Casey Stengel: Baseball's Greatest Character

Casey Stengel: Baseball's Greatest Character

by Marty Appel


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The definitive biography of one of baseball's most enduring and influential characters, from New York Times bestselling author and baseball writer Marty Appel.

As a player, Charles Dillon "Casey" Stengel's contemporaries included Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, and Christy Mathewson . . . and he was the only person in history to wear the uniforms of all four New York teams: the Dodgers, Giants, Yankees, and Mets. As a legendary manager, he formed indelible, complicated relationships with Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Billy Martin. For more than five glorious decades, Stengel was the undisputed, quirky, hilarious, and beloved face of baseball—and along the way he revolutionized the role of manager while winning a spectactular ten pennants and seven World Series Championships.  

But for a man who spent so much of his life in the limelight—an astounding fifty-five years in professional baseball—Stengel remains an enigma. Acclaimed New York Yankees' historian and bestselling author Marty Appel digs into Casey Stengel's quirks and foibles, unearthing a tremendous trove of baseball stories, perspective, and history. Weaving in never-before-published family documents, Appel creates an intimate portrait of a private man who was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966 and named "Baseball's Greatest Character" by MLB Network's Prime 9. Casey Stengel is a biography that will be treasured by fans of our national pastime.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385540476
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/28/2017
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 744,934
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

MARTY APPEL was the youngest public relations director in baseball history when George Steinbrenner elevated him to the New York Yankees post in 1973.  He is the author or coauthor of numerous books, including the New York Times bestselling Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain and Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees from Before the Babe to After the Boss. He resides in New York City.

Read an Excerpt


Mail Call

It was time for the mail at the Stengel home.

Casey Stengel, now nearly eighty, loved this time of day. He would get up to three hundred letters every week, and since his home address—and phone number, of course—were listed in the phone book under “Stengel, Charles Casey,” it was not hard to know where to send a fan letter: 1663 Grandview Avenue, in Glendale, California. He and his wife, Edna, had lived there since her father built the place forty-­six years before, in 1924. People wanted his autograph, and he loved that they did.

Now, in 1970, in his retirement years, the home was a “splendid” place to be Casey Stengel. Old friends would visit, or new ones would just ring the bell, and he would regale them with stories, jumping with ease from Babe to Joe D to Yogi to Mickey to Marvelous Marv.

In his den, he would sit back in his ancient Yankee underwear (Edna was always on him to wear Mets underwear) and observe the world through six decades of baseball and worldly wisdom.

The home sat on a quiet two-­lane street in a fashionable neighborhood, near the homes of the USC baseball coach Rod Dedeaux and Babe Herman, his old Brooklyn Dodger teammate from the 1910s. Most people thought of Casey as either a Yankee or a Met, but of course he was a baseball lifer, who had played or managed almost everywhere and played with or against nearly everyone.

He batted against Grover Cleveland Alexander, chased fly balls hit by Babe Ruth, sent Ron Swoboda up to pinch hit, and moved Cleon Jones to left field. His career had spanned John McGraw and Tug McGraw.

Was there a ballpark he hadn’t stood in? Never mind all those major-­league and minor-­league parks over more than half a century. For over fifty years, starting in 1910, the year of his first spring training, he had to check train schedules, road maps, and eventually flight schedules to get to his next training camp.

In 1910 and 1911, he traveled to Excelsior Springs, Missouri; then he went to Montgomery, Alabama (1912), Augusta, Georgia (1913–­14), Daytona Beach, Florida (1915–­16), Hot Springs, Arkansas (1917), Jacksonville, Florida (1918), Birmingham, Alabama (1920), Gainesville, Florida (1921), San Antonio, Texas (1922–­23), Marlin, Texas (1923), St. Petersburg, Florida (1924–­25), Jackson, Tennessee (1926–­27), Biloxi, Mississippi (1928–­29), Anniston, Alabama (1930), Miami, Florida (1931), Clearwater, Florida (1932), Miami (1933), Orlando, Florida (1934–­35), Clearwater (1936), Bradenton, Florida (1938–­40), San Antonio, Texas (1941), Sanford, Florida (1942), Wallingford, Connecticut (1943), Bartlesville, Oklahoma (1945), Boyes Hot Springs, California (1946–­47), San Fernando, California, 1948), St. Petersburg (1949–­50), Phoenix, Arizona (1951), and St. Petersburg (1952–­60, 1962–­65, and 1966–­74 as a consultant).

And, of course, that excludes the road games and barnstorming games heading north that were part of spring training. One could learn a lot about people and a lot about America just by being Casey Stengel.

And his recall! Late in his life, some fan might come near the railing and say, “Casey! Casey! My dad sold you a pair of shoes in Biloxi in 1928!” Casey might rub his jaw and say, “I was almost out the door and he sold me a pair of socks, too. He was a good salesman!”

His home was not quite a mansion, nothing you would find in Bel Air, but it was grand in the upper-­middle-­class neighborhood in which it stood. Or “splendid,” as he loved to say about almost anything that got his approval. Its forty-­six hundred square feet (a bedroom and den were added in 1937 and 1956, respectively) sat on a lot that went back from the quiet street the length of a football field, with a swimming pool, a pool house, a tennis court, and an orchard. It was a two-­story Spanish-­architecture stucco dwelling, described in real-­estate terms as “Spanish eclectic with a hipped roof.” There were fourteen rooms, including five bedrooms, one living room with a barrel ceiling, two sitting rooms, maid’s quarters, and five bathrooms, on one and a quarter acres.

“Eclectic.” That was a good word for a Casey Stengel residence. Edna had styled a room or two into Japanese traditional after making tours of the Far East. It was an odd fit with the Spanish architecture, but it worked.

Casey sat at a big desk in his den, surrounded by trophies and souvenirs, including the school bell from Central High School in Kansas City. He had always been a walking advertisement for Kansas City—his nickname came from “K.C.”

“To Charles (Casey-­Dutch) Stengel, dentist, athlete, manager, raconteur,” said the inscription on the bell. “For whom the bell tolled at Central High School, 1906–­1910, from your many Kansas City friends.”

There were autographed baseballs on shelves surrounding the room. Sometimes, if Edna was scolding him about something from another room, Casey might look up with those blue eyes and wink at his young assistant, Bobby Case. He’d whisper, “Whose name does she think is on the sweet spot of all these baseballs?”

But he’d say it for a laugh, because he loved Edna; theirs was one of the great love stories in baseball, a splendid marriage that lasted fifty-­one years, till his death. They had no children, which meant she did a lot of traveling with him. She lived the life of a baseball wife.

On this day, Bobby Case had the day’s mail and was “commencing” (another Casey word) to sort it out by priority. Business letters took precedence over fan letters, but eventually he would get to all of them. He would sign most anything, and if someone just asked for his autograph, he had paper disks with a photo of his wrinkled face topped by a Mets cap. He would sign “Let’s Go Mets—Casey Stengel.”

Bobby had been working as attendant in the visiting clubhouse for the Los Angeles Angels when they played at Chavez Ravine (which is what the Angels called Dodger Stadium). When the Angels prepared to move to Anaheim in 1966, Casey told him, “You don’t want to commute to Anaheim. Come work for me.”

He had been lucky enough to be nabbed to be Casey’s “business manager,” or assistant, which meant showing up each day to do whatever needed to be done. The mail was one of the few things that were part of a daily routine.

This particular day was early in 1970. Casey had been retired for five years from his last position, manager of the New York Mets. He would soon be off to St. Petersburg for another spring training, but these days he wasn’t in uniform; he served as a vice-­president of the Mets, holding court, letting a new generation of sportswriters get to know him, and singing the praises of the “amazin’ world champion Mets,” who had stunned the nation with a miracle title in ’69.

Bobby handed Casey one unopened letter. It bore a familiar logo and return address: New York Yankees, Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York 10451.

Casey took a puff of his Kent cigarette and proceeded to slice open the envelope with a letter opener.

It was from Bob Fishel, the Yankees’ public-­relations director, one of the few team employees who went back to his days with the team.

Fishel was writing to invite Casey to Old-­Timers’ Day that summer at Yankee Stadium.

Just as he had every year.

Bob had added in his own handwriting at the bottom, “Really hope you and Edna can join us, Casey. The whole event would center on you, and we have plans to retire your uniform number as well.”

Since that ugly day in October 1960 when Casey was told his “services were no longer desired,” he had never returned to Yankee Stadium, save for an exhibition game while managing the Mets or as a fan at a World Series game. A decade in exile.

He was still bitter, despite the logo on his boxer shorts. Ten pennants in twelve years, then fired after losing a seven-­game World Series? Because he had made the mistake of turning seventy?

The Yankees had just staged Mickey Mantle Day at the stadium in 1969, the year before. It was an enormous event, with over sixty thousand in attendance. Everyone of importance came back to honor Mantle and to see his number 7 formally retired. George Weiss, the general manager Mick hated, the man who had hired Casey and who was retired with Casey, came back. Mel Allen, the fired broadcaster who had given Mantle a bad medical reference, came back. Mick’s minor-­league managers, his scout, and illustrious teammates (except for Roger Maris) came back. Casey Stengel did not. He loved Mantle like a son, but he would not go back, not even for this.

But something told him that it was time for a return. Bobby Case was surprised—he had expected to hear another “no.”

What was it? At seventy-­nine, was his boss growing sentimental? Was it the appeal from Fishel, whom he liked? Was it the realization that the team’s ownership had changed and prolonged anger was pointless? Was it that, with the Mets reigning as world champions, he was getting satisfaction out of seeing the Yankees down?

Edna had entered the room by now. Casey told her about the invitation, and about the note from Fishel saying his number would be retired.

“This is a big thing,” he said to her. “Having your number retired, that doesn’t happen every day. I’m thinking of going.”

They always talked through big decisions. Edna remembered when Casey was managing Oakland in the Pacific Coast League in 1948 and the opportunity to manage the Yankees came up. They were so happy in Oakland. They needed a lot of discussion before finally saying yes—but maybe only for a year or two.

This wasn’t going to be as important as that decision, but it did call for a conversation. And the answer was, again, yes.

The exile would end. A bad moment in Casey Stengel’s history, and in Yankee history, would be set aside for a day.


Kansas City

The term “Stengelese” first appeared in print in the 1930s, but instead of describing his method of speech, it was a nickname for the players he was managing, as “Sudanese” would be used to describe the people of Sudan.

In 1940, The New York Times began to use it for his unique way of turning short answers into run-­on sentences. Sometimes this was a tactic to bury what he really thought; at other times he might seem to be tangoing with the English language until he remembered what he wanted to say.

“They brought me up to the Brooklyn Dodgers, which at that time was in Brooklyn.”

“Good pitching will always stop good hitting and vice versa.”

“Sometimes I get a little hard-­of-­speaking.”

“When you’re losing, everyone commences to playing stupid.”

He always had his own unique way of talking, but the term “Stengelese” wasn’t really popularized until he went to the Yankees in 1949, and the New York sportswriters adopted it when quoting him at length or describing his speech patterns.

During spring training in 1940, while Casey was managing the Boston Braves (then called the Bees), the Times’s John Drebinger wrote:

Life with the Giants these days seems to be pretty much up and down, and today it was down indeed as Professor Casey Stengel and his Bees polished off Colonel Bill Terry’s vast army for the second time this Spring. The score was 4 to 3 and was achieved in typical Stengelese fashion.

This consists of Professor Casey’s engaging the enemy in some of his most entertaining conversation while his helpers grab a few hits and run them out for all they are worth.

Because part of Casey’s charm was surely in his colorful use of language, this seems like a good time to introduce it, as he described his childhood to a group of sportswriters in Kansas City in 1956:

Lots of people think I was born in California because I live in Glendale and when they get you out there they forget where you come from and anything I read it states I was a Californian and when I am in Chicago I am taken for a fellow who was born in Illinois because no doubt I played there but it is never further than Davenport, Iowa, which is not too far off and which I also played in New York I never know where I was born to read it because they get all the stories there and I don’t know if anybody is ever going to build me a monument, but I will bet they have some time to spend deciding where I was born because they put that on those things. What I know is a fact, that I was born right here in Kansas City but I ain’t sure of the street but I think it was Agnes Avenue, because my father sold water from a truck and people said he was pretty smart to sell something that didn’t cost anything but we had to move a lot of times to sell the water and we never had a cellar and we couldn’t store the potatoes which they did when I was around here and that meant we had to do something with the potatoes and I guess I can tell you nobody was as smart with a potato as my brother Grant out there who was a much better ballplayer than I was and very smart.

We’d like to think that Casey (and his audience) took a breath here, but it’s possible he continued right on, as though it was all one endless sentence.

One day we were carrying around the potatoes in our pockets when we have to play a game and Grant is at second base when the pitcher tries to pick off a guy and he missed, but Grant just reaches in his pocket and throws it back to the pitcher and when the runner walks off the base Grant takes the ball out of his glove and tells the guy, “I have something to show you.” I was never that smart but I remember we used to root for Central High and we would beat Manuel High pretty good and then we would go down and have a real fight, but I know I only won one thing at Central High and that was a sweater with a letter on it and you don’t know how I loved that sweater because I was the seventh man on the basketball team when they only needed five. I wore that sweater you know how hot it is today and I wore that sweater, a thick heavy sweater right through the summer so everybody would see the letter from Central High.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Part 1

1 Mail Call 5

2 Kansas City 10

3 Lunatic Beginning 22

4 Aurora, Illinois 27

5 Casey of Ebbets Field 36

6 The Grapefruit from the Sky 43

7 Good Player? Bad Player? 48

8 A Pennant for Uncle Robbie 50

9 The Pirates and the Phillies 55

10 McGraw and the Giants 66

11 World Series Heroics 71

12 Edna Lawson 85

13 Managing in the Minors 92

14 Back to Brooklyn 103

15 Death of Koenecke 107

16 Oil! 116

17 Crossing Kenmore Square 128

18 Milwaukee and K.C. 133

19 Oakland 139

Part 2

20 The Yankees Beckon 147

21 "I Owe It to Myself" 149

22 DiMaggio and Mr. Berra 157

23 Whitey and Billy 171

24 The Mick 179

25 Taking on Jackie Robinson 193

26 Five Straight 203

27 October Off 211

28 Elston Howard 218

29 One Last Subway Series 231

30 Trading Billy Martin 241

31 Dazzling Congress 255

32 Third-Place Yankees? 262

33 A Pebble at Shortstop 267

34 Fired! 274

35 Summer in Glendale 280

Part 3

36 Selling the Amazin' Mets 289

37 Worst Team in History 301

38 Closing the Polo Grounds 307

39 Shea Stadium 313

40 A Slip and a Fall 319

Part 4

41 Cooperstown 329

42 An Active Retirement 336

43 Saying Goodbye 348

44 Legacy 358

Appendix 1 Congressional Record, July 9, 1958 365

Appendix 2 Career Statistics 369

Acknowledgments 371

Bibliography 373

Index 385

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