‘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.”


If Old Ballparks Could Talk….

Way back a hundred or so years ago, between 1909 and 1915, no less than 13 new, state-of the-art baseball fields were opened. These classic fields had one defining characteristic — they were fireproof. Built of brick, concrete and steel, unlike their wooden predecessors, these ball fields were made to last

And last they did — in fact 10 of them lasted 50 years or more. And two —  Fenway Park and Wrigley Field — stand to this day.

All 16 major league teams at the time called these parks home at one point or another.  Shibe Park in Philadelphia, Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis and the Polo Grounds in New York housed both National League and American League clubs at the same time.

If these ballparks could talk, they’d have some amazing stories to tell. And some strange and unusual tales as well. To wit:

Shibe Park, Philadelphia, 1909 — On Opening Day in the new Philly digs, A’s veteran catcher Michael “Doc” Powers, who was also a medical doctor, crashed into the wall behind the plate while trying to catch a foul pop. Powers suffers a severe intestinal injury and left the game in the seventh inning. Despite three operations, Powers passed away two weeks later.

Sportsman’s Park, St. Louis, 1909 — St. Louis Browns owner Bill Veeck pulled off his most famous stunt in 1951. After jumping out of a cake between games of a doubleheader, 3-foot, 7-inch midget Eddie Gaedel, shown left, wearing number 1/8, stepped up to the plate and walked on four pitches from Detroit’s Bob Cain. Gaedel was pinch-run for, and never appeared in another major league game.

Forbes Field, Pittsburgh, 1909 — Late in the 1920 season, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds staged the last tripleheader ever played in the majors. After dropping the first two games by scores of 13-4 and 7-3, the Pirates salvaged game three 6-0. But by then the Reds had already secured third-place money.

League Park, Cleveland, 1910 — The Indians, on the way to their first championship, routed the Brooklyn Dodgers 8-1 in Game 5 of the 1920 World Series.. But the game will be remembered for three World Series firsts by Indians players — Elmer Smith’s grand slam, pitcher Jim Bagby’s home run, and shortstop Bill Wambsganss unassisted triple play.

Comiskey Park, Chicago, 1910 — Bill Veeck’s son Mike was the mastermind of Disco Demolition Night in 1979 — a promotion that backfired. Fans were encouraged to bring disco records to be burned on the field between games of a doubleheader with the Tigers. Mayhem ensued, thousands of fans poured onto the field and refused to budge, and the umpires forfeited the second game to Detroit.

Griffith Stadium, Washington, 1911 — The new Senators ballpark, right, built in just a month following a fire that destroyed the wooden grandstands, featured some odd dimensions, such as 407 feet down the left-field line. But the strangest quirk was the indent in center, with a portion of the wall jutting inward to accommodate a tree and several houses whose owners were unwilling to sell.

Polo Grounds, New York, 1911 — In a park made famous by Bobby Thomson’s home run and Willie Mays’ catch, the strangest event at the Polo Grounds was the death of Indians shortstop Ray Chapman in 1920 .Chapman was beaned by Yankees submariner Carl Mays and died the next day, the last death on a major league ballfield.

Crosley Field, Cincinnati, 1912 — President Franklin D. Roosevelt flipped a light switch at the White House and the Reds beat the Phillies 2-1 in the first night game in major league history in 1935. Crosley Field also was the first park to place distances on the outfield fences “so the spectators may readily ascertain far drives carry” according to the Sporting News.

Fenway Park, Boston, 1912 — The Red Sox abandoned Fenway Park, left, during the 1915 and 1916 World Series to play their home games at Braves Field. In 1929 they announced they were considering vacating Fenway. Between 1929 and 1932 the Sox played their Sunday games at Braves Field due to Fenway’s proximity to a church.

Tiger Stadium, Detroit, 1912 — Tiger Stadium opened on April 20, 1912, the same day as Fenway Park and less than a week after the Titanic hit an iceberg and went down in the North Atlantic. The new ballpark was known as Navin Field at the start, and was built on the same site where the Western League Tigers played in 1886.

Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, 1913 — In one of Brooklyn’s daffiest moments, the Dodgers wound up with three men on third base — Dazzy Vance, Chick Fewster and Babe Herman. Herman, who will long be remembered for doubling into a double play, was called out for passing a runner, and Fewster wandered off the bag and is tagged out. For years Brooklyn fans would respond “Which base?” when told the Dodgers had three men on base.

Wrigley Field, Chicago, 1914 — Surprisingly, the Cubs were not the first team to call  Wrigley Field home. The Chicago Whales played at the new Weeghman Park in 1914 and 1915 before the ill-fated Federal League disbanded. The Cubs moved in for the 1916 season, and the park was renamed Cubs Park; 10 years later it became Wrigley Field, right.

Braves Field, Boston, 1915 — Built on what was once a golf course, Braves Field was a long par 5 — 400 feet to left and 440 to center, with a gaping 500-foot chasm in right center. Needless to say, it was not exactly a homer haven. Only eight home runs were hit in the first year of the park, and none of them went over the fence.

There Used to Be A Ballpark


Remembering The Boys of Summer

I see the boys of summer in their ruin
Lay the gold tithings barren,
Setting no store by harvest, freeze the soils.

Dylan Thomas, I See The Boys Of Summer

During the 10-year period from 1947 to 1956, the Brooklyn Dodgers won six National League; two other times they were denied on the final day of the season. They won Brooklyn’s lone World Series against the Yankees in 1955, after seven previous failures in the Fall Classic.

They were a legendary team, those Dodgers, with players like Jackie Robinson, the captain Pee Reese, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider and many others. The first MLB team to integrate, it’s no coincidence they began their run when Robinson joined the team in 1947.

They played in one of the great old ballparks, Ebbets Field, located in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn on the block bound by Bedford Avenue, Sullivan Place, McKeever Place, and Montgomery Street.

And then, suddenly, in the middle of the winter of 1958, the Dodgers fled Brooklyn for Los Angeles.

They were The Boys of Summer as chronicled by Roger Kahn in his book about 13 of those Dodgers and how their lives evolved and changed once they left the game. Kahn covered the Dodgers for the New York Herald Tribune as a young sportswriter in the early 1950s, and caught up with many of those Dodgers two decades later.

As Gay Talese, the American author, wrote: “Kathn’s book is marvelous….a splendid historical work. It is about youthful dreams in small American towns and big cities decades ago, and how some of these dreams were fulfilled, and about what happened to those dreamers after reality and old age arrived. It is also a book about ourselves, those of us who shared and identified with the dreams and glories of our heroes.”

For many of those Dodgers, life after Brooklyn was difficult.

Tough Times

Campanella was injured in a car accident on an icy road on Long Island shortly before the Dodgers moved West. He was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, never to play baseball again.

Brooklyn pitcher Carl Erskine fathered a son with Down syndrome. Carl Furillo worked construction at the World Trade Center when the Twin Towers were built.

Hodges and Robinson would both die young; Robinson also lost a son to drug addiction and a fatal car crash.

The Dodgers were such a part of Brooklyn that even now, more than 50 years later, some fans haven’t fully recovered from the team’s move to Los Angeles. When owner Walter O’Malley was inducted posthumously into the Hall of Fame in 2008, there were a smattering of boos from the crowd in Cooperstown.

Five of the “Boys of Summer” actually played for the Dodgers in Los Angeles. PeeWee Reese retired after the 1958 season, but Snider, Hodges, Carl Furillo and Clem Labine were members of the 1959 team that beat the White Sox in the World Series.

Furillo retired shortly after the 1960 season began, and Labine was traded to the Tigers that same year for Ray Semproch and cash. Hodges went back to New York to join the Mets in the 1962 expansion draft; seven years later he would manage the “Miracle Mets” to a World Championship.  Snider, the Duke of Flatbush, was purchased by the Mets a year later.

And so goes the story of The Boys of Summer.

Nobody on the road
Nobody on the beach
I feel it in the air
The summer’s out of reach….
……And I can tell you my love for you will still be strong
After the boys of summer have gone

Don Henley, Eagles, The Boys of Summer


A Moment for The Ages

I always wondered what it was like in America back during that spring of 1947 when Jackie Robinson broke the “color barrier” with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Now I think I know, after seeing Barack Obama win perhaps the most historic Presidential election in the history of this country.

Robinson and the President-elect have a lot in common. They were men who had dreams, men who fulfilled those dreams, men who weren’t afraid to dare. Men who achieved what few thought possible.

Both Robinson and Obama broke barriers, not because they were black, but because one was a great ballplayer and the other a brilliant politician.

As we as a nation witnessed history the other night, I could only  imagine the pride and joy that so many felt and the tears that so many shed were the same emotions fans at Ebbets Field and people across the country felt in the spring of 1947.

In Idols of the Game, Robert Lipsyte and Pete Levine described Jackie Robinson’s first major league game, April 15, 1947, Opening Day in Brooklyn against the Braves.

Time for A Change
“It was the most eagerly anticipated debut in the annals of the national pastime. It represented both the dream and the fear of equal opportunity, and it would change forever the complexion of the game and the attitudes of Americans.”

It wasn’t easy for Robinson. As the great slugger Henry Aaron wrote in the TIME 100, celebrating the most influential figures of the 20th Century, he said:

“Jackie Robinson had to be bigger than life. He had to be bigger than the Brooklyn teammates who got up a petition to keep him off the ball club, bigger than the pitchers who threw at him or the base runners who dug their spikes into his shin, bigger than  the bench jockeys who hollered for him to carry their bags and shine their shoes,  bigger than the so-called fans who mocked him with mops on their heads and wrote him death threats. ”

Robinson did it. He achieved something many thought would never happen in a segregated society. America is more integrated today, more tolerant than 60 years ago, but racial tension and bigotry still exist. Yet despite that, despite all the hurdles, Barack Obama achieved his dream and with it the dreams of many other Americans as well.

As Obama began his victory speech in front of a quarter of a million people on a November night in Chicago’s Grant Park, he said:.

“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.”

Yes, dreams do come true in America.