‘Casey Stengel: Baseball’s Greatest Character’ is latest must-read from author Marty Appel

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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.

6. “The secret of managing is to keep the five guys who hate you caseyaway from the guys who are undecided.” – Casey 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.”

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Dodgers-Cubs Was Nearly Perfect Back in 1965

Sandy Koufax pitched four no-hitters, including a perfect game in 1965. But his mound opponent that night, little-known Bob Hendley, was almost perfect too.

On a cool September night in Los Angeles almost 45 years ago, the Dodgers and the Cubs played a nearly perfect game, closer to perfect than any other game in major league history.

Sandy Koufax got the headlines that September 9 as he fashioned a perfect game, striking out 14 Cubs in the fourth and final no-hitter of his legendary Dodgers’ career.

But Koufax’s opponent, Bob Hendley, a journeyman left-hander, picked that night to pitch the game of his life, nearly matching the great Koufax. The 26-year-old Hendley allowed just one hit and a single walk, yet lost 1-0.

The game, played in 103 minutes, set several records, among them the fewest hits for both teams (1) and fewest total baserunners (2); the next lowest total is four.  Both pitchers had no-hitters intact until the seventh inning. The only run the Dodgers scored was unearned.

The Dodgers managed to score that run in the fifth inning when outfielder Lou Johnson walked, was sacrificed to second, stole third and continued home on a throwing error by Cubs catcher Chris Krug. Johnson had the only hit of the game, a bloop double over the head of Cubs first baseman Ernie Banks with two out in the seventh.

Koufax Breaks Feller’s Record
Koufax was magnificent that night, becoming just the sixth pitcher in the modern era to throw a perfect game. It was Koufax’s fourth no-hitter, breaking Bob Feller’s record of three (later broken by Nolan Ryan, in 1981, who finished with seven). Koufax’s 14 K’s are the most ever in a perfect game.

Koufax struck out the final six batters he faced to finish off the perfect game with panache. He fanned pinch hitter Harvey Kuenn on a 2-2 pitch for the final out of the game. The ninth inning call of that game by Dodger announcer Vin Scully is considered to be one a classic example of play-by-play broadcasting. Click here to listen for yourself.

Kuenn, a former American League batting champion who hit .303 lifetime with more than 2,000 hits, also made the last out of Koufax’ second career no-hitter, against Juan Marichal, Willie Mays and the San Francisco Giants on May 11, 1963. Kuenn bounced out Koufax to first for the final out of that game.

Hendley’s career was not exactly Koufaxian. Over seven years with the Braves, Giants, Cubs and Mets, Hendley never won more than 11 games in a season, finishing with a 48 wins in 100 career decisions. Earlier in the 1965 season, he was traded from the Giants to the Cubs with Ed Bailey and Harvey Kuenn for Dick Bertell and Len Gabrielson.  Hendley wound up 4-4 that year with a 5.96 ERA.

Five days after the perfect game, a Koufax-Hendley rematch took place at Wrigley Field. This time, Hendley defeated Koufax, 2-1 with a complete game four-hitter. Koufax allowed five hits in six innings, including a two-run homer to Billy Williams in the sixth.

To date, Koufax’s perfect game is the last no-hitter to be pitched against the Cubs. They have gone the longest of all MLB teams since a no-hitter was last pitched against them


Retirement Calls The Moose

What do Henry Schmidt, Sandy Koufax and Mike Mussina have in common?

This unlikely triumvirate comprises the only three pitchers in baseball history to retire following 20-win seasons. Discount  Black Sox Lefty Williams and Eddie Cicotte, who were kicked out of baseball in 1920 following 20 wins.

Schmidt pitched for the Brooklyn Superbas (later the Dodgers), and was 22-13 in 1903, his only season in the major leagues. Brooklyn wanted him back for 1904, but Schmidt declined, sending back his unsigned contract with a note that said, “I do not like living in the East and will not report.”

Schmidt pitched for several years in the Pacific Coast League, then returned to his native Texas to make a living selling fabrics and picking up the nickname “Flannel.”

Every baseball fans knows the Koufax story, a bonus baby who came up with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955, and three Cy Young Awards and an MVP later retired with an arthritic left elbow following a 27-9 season in 1966. Koufax’s last pitch came at age 30 in the 1966 World Series, as Los Angeles was swept by the Baltimore Orioles.

At Koufax’s retirement press conference, a reporter simply asked, “Why, Sandy?” He answered:

“I don’t know if cortisone is good for you or not,” said Koufax, shown right.  “But to take a shot every other ballgame is more than I wanted to do and to walk around with a constant upset stomach because of the pills and to be high half the time during a ballgame because you’re taking painkillers, I don’t want to have to do that.”

Moose Makes His Mark

And then there’s Mussina. Just two losing seasons in 18 years, a 270-153 lifetime record, a .638 winning percentage, more than 100 wins with both the Yankees and Orioles. And finally a 20-game winner for the first time in 2008 on the last day of his career.

“I think it’d be pretty cool [to retire after 20 wins],” Mussina said back in September. “I don’t know what everyone else thinks, but I think it’d be pretty cool.”

So the Moose rides off into the sunset, a borderline Hall of Famer. Mussina never won a World Series, never won a Cy Young Award, never pitched a no-hitter (although he came within one strike of a perfect game against the Red Sox in 2001.) Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.

Moose finished more than 100 games over .500 in his career, and every pitcher who has ever done that is in the Hall of Fame.

And he went out on a high note, unlike so many others who were forced into retirement. Ironically, that may help his Hall of Fame quest in the long run. Only time will tell.

See The Moose, The Hall And The 100 Plus Club


Guidry Vs. Koufax: A Hall of A Compare

It’s not Cooperstown, but that’s where Ron Guidry belongs.

They were both left-handed pitchers who began their careers in New York. Each spent his whole career with one team.

One pitched 12 full seasons, the other pitched 12 full seasons and parts of two others. One was 170-91, the other 165-87, their won-lost records nearly identical.

Each was a three-time 20-game winner; each struck out 18 batters in a single game.

One won four World Series games, the other three.

Each earned Cy Young Award honors and was named Major League Player of the Year by the Sporting News

One is firmly ensconced in the Hall of Fame, considered by some to be the greatest pitcher ever. The other is hardly ever mentioned in Hall of Fame discussions.

Who are these men?

One is Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, the Brooklyn and later Los Angeles Dodger who finished 165-87 lifetime and 4-3 in the World Series.

The other is Ron Guidry, Louisiana Lightning of the New York Yankees, 170-91 lifetime and 3-1 in World Series play.

Koufax had a lower lifetime ERA, 2.76 to Guidry’s 3.29, though that disparity is lessened when you consider Koufax never faced a designated hitter. The league ERA was 3.62 in the era in which Koufax pitched, and 3.92 in Guidry’s era.

Koufax struck out 300 batters in a single season three times, and 2396 batters lifetime. His best season may have been his last, when he finished 27-9 with a 1.73 ERA and struck out 317.

Guidry 25-3 in 1978

Guidry’s single-season strikeout high was 248 in 1978, when he finished with a 25-3 record nine shutouts, and a 1.74 ERA, His .893 winning percentage that year remains the highest for a 20-game winner in baseball history. He wound up with 1778 career strikeouts.

Koufax was National League MVP in 1963, and won the Cy Young Award in ’63,’ 65 and ’66. He pitched four no-hitters, including a perfect game against the Cubs in 1965.

Guidry took the Cy Young in 1978, the year he finished second in MVP balloting to Jim Rice and was named Major League Player of the Year. Koufax won that honor in 1963 and’ 65.

Despite their greatness, both pitchers had fairly brief careers, supernovas that quickly blazed across the sky. Koufax arrived in Brooklyn with the Dodgers in 1955 at the age of 19, and retired following the 1966 season at age 30, the victim of an arthritic elbow.

Guidry, then 25, made his first major league appearance against the Red Sox in 1975, and came up to stay two years later. He retired following the 1988 season.

This is not meant to put Guidry, right, on par with Koufax, who for four seasons between 1963 and 1966 may have been the most dominant pitcher in baseball history.

But Guidry had his moments too, and was arguably the best starting pitcher in baseball between 1977, when he went 16-7 and helped lead the Yankees to a World Series win, and 1985, when he finished 22-6, his third and final 20-win season

Perhaps Louisiana Lightning deserves some consideration from the Hall of Fame.