Marty Appel has hit another home run with his latest undertaking “Casey Stengel: Baseball’s Greatest Character.” Appel, whose credits include “Munson” and “Pinstripe Empire,” the definitive history of the New York Yankees, digs deep into Casey Stengel’s life and uncovers multiple aspects of a life in baseball that spanned more than 50 years.
In 2009, MLB Network ran a series that highlighted many areas of the game. Stengel finished first in a category called “Characters of the Game.” He beat out luminaries such as Yogi Berra, Babe Ruth, Dizzy Dean, Leo Durocher and Satchel Paige.
Upon Casey’s death in 1975, Richie Ashburn, who played for Stengel with the original Mets, said: “He was the happiest man I’ve ever seen.”
Casey loved the writers who covered his teams – ‘my writers’ he would call them. He was a showboat and a rabble-rouser who wasn’t afraid to mix it up in a fight. He was a .284 hitter as a player, and managed the Dodgers, Braves, Yankees and Mets, achieving his greatest fame with the Yankees who won five straight World Championships between 1949 and 1953.
Here are 10 amazing factoids and associated Stengelese witticisms found in Casey’s bio:
1. Casey hit the first home run in Ebbets Field when the Brooklyn Superbas (soon to be called Dodgers) christened their new park with an exhibition game against the Yankees before the 1913 Series. Generous scoring ruled Stengel’s inside-the-park blast a home run.
2. A decade later, in 1923 Stengel hit the first World Series home run in the history of Yankee Stadium. This was also an inside-the-parker, and gave the New York Giants a 5-4 win over the Yankees. Stengel also homered in Game 3, and this blast into the right field seats gave the Giants a 1-0 win.
3. In 1933, Casey served as a pall bearer at the funeral of legendary Giants manager John McGraw. Other pall bearers that day included George M. Cohan, DeWolf Hopper (who wrote ‘Casey at the Bat’’), Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert, Dodgers manager Wilbert Robinson, Will Rogers, and football Giants owner Tim Mara.
4. One year, Stengel managed the Boston Braves to a sixth place finish, coming on the heels of four seventh place finishes. Early in the 1943 season Casey was hit by a taxi cab in Kenmore Square and broke his left leg. Acerbic Boston Record columnist Dave ‘The Colonel’ Egan wrote that “the taxi driver who knocked Stengel down and put him out of commission until July” should be voted the man who did the most for Boston baseball in 1943.
5. Before the first game of the 1952 World Series, Stengel, then manager of the Yankees, took Mickey Mantle out to right field in Ebbets Field to give him a tutorial on the angles of the concrete wall. Mantle looked at Casey as though he was screwy. “Guess he thinks I was born at age 50 and started managing immediately,” said Stengel.
7. After guiding the Yankees to 10 American League pennants in 12 years, Stengel was let go by the team after losing to the Pirates in a thrilling seven-game World Series in 1960. “I’ll never make the mistake of being 70 again,” Casey said.
8. In 1962, Casey took over the reigns of the expansionist New York Mets. The Mets were lovable losers (they lost 120 games in the inaugural season), but Stengel quickly made them popular. Take for instance Marvin Eugene Throneberry (whose initials were MET). In the first inning of a June game against the Cubs, Marvelous Marv steamed into third base with a triple. However he was called out when the umpire ruled he missed second base. When Casey came out to argue, the ump, Dusty Boggess, said, “Don’t bother Casey, he missed first base too.”
9. Casey invented his own form of speaking, called Stengelese. One of his favorite sayings was “Most people my age are dead at the present time.”
10. Just days before he passed away in the hospital at the age of 85, Casey decided to rise from his hand, stand barefoot in his hospital gown, and put his hand over his heart as the national anthem was played. Near his gravesite is a plaque that reads: “There comes a time in every man’s life and I’ve had plenty of them.”
If Kentucky wins the NCAAs, you can count on a Yankee parade down Broadway this fall.
The last six times Kentucky has won the NCAA men’s basketball title, the Yankees have gone on to win the World Series.
The Wildcats have won seven titles overall, second only to UCLA’s 11 and by far the most of any team in this year’s Final Four. Kansas has taken three, Louisville two and Ohio State one.
Kentucky won its first championship in 1948, the year the Cleveland Indians beat the Boston Braves to win their last World Series.
Kentucky repeated in 1949, beating Oklahoma State in the final, under the tutelage of immortal coach Adolph Rupp, the “Baron of the Bluegrass.”
Rupp, fourth all-time with 876 victories, would go on to win in 1951 (against Kansas State) and 1958 (against Seattle) for a total of four championships.
Meanwhile the Yankees were winning five World Series in a row between 1949 and 1953 under another legendary leader, Casey Stengel. In 1958, the Yankees rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Milwaukee Braves.
It took Kentucky 20 years to return to the mountaintop, when coach Joe B. Hall’s Wildcats defeated Duke for the 1978 national championship. That fall, the Yankees rallied to knock off the Red Sox on Bucky Dent’s home run, then repeated against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Rick Pitino, now the head coach at Louisville (which meets Kentucky in a Final Four intra-state rivalry on Saturday), coached the Wildcats to the NCAA title in 1996. Two years later, coach Tubby Smith guided Kentucky to its last championship, against Utah.
Meanwhile, Joe Torre piloted the Yankees to World Series wins in 1996 (vs. the Braves) and 1998 (vs. the Padres).
Of the other Final Four finalists, Kansas won its first championship in 1952, followed by a Yankee win over the Dodgers. Ohio State’s only title occurred in 1960, the year the Yankees lost the Series to Bill Mazeroski and the Pirates. And although the Yankees didn’t win the World Series following Louisville’s 1986 title run, the Mets did.
Kentucky is heavily favored to cut down the nets Monday night. And if they do, the Yankees can start planning a parade down Broadway
In my latest copy of the world’s largest circulation manage, aka AARP Magazine, they had a Power of 50 page devoted to baseball’s 50 funniest notable quotables.
Well, here’s my favorite 10 — along with another Yogi-ism for the wrap.
Enjoy. And send me your favorites.
“Trying to sneak a pitch past Hank Aaron is like trying to sneak the sunrise past a rooster.”
— Joe Adcock
“If a horse won’t eat it, I don’t want to play on it.”
— Dick Allen on artificial turf
“It ain’t nothing’ till I call it.”
— Bill Klem, umpire
“Sure I played, did you think I was born at age 70 sitting in a dugout trying to manage guys like you?”
Casey Stengel to Mickey Mantle
“All I remember about my wedding day in 1967 is that the Cubs lost a doubleheader.”
— George Will
“Ninety percent of this game is half mental.”
— Yogi Berra
“There’s no crying in baseball.”
— Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own
“I’d be willing to bet you, if I was a betting man, that I have never bet on baseball.”
— Pete Rose
“The way to catch a knuckleball is to wait until the ball stops rolling and then to pick it up.”
— Bob Uecker
“I never took the game home with me. I always left it in some bar.”
— Bob Lemon
“It ain’t over till it’s over.”
— Yogi Berra
“Willie Mays and his glove. Where triples go to die.”
That has always been one of my favorite baseball quotations. The quote and slight variations have been attributed to a variety of characters, everyone from former Los Angeles Dodgers executive Fresco Thompson to long-time Dodger announcer Vince Scully to the late Los Angeles sports columnist Jim Murray.
Who knows who said it first. Who cares. The image of Willie Mays racing across the green grass of the outfield to snare a long drive off the bat of Vic Wertz or Gil Hodges or Hank Aaron remains timeless.
That’s one of my favorite all-time baseball notable quotable. Here are 10 others, minus Yogi Berra, who gets a list all by himself.
“You gotta be a man to play baseball for a living, but you gotta have a lot of little boy in you, too.”
— Roy Campanella
“Billy Martin is a mouse studying to be a rat.”
— Writer John Schulian
“Good pitching will always stop good hitting and vice-versa.”
— Casey Stengel
“I believe in the Church of Baseball. I tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I learned that, I gave Jesus a chance.”
— Susan Sarandon as Annie Savoy, written by Ron Shelton, Bull Durham
“The best way to catch a knuckleball is to wait until the ball stops rolling and then pick it up.”
— Bob Uecker
“Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing.”
— Warren Spahn
“During my 18 years I came to bat almost 10,000 times. I struck out about 1,700 times and walked maybe 1,800 times. You figure a ballplayer will average about 500 at bats a season. That means I played seven years without ever hitting the ball.”
— Mickey Mantle
“It ain’t nothin’ till I call it. ”
— Umpire Bill Klem
“I’d rather be lucky than good.”
— Lefty Gomez
“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do, I stare out the window and wait for spring.”
— Rogers Hornsby
Marv Throneberry was a legendary member of the 1962 New York Mets, the worst team in baseball history.
In one unforgettable game against the Cubs that year, Marvelous Marv, trying to atone for an error the previous inning, came up with a couple of Mets on base and boomed a long triple up the right centerfield alley at the old Polo Grounds.
Marv neglected one minor detail — he failed to touch second base — and was called out. As manager Casey Stengel came out to argue, first base coach Cookie Lavagetto grabbed the Ol’ Professor and said, “Don’t bother arguing Casey, he missed first base too. ” The Mets lost, 8-7.
Another time the Mets decided to throw Casey a birthday party and give him a cake. Throneberry asked why he hadn’t been given a cake on his birthday. Stengel leaned over and told Marv, “We was gonna give you a piece but we was afraid you’d drop it!”
In 1962, Throneberry batted .244 but his 16 home runs established him as a fan favorite. The following year he had 14 at-bats before being sent down to Buffalo to make way for another Met legend, Ed Kranepool. Marv never made it back to the majors.
Marvelous Marv later became one of the original spokespeople for Miller Lite beer and the “tastes great, less filling” campaign of the early 1980s. Throneberry’s most famous line: “If I do for Lite what I did for baseball, I’m afraid their sales will go down.”
Columnist Jimmy Breslin once quipped, “Having Marv Throneberry play for your team is like having Willie Sutton work for your bank.”
The 1962 New York Mets
Really now, just how bad were the 1962 New York Mets? Pretty darn bad.
The Mets, an expansion team in the National League along with the Houston Colt 45s, had a rather inauspicious debut. After half the team got stuck in an elevator at the Chase Hotel in St. Louis, the Mets lost their inaugural game to the Cardinals 11-4. They proceeded to lose their first nine before beating the Pirates. The Mets later had losing streaks of 11, 13 and 17 games….and they were 40-70 in their other games en route to a 40-120 record, setting the record for most losses by a single team in a single season in the 20th Century. Only the Cleveland Spiders, who went 20-134 in 1899, ever lost more games in a season.
The Mets were managed by the lovable Casey Stengel, who led to Yankees to 10 pennants and seven World Series in 12 years before being fired after the 1960 World Series. “I just know I’ll never make the mistake of being 70 again,” he is reputed to have said after the Yanks dismissed him.
Two years later, he was asked to take over the Mets, The Amazins’ first draft pick in expansion draft was Hobie Landrith, and as Stengel said “You have to have a catcher or you’ll have a lot of passed balls.”
Early on, it was apparent the Mets were going to have trouble competing in the National League. “Been in this game one-hundred years, but I see new ways to lose ’em I never knew existed before,” said Casey after one particularly disheartening loss.” “Can’t anybody here play this game?” he asked after another setback, a phrase that Jimmy Breslin later used as the title for perhaps the best book about the 1962 Mets.
Early in the season, when a reporter asked Stengel where he thought the Mets would finish, he said “We’ll finish in Chicago.”
Mercifully, the Mets were eliminated from the pennant race in early August. Casey called a team meeting. “You guys can relax now,” he told his ballclub, “We’re mathematically eliminated from the pennant. You can loosen up now.”
The relaxed Mets won a total of 11 games in the last two months, and finished in 10th place, a mere 60 1/2 games behind the pennant-winning San Francisco Giants.
(I’ll blog more about the Amazin’ Mets….lots of great stories there.)