Remembering Casey Stengel

 By Martin J. Steadman



         Yankee great Casey Stengel.



The unforgettable Casey Dillon Stengel


By Martin J. Steadman


        Of all the colorful figures that played the game of baseball, Casey Stengel stands alone.


         Charles Dillon Stengel was born in Kansas City, Missouri (hence the nickname Casey) in 1889, and played the outfield for 14 years with the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Philadelphia Phillies, the New York Giants, and the old Boston Braves.


         Little mention is ever made of Stengel’s years with the New York Giants in the two World Series in 1922-23 against the Yankees..  He came to bat 17 times, had seven hits, including 2 home runs.   He earned one World Series ring (1922) and his batting average in both series was .418.   Pretty good October Baseball.


          Casey was never a Hall of Fame ballplayer though.   His lifetime batting average was a credible .284, but what got him to Cooperstown was his phenomenal record as the manager of the New York Yankees from 1949 through 1960, when his dominant teams won 10 American League pennants and seven World Series.


                Only one manager in the long history of the game won five consecutive World Series.   That would be Casey Stengel.


                 But Casey’s managerial career spanned 25 years, and his record with the Brooklyn Dodgers , the Boston Red Sox and the New York Mets was as dismal as the years with the Yankees were brilliant.  All of those other teams finished in the second division, and his newly-born Mets finished last four straight years.


           Things in Boston were so bad that after finishing next-to-last for four years, a taxi driver ran Stengel over and left him with a broken leg.   The Red Sox finished out another awful season without him, and the Boston sports writers voted the taxicab driver as their Baseball Man of the Year.


            But in 1949, the Yankees took a chance on Stengel and what a ride they got for their money.


            Casey loved life in general and baseball in particular.  In his first year with the Mets, the team lost a record 120 games (still the record).   At that time the New York Daily News had a wonderful service that was very popular throughout the metropolitan area.   They called it News Information, and if you called their switchboard and asked for News Information, they put you on with people who had every fact on any subject at their fingertips.


             Arguments at the dinner table and at some friendly neighborhood bar were settled by News Information.   It was a given that if News Information said you were wrong, just pay the bet because they were never wrong.   So one night during that dismal 1962 Mets season, someone called News Information and said, “How did the Mets do tonight?”


             The guy at News Information said, “The Mets scored 24 runs!!!”


             And the caller said, “Did they win?”


             On another occasion, one of Stengel’s star players Marv Throneberry, drove a pitch into the right-center field alley for a triple that scored two runs with two outs.  But the opposing team spotted a small problem.   They threw over to third base, the tag was applied and the umpire at second base called Throneberry out for missing second base.   The two runs scored were nullified and the inning was over.


              Manager Stengel dutifully trotted out toward second base to confront the umpire who made the call, but as Stengel approached, the umpire held up his hands and said, “Slow down, Case,   He missed second base and he missed first base too.”


              Which may have prompted Casey to comment later in the season on a birthday party for Marvelous Marv in the locker room.  Stengel told reporters, “We wuz gonna give him a birthday cake, but we wuz afraid he would drop it.”


                But the thing about Casey Stengel is he was funny when he was winning and he was just as funny when he was losing.


                 Consider the following.   When the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants stunned New York City by moving to California in 1957, Brooklyn Congressman Emanuel Celler (chair of the House Judiciary Committee, no less) threatened to revoke  baseball’s exemption from the Anti-Trust Laws, and the whole flap wound up in a Congressional Hearing.


                Organized Baseball sent Casey to testify about what a grand American game baseball was, and with Mickey Mantle in tow, Casey dazzled the Senators and House members at the hearing, with long, rambling stories about the entire history of baseball as he lived it.


                And in one never-to-be-forgotten moment, he offered a baseball bromide that good pitching always defeats good hitting.


                Except that Casey said into the Congressional Record, “You know, good pitching always defeats good hitting.   (Pause for effect)   “And vice-versa.”


                How’s that for instructing the Congress on how to have things both ways?