The Ol’ Professor Was Baseball’s Greatest Character

Marty Appel’s new book “Casey Stengel: Baseball’s Greatest Character” (Doubleday) takes a look at the Hall of Fame manager who skippered the Yankees and Mets. (The book is currently $10 off on Amazon.)

Appel’s editor recommended writing a book on Stengel despite the fact that a Stengel biography from the 1980s by Bob Creamer is still highly regarded. “My first reaction was what am I going to do to better Bob Creamer?”

But Appel was able to look at records Creamer didn’t have access to over 30 years ago, including articles digital archives about Stengel’s minor league towns. With the help of Stengel’s family, Appel was able to look at an unpublished book written by Casey’s wife, Edna, in 1958. “It was a side of Casey he never addressed or talked about,” Appel said.

Appel covers the entire life of Stengel and not just his time in the Bronx. “It’s not a Yankee book but they were his ticket to the Hall of Fame,” Appel said. “But the Mets time is fresher in people’s minds.”

Appel also recorded the audio book which was a first time experience.

“The toughest part was reading Stengelese,” Appel said. “It was very hard to read the Senate testimony.”
Stengel played 14 seasons in the majors, starting in Brooklyn. As a Giant, he hit the first World Series home run in Yankee Stadium history. Stengel became an unsuccessful manager with the Dodgers and Braves in the late 30s and early 40s and because of his humor and notable way with words, known as Stengelese, had a reputation as a clown.

Manager Bucky Harris led the Yankees to the 1947 World Series title and won 94 games in 1948 but didn’t have a good relationship with team ownership. Actually, that might be an understatement. Harris wouldn’t even give Del Webb his home phone number. A change was made and Stengel was hired despite his second division finishes and having no AL experience other than managing a Yankees farm team for one season.

The 1949 Yankees were able to overcome a slew of injuries, including Joe DiMaggio’s absence of over two months, to win the pennant and then beat the Dodgers to win the World Series. “That was the toughest to win with all the injuries,” Appel said. “He almost needed to win right away to dispel the clown notion.”

Stengel’s Yankees kept on winning. They won five straight World Series from 1949-53. In 12 years as manager, Stengel led the Bronx Bombers to ten pennants and seven World championships with players like Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford. But it was his usage of Ford that the end of his tenure is remembered for.

The Yankees won the pennant and were ready to face the Pirates in the 1960 World Series. Stengel decided not to use the veteran postseason hero in Games 1,4 and 7 but instead only twice. Ford pitched complete game shutouts in games 3 and 6 but when Pittsburgh won the final game 10-9 on Bill Mazeroski’s home run, the Yankees were runners-up. Then the Yankees made a managerial change, because of an age policy and the 70-year-old Stengel was shown the door. But was his rotation in the final series the real reason?

“The real question is what if he lucked out and won,” Appel said. “Those are unanswerable questions but it haunted him for the rest of his life.”

Stengel stayed in the area as he was hired to be the first manager in Mets history. The team put together some past-their-prime New York baseball favorites on the roster and had Stengel as the frontman for the lovable losers that went 40-120 in 1962. Stengel’s circus act was in full force as National League baseball was back in New York. “It was at the top of the surface to distract from a bad team but under the surface when his team was winning,” Appel said.

Almost all of the writers covering the Mets enjoyed Stengel’s antics. Howard Cosell, then working Mets games on radio, was not amused.

“Cosell was the only guy who didn’t get Casey,” Appel said. “He was very critical and would ask when the Mets were going to realize the folly and hire a real manager.”

Stengel retired after falling and injuring his hip during the 1965 season. The Mets retired his number 37 and Stengel was inducted into Cooperstown in 1966. The Hall of Famer died in 1975, at the age of 85.

“My favorite part was the 10 years after his retirement when he lived in Glendale,” Appel said. “He lived a great life as Casey Stengel. People are really going to get to know the guy in his 10 years after baseball.”

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