The Old Perfessor

Ole Case

Ole Case

Baseball is full of men who made a difference. There are heroes. There are villains. There are men who rose to the occasion and men who failed to rise to the occasion. All of them are interesting in some way or other. But to me the most fascinating man to ever appear in a baseball uniform is, with suitable apologies to Leo Durocher, Casey Stengel.

Ask most people what they know about Casey Stengel and you’ll draw a blank. It’s been a while, after all. But to a baseball fan you’ll generally get a nod of recognition. Usually they know about his stint managing the Yankees, sometimes they know he was the first manager of the Mets. At that point most baseball fans come up short.

They don’t know that Stengel was a pretty fair player long before he became a manager. He played from 1912 through 1925 with Brooklyn, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, all in the National League. That’s a little surprising since he rose to his greatest fame in the American League. He played the outfield (mostly in right) and was pretty good at it. He led the NL in a couple of fielding categories a few times. He was also a good hitter with a career triple slash line of .284/.356/.410/.766 (OPS+ of 120). He played more than 135 games once (1917), led the NL in OBP once (1914), and settled in for much of his career as the fourth outfielder. He hit 60 home runs (peaking at 9), 535 RBIs (peak of 73), stole some bases (he had 19 twice), and ended up with a BBREF WAR of 20.1 (hitting 3.0 twice).

He was better in the World Series. He played in three: 1916, 1922, and 1923. His team won the middle one. He hit .393 with and OBP of ..469, a slugging percentage of .607, and an OPS of 1.076. He scored five runs, had two home runs (both in 1923), the more famous of the two an inside the park job. There were four RBIs and he did so well in 1923 that one writer summed up the Series as “Yankees 4, Stengel 2 (He’d had the key hit in both Giants wins).

After retirement he coached and managed. His stints at Brooklyn (1934-36) and Boston (1938-43) were less than stellar (he never finished higher than fifth), but he gained a reputation as a knowledgeable baseball man who, if given a good team, could win. He got the chance in 1949. The New York Yankees finished third in 1948 (two games back and 2.5 because of a playoff game) and dumped manager Bucky Harris who’d won it all in 1947 (don’t ask).
Stengel was manager of the Oakland AAA team which won three consecutive pennants. He was picked to take over from Harris. Of course you know he proceeded to lead the Yanks to five consecutive pennants and five World Series championships. Then, after taking a year off to let Cleveland win a pennant (and hash a World Series), he led the Yanks to four more consecutive pennants and two World Series championships. In 1959 he let Chicago win the AL (and again blow the Series), then had one last pennant winner in 1960. It was an astounding record. In 12 years he’d won seven World Series’, three more pennants, finished second once, and third the other time.

After the 1960 Series the Yankees “retired” him. They said he was too old at 70. He responded that he’d “never make that mistake again.” He took 1961 off, then hooked up with the fledgling Mets in 1962. They were an expansion team and absolutely awful. He stayed with them into 1965, never finishing anywhere but last. After retirement he made the Hall of Fame in 1966 and died in 1975 as one of the most acclaimed men in baseball history.

Stengel was very quotable. There are a couple dozen quotes from him that have become famous, at least to baseball fans. He was also known for his mangled use of the English language. Sometimes it was known simply as “Stengelese” and a number of writers and players had trouble figuring out what he’d said.

Lesser known is the fact that he played in the Cuban-American Major League Series in 1913. This was a series of games between an American Major League team and some Cuban League teams. It’s important because the Cuban League was integrated. While managing the Yankees, Stengel presided over the integration of the team. He’d already been familiar with Negro League baseball when he was in Kansas City (where he grew up and the origin of the “Casey” nickname) and had recommended Bullet Joe Rogan (a Hall of Fame pitcher) to J.L. Wilkinson, head of the Kansas City Monarchs. All this made the transition to integrated baseball easier for New York than it did for some other teams (although Stengel apparently didn’t particularly like Elston Howard, the man who integrated the Yanks).

All in all I find Stengel absolutely fascinating. He’s a very good player, a less than successful manager, and then the consummate team leader whose record is stunning. That’s quite a combination.

A handful of my favorite Stengel quotes.

“Being with a woman all night never hurt no professional baseball player. It’s staying up all night looking for a woman that does him in.”

“When you are younger you get blamed for crimes you never committed and when you’re older you begin to get credit for virtues you never possessed. It evens itself out.”

” Never make predictions, especially about the future.”

“You have to have a catcher because if you don’t you’re likely to have a lot of passed balls.”

“You have to go broke three times to learn how to make a living.”

And my favorite: “Without losers, where would winners be?”

God love that man.

 

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5 Responses to “The Old Perfessor”

  1. William Miller Says:

    Excellent post. You taught me far more about Stengel (I have to sadly admit), than I ever knew before. They don’t make them like him anymore.
    -Bill

  2. Bruce Thiesen Says:

    These was fun to read. I started learning about baseball a few years after he left the Mets and there were still a lot of baseball stories and references to him in the sports sections and magazines.

  3. The Baseball Bloggess Says:

    I always love your posts — because there’s always something new to savor from the old days.

    Also, because you’re like my own “Perfessor” … your posts pique my interest and spur me to go find out just one more thing.

    So, here’s one more piece of Stengel trivia that I stumbled on … with your encouragement.

    Before making a go of it in baseball, Casey Stengel enrolled in dental college. Imagine that, but for baseball, Dr. Stengel, D.D.S.

  4. wkkortas Says:

    Actually, I think the Yankees were right to retire Stengel; while the ’60 Series was no upset–the Pirates were the better team–some his moves during the Series bordered on the bizarre. There are times I suspect Ol’ Casey might have had a couple large on the Bucs.

  5. steve Says:

    Can any other player or manager claim to have a dialect named after him? Maybe Yogy-ism, but that’s for singular expressions. Stengel talk was double talk; turning logic on its head; like those birds the other day migrating down the sideline. You’d think they were offering pepsi at the altar until those bobby pin girls lifted up their skirts. Darn near tooting turned a double play not to mention a lipstick parade.

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