THE CASEY STENGEL COLLECTION
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 Perfesser” or “Casey”, the Hall of Fame manager will be forever remembered as a unique presence in baseball.
Many people believe that Casey Stengel suddenly emerged on the scene from nowhere on October 12, 1948, when the New York Yankees, for twenty-five years the gold standard of baseball excellence, announced that the well traveled Stengel would succeed the popular Bucky Harris as the Bomber’s manager. At that time fans thought of Casey as “colorful” at best, “clownish” at worst (the Babe himself, who had succumbed to cancer a few months before, 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 that Casey had deep roots in the game and that they were getting a cunning and superior tactician.
Forty years before, Stengel began his baseball playing career in the minors, at precisely the same time and in the same league that Shoeless Joe Jackson did, when hard nosed heroes like Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner ruled in the dead ball era. In 14 seasons “Casey” (a moniker hoisted upon him by old timers because he was from Kansas City, Missouri) played for a number of teams, including the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Pittsburg Pirates, the Philadelphia Phillies, John McGraw’s powerful NY Giants and finally the Boston Braves.
An accomplished batsman with a respectable .284 lifetime batting average, Stengel distinguished himself when it counted, hitting a torrid .393 in 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. Stengel hit two game winning home runs, the very first World Series homers hit at Yankee Stadium and one was even an inside the parker! In the end the rival Yanks prevailed, besting the Giants in six games, despite the 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 in the minor leagues before hitting the majors, then back down to the minors. After twenty years managing, lightning finally struck for Casey as he led Milwaukee to an American Association pennant. Then, in 1948 Stengel’s Oakland Oaks won a phenomenal 114 victories and the pennant in the Pacific Coast League. Sport Magazine hailed Stengel as the Minor League Manager of the Year.
After unsuccessful managerial stints with the Dodgers and the Braves, in joining New York Stengel knew that this Yankee team would be different when he said “There is less wrong with this team than any team that I have managed.”
Stengel answered his critics immediately by leading a severely injury-riddled 1949 Yankee team to an unexpected pennant and World Championship. Buoyed by lineups including Berra, DiMaggio, Mantle and underrated pitching, the Yankees reeled in four more consecutive World Series triumphs in 1950, 1951, 1952 and 1953. As the only manager to ever win five consecutive crowns, Stengel achieved this remarkable feat in his first five seasons at the helm of the Yankees. In just 12 seasons, Stengel would win 10 pennants and 7 championships establishing the most powerful dynasty in baseball history. 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 on his future Hall of Fame catcher, Yogi Berra, of whom Stengel famously said, “He’d fall in a sewer and come up with a gold watch.”
Despite his homespun sayings, Stengel was no fool in running his team. “Casey (Stengel) knew his baseball,” Sparky Anderson once said of him. “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 after the 1960 season, he agreed to join the New York expansion team, the Mets, from its inaugural season in 1962 to his final retirement in 1965. As a first hand witness to the Meets 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.”
When Stengel retired from organized baseball for good in 1965, his uniform number “37” was retired by the Yankees. A year later, Stengel was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a manager.
There has been no other character in the game like Casey Stengel. Although he hailed from Kansas City, it’s obvious that Casey learned the art of surviving and thriving in New York and in baseball, when he said, “Ability is the art of getting credit for all the home runs somebody else hits.”