Ruth, now “The Sultan of Swat” for the Yankees. In fact, Casey hit two game-winning home runs for his New York Giants team against Ruth’s Yankees during the 1923 World Series. Many feel that Fall Classic was the greatest subway series of them all. Casey’s homers were the first World Series four baggers hit at Yankee Stadium — one of them was an inside-the-parker! In the end the rival Yanks prevailed besting the Giants in six games, despite Casey’s mighty effort.
By the mid-1920′s, Casey’s reputation emerged as a “thinking man’s” player. In 1925, he began a lengthy managerial career, initially toiling in the minor leagues before cracking the majors and then back down to the minors. He had already developed a solid foundation for the particulars of the game. As a player, he soaked up everything he could learn from his own manager with the New York Giants, the great and stern tactician, John McGraw. Quickly, Stengel showed managerial prowess and was known to handle his teams with confidence and dedicated teaching. His first big league managerial stint was with the Brooklyn Dodgers in the mid-1930s. Stengel then skippered the Boston Braves from 1938-1943. The Braves, however, were long-standing doormats by the time Casey arrived in Boston and, after a weak fifth place finish in 1943, he was shuttled back to the minors. Casey found success in the minors, first by leading Milwaukee to an American Association Pennant. Then, in 1948 Stengel’s Oakland Oaks won a phenomenal 114 and brought home a Pacific Coast League Championship. Sports Magazine honored Stengel as the Minor League Manager of the Year.
So in 1948 with twenty years managing, when the Yanks named Stengel their manager, the public joined the “knights of the keyboard” and thought, “Who is this guy?” Stengel knew this Yankee team would be different when he said, “There is less wrong with this team than any team that I have managed.”
He answered his critics immediately by leading a severely injury-riddled 1949 Yankee team to an unexpected Pennant and World Championship. To say that Casey Stengel’s managerial years in New York were successful would be an under-statement. Buoyed up by a lineup including Berra, DiMaggio, Mantle and underrated pitching, the Yankees scored 4 more consecutive World Series triumphs in 1950, 1951, 1952 and 1953. Stengel managed the only team to ever win five consecutive crowns, achieving this remarkable feat in his first five seasons as a Yankee manager. Eventually Stengel would win 10 pennants and 7 championships at the manager’s helm for the Yankees in just 12 seasons. His 37 wins in World Series competition are unsurpassed.
Furthermore, the New York media loved his “Stengelese”, a point of view and sense of humor that seemed to rub off of his future Hall of Fame Catcher, Yogi Berra. Stengel said of Yogi, “He’d fall in a sewer and come up with a gold watch.”
Despite his Stengelese, Casey was no fool in running his team. Sparky Anderson acknowledged, ” Casey knew his baseball. He only made it look like he was fooling around. He knew every move that was ever invented and some that we hadn’t even caught on to yet.”
Casey needed a sense of humor and every move he could think of when after “retiring” from the Yankees on October 15, 1960, when he agreed to manage the Mets, New York’s expansion team. Casey’s mark on baseball and American culture deepened.
From 1962, Casey managed the hapless, but lovable New York Mets from their first inaugural season in 1962 to his final retirement in 1965. As a first hand witness to the Mets losing 120 games in their first season, only Stengel could say, “Been in this game one hundred years, but I see new ways to lose ‘em I never knew existed before.”
His uniform number “37″ was appropriately retired by the Yankees and the Mets in 1965. After an unprecedented one year wait, Stengel was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a Manager in 1966. The Mets players showed Casey their admiration and appreciation by voting for and bestowing upon him a World Series Ring after their magical summer of ’69.
With Charles Dillon Stengel’s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame he became part of American baseball lore. Stengel was a smart and cunning manager with a fierce competitive heart, still he was a kind and gentle man who represented the best in the National Game. He held the love and affection of the public as much as any other figure in sports’ history.
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