The rambling, shifting,
stream-of-consciousness syntax of Casey Stengel has filled thousands of
newspaper and magazine pages with anecdotes amusing and wise, droll and
banal, sometimes vulgar.
More than a million references to Number 37 exist on
Google and Yahoo. He was on the cover of Time Magazine twice. And there
are quite a books about him and his New York Yankees of the mid 20th
Like former president Harry S. Truman, Stengel hailed
from Missouri and wandered in the wilderness before finally hitting his
peak. Born July 30, 1890, he got a nickname a well earned nickname early
on - - “King of the Grumblers.”
In 1946, Stengel managed the Pacific Coast League
Oakland Oaks to a second-place finish. In 1948, Casey and his “Nine Old
Men” won the pennant. Del Webb, one of the three New York Yankee
owners, offered the manager job to him on the recommendation of dour and
businesslike General Manager George Weiss. Their friendship went back
Stengel had a rap sheet going back to times with the
Dodgers, Pirates, Phillies, Braves and Giants. It seemed he had been
around baseball forever.
On October 12, 1948, six days after Yankee manager
Bucky Harris was fired, the man whose greatest ambition once had been to
be a left-handed dentist, was introduced as the new skipper of the
Yankees. He presided over a crowded press conference and lavish luncheon
at the posh 21 Club in Manhattan.
“Because I can make people laugh, some of you think
I’m a damn fool,” Casey told the assembled crowd. “But as player, coach
and manager I have been around baseball for some thirty-five years.
(He’d played in or managed over 5,000 games). I’ve watched some
successful managers as John McGraw and Uncle Robbie work. I’ve learned a
lot and picked up a few ideas of my own.
“I didn’t get the job through friendship. The Yankees
represent an investment of millions of dollars. They don’t hand out jobs
like this just because they like your company. I got the job because
the people here think I can produce for them.”
Heading back to California on the train after settling
all his Yankee business, Casey told famed sports writer Grantland Rice:
“I wonder how things will be next season, where I’ll be a year from
“Casey Stengel,” Hall of Fame broadcaster Curt Gowdy
said, “was one of the funniest guys I ever met. Funny without trying to
be funny. My first year broadcasting the Yankees was his first year as
manager. I'll never forget, we went to a bar after a night game in
Cleveland. He ordered a draft beer and knocked it down in one gulp. I
said, 'Jeezus, Casey, why do you drink your beer so fast?' And Stengel
said, 'I drink it like that ever since the accident.' I said, 'You were
in an accident?' He said, 'Yeah, somebody knocked over my beer.’”
In spring training of 1949 Stengel told his Yankees:
“I know nothing about the American League. You guys are big league ball
players, and this year you will be on your own. I’m not even going to
give you signs. You just play. This is my year to observe and find out
what the American League is all about.”
“It was a shock,” Yankee star hurler Eddie Lopat said.
”We thought we got us a clown. He never said too much of anything to
anyone. It was a treat for him to be with us after all the donkey clubs
he had. He didn’t need notes. He knew what every hitter or pinch hitter
could do against certain pitchers. He could make the moves.”
“There was the Casey Stengel of the huge ego,” Tony
Kubek, who played for him, said. “There was the Casey Stengel of the
public relations image. There was the Casey Stengel who could talk for
hours on the long thirty six hours of train trips to Kansas City. There
was the sensitive Casey Stengel. There was the Casey Stengel of the
That rookie season for Stengel saw the Yankees
devastated by injuries. The famous Charlie Keller-Joe DiMaggio-Tommy
Henrich outfield was never in place. Keller missed the whole season.
DiMaggio had a banged up heel and did not play until June 28. Little
star shortstop Phil Rizzuto was out a lot.
Stengel coped. Stengel planned. Relying on players
like Cliff Mapes, Dick Kryhoski, and Fenton Mole and other non-prime
time performers, juggling, mixing and matching, patching game by game,
Casey managed to manage it all.
Yankees of Casey Stengel marched to the first of five straight world
championships in 1949. Savoring the moment and the 5-3 pennant-
clinching triumph, Casey screamed out in the locker room: "Fellas, I
want to thank you all for going to all the trouble to do this for
me. I want to thank all for giving me the greatest thrill of my
life, And to think they pay me for managing so great a bunch of
first season Casey Stengel put his stamp on everything Yankees.
There had been a Yankee culture before. Now it was a Casey Stengel
Yankee culture. It would be part of the franchise in 1949 and
through Casey’s tenure as manager. It would also be part of the
Yankee tradition for decades to come.
Perfessor” with the gravelly voice became a Yankee institution. He
was as famous, perhaps more famous than any of his stars.
He became a national figure, a mixture of Santa Claus and Jimmy
Durante and Groucho Marx, duck-walking his way on the baseball stage
of his era.
won the World Series in 1949 and came to spring training the next
year,” Eddie Lopat recalled, “Stengel told us: ‘Last year is past
history. We never look back. We gotta go back and beat ’em again
inherited a Yankee team many thought of as a powerhouse. Within
three years he had re-tooled it creating a totally different type of
club. Instead of featuring superstars at most positions, Casey
structured his team around the trio of Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra,
and Whitey Ford. The rest of the team was mainly role-players.
Stengel pitted them against each other for playing time.
fella I got on third is hitting pretty good,” Stengel explained, “
and I know he can make that throw, and if he don't make it that
other fella I got coming up has shown me a lot, and if he can't, I
have my guy and I know what he can do.”
guys on the bench who could play as good as the starters,” said
Eddie Lopat. “They hated to get on the bench because they knew they
might not get back for three or four weeks or ever.
played the other teams,” Lopat continued,”we never under-estimated
them or ourselves. We played the Giants in the 1951 World Series.
We were told by the newspapermen that the Giants would run us off
the field, that they were hot and they had won all those games down
the stretch. Casey’s attitude was our attitude. They would have to
run us off the field, but not in the newspapers.
1949,” Lopat continued, “we played the Dodgers in the Series. We
knew they were young fellows without that much experience and we
could beat them. In 1952, however, we knew they were now a tough
club, but we were prepared.”
former slugger Bill Skowron mused, “would leave us alone to get in
shape in spring training. But when those last ten days of spring
training came around you knew you had to be better ready to play.”
“I was the best manager I ever saw, but I tell people
that to shut them up quickly and because I also believe it. But John
McGraw was an enjoyable man, too.”
"Make 'em pay. Make 'em pay you a thousand dollars.
Don't go help those people with their shows for coffee-and-cake money.
You're the Yankees—the best. Make 'em pay you high." -Casey Stengel
dozen years he managed the Yanks when the team was home, Stengel
lived with his wife Edna at the swanky Essex House in Manhattan. The
love of his life, Edna was a former silent screen star, a
high-fashion dresser who picked out her husband’s clothes. The
tips Stengel gave at the Essex House were over the top because as
Casey said:”I got so much money I don’t know what to do with it.”
season, the big house in Glendale, California was the site of
happening times for Edna’s nieces and nephews and -- since Casey
and Edna had no children of their own -- for Yankee players and
their wives and children. At times there were 50 to 75 children
real Yankee family back then,” Yogi Berra said. “Casey and Edna were
like a father and mother to us all.”
talent just gushed to the Yankees in those Stengel years from the
farm system or through trades: Jerry Coleman and Gene Woodling in
1949, Whitey Ford and Billy Martin in 1950, Tom Morgan, Gil
McDougald, Bob Cerv and Mickey Mantle in 1951, Andy Carey and Ewell
Blackwell in 1952, Bill Skowron, Enos Slaughter and Bob Grim in
1954, Johnny Kucks, Elston Howard. Don Larsen, Bob Turley, Bobby
Richardson, Elston Howard and Tom Sturdivant in 1955. Ralph Terry
came in 1956 and Tony Kubek came along in 1957. In 1958, Ryne
Duren, Clete Boyer in 1959 and Roger Maris in 1960.
astonished at the atmosphere on the team when I joined the Yankees
in 1957 along with Bobby Richardson,” Tony Kubek said. “Jerry
Coleman and Gil McDougald went out of their way to help us and we
were to ultimately take their jobs. It was typical of everyone
helping the helping the team, the atmosphere that Casey Stengel put
stoked the fierce competition for jobs. Players were trained not to
be complacent, to do whatever Casey asked for the good of the team.
Loyalty to the organization, pride in being a New York Yankee were
part of the package. The almost annual certainty of a postseason
check was also something very nice to count on - -a sort of bonus
for being one of Casey Stengel’s Yankees.
Left-handed hitting Gene Woodling and right-handed
hitting Hank Bauer shared outfield duties. "We didn't like it,” Bauer
said. “But you couldn't complain too much - - we walked into the bank
Elston Howard became a Yankee in 1955, Casey joked: “When I finally
get me a nigger, I got one who can’t run.” It was a reference to
Howard’s slow foot speed and how long it took the team to have a
black player – eight years after Jackie Robinson had broken the
color line. Casey and Robinson got into quite a few verbal
altercations over the Yankee tardiness in integrating their roster.
The two did not like each other. But the old man had a genuine
affection for the stolid, reserved, and talented Howard.
vintage Stengelese the skipper paid tribute to Howard: “He deserves
credit and where would I be without him? Phew! He can give me a job
in the outfield and he can catch, too. Good kid, too. He's good.”
For most big league teams, the rhythm of the rotation
was sacred. For Stengel, it was his call. The Big Four: Whitey Ford, Vic
Raschi, Allie Reynolds, and Ed Lopat, were all used in relief if there
was a need or if Casey felt it was the right thing to do.
"Sure he wasn't that young," Skowron said. "But he
knew and we knew what we had to do. He'd leave us alone when we were
winning. He'd holler 'butcher boy' and 'don't swing too hard at ground
balls' and 'don't beat yourselves.' But when he saw us making mistakes,
he'd get excited and do some yelling.”
The Yankees took the 1958 pennant by ten games. The
l959 Yankees finished in third place - their low point in Stengel's time
as manager. There were some who thought it was the beginning of the end.
Nearing 70, impatient, Casey made moves in games that seemed highly
unorthodox even for him.
But in l960 in a tough pennant race, the Ol''
Professor rallied the Yankees to another flag. But Bill Mazeroski’s walk
off homer gave the world championship to Pittsburgh.
Yankee owners Dan Topping and Del Webb, who had wanted
to get rid of Stengel for several years, used the loss to the Pirates as
an excuse. Casey was fired. Actually, he was forced out as manager by a
mandatory retirement age of 65 - -just for him.
“I'm just sorry Casey isn't fifty years old .... It's
best for the future to make a change,” Topping said.
“Casey’s writers,” members of the New York Baseball
Writers Association passed around a petition exhorting him not to
“It was wonderful of them,” the outgoing manager
said,” but I’ve been here twelve years and when a feller stays too long
in one place he gets a lot of people mad at him and gets mad at a lot of
people when they blame him for blowing tight games.”
Later, in a sarcastic and stinging voice, he told
dozens of reporters:
“I commenced winning pennants when I got here. But I
didn’t commence getting any younger. They told me that my services were
no longer desired because they wanted to put in a youth movement as an
advance way of keeping the club going. The trick is growing up without
growing old. Most guys are dead at the present time anyway and you could
look it up. I’ll never make the mistake of being seventy years old
Between the many hirings (as most know he surfaced
again as pilot of the hapless Mets) and the firings, there is the
amazing, amusing, arresting story of Charles Dillon Stengel, a man
never at a loss for words.
too old when I began,” the crazy as a fox Stengel said, “I began
playing in 1910 in some league that didn’t even last out the
season. I told Mickey Mantle one time how I used to do something.
He looked at me like I was crazy and asked me if I played. What the
hell do you think, I said, that I was born here on this bench as an
started managing in 1925 and quit in 1965. I guess I know about
managers and managing. What the hell is it but telling the umpire
who is gonna play and then watching them play. The best thing to do
is to have players who can hit right-handed and left-handed and hit
farther one way and father sometimes the other way and run like the
The dozen years Casey ran the Yankees saw the team cop
10 pennants and seven World Series. It was the greatest run by any
manager in the history of the national pastime. Only once in his dozen
seasons did his teams win fewer than 90 games; his Yankee career
managing record was 1,149-696, a winning percentage of .623.
"There comes a time in every man's life,” Casey said,”
and I've had plenty of them."
He died on September 29, 1975 in Glendale, California.
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About the Author:
Harvey Frommer is in his 38th year of writing books.
A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports
books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and
"Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE
STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL
AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to
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Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One.
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