‘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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The Day the Yankees Lost Their Captain

 

Most baseball fans over 40, especially Yankee fans, can still remember where they were on Thursday, August, 2, 1979, when they heard the news.

That was the day Yankee captain and catcher Thurman Munson perished in a fiery plane crash in Canton, Ohio, while practicing take-offs and landings in his new Cessna Citation jet.

Thirty years ago, I was a sports columnist and assistant city editor at the Fitchburg-Leominster Sentinel & Enterprise in north central Massachusetts. The newspaper’s softball team, the Deadliners, was in the midst of a close game against one of the best teams in the league when we heard about Munson.

The stunned ‘Liners rallied that day to win in walk-off fashion. Over beers after the game at a local tavern, we dedicated our victory to Thurman Munson.

I recently finished reading Marty Appel’s book “Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee captain.” Appel, at one-time the Yankees PR director, co-authored Munson’s best-selling autobiography in 1978.

MVP in 1976
The follow-up book details Munson’s baseball exploits to be sure, including his MVP  season of 1976, his volatile relationship with Reggie Jackson, and the Yankees back-to-back championships in 1977 and 1978. Munson hit in 28 of the 30 post-season games he played over those three seasons, and batted .357. He was tough and he was clutch

But more important, Appel’s book it paints a picture of Munson the man from those who knew him best — his family, his friends and his teammates.

Appel chronicles the last days of Thurman Munson’s life, including the plane crash that led to his untimely passing at the age of 32.

Munson’s closest friends on the team, Lou Piniella and Bobby Murcer, delivered eulogies to their fallen comrade at Munson’s funeral in Canton. In his eulogy, Murcer quoted Angelo Patri, a noted American educator,  author and philosopher and my great uncle.

In Murcer’s words:

I quote these words of Angelo Patri that to me, reflect Thurman so well:
“The life of a soul on earth lasts beyond departure.
You will always feel that life touching yours.
The voice, speaking to you, talking to you in the familiar things he touched, worked with, loved as familiar friends.
He lives on in your life and in the lives of all others that knew him”
And live he did…He lived…He led…He loved. Whatever he was to each one of us….catcher,….captain….competitor…husband….father….friend….He should be remembered as a man who valued and followed the basic principles of life.

The Yankees were exhausted the day they buried their captain. The had flown from New York to Ohio for the funeral early that morning, then flown back home from a Monday night baseball game with the Orioles at Yankee Stadium.

That night, Murcer insisted that manager Billy Martin lput him in the lineup. He went on to drive home all five runs as the Yankees came back from a 4-0 deficit to beat Baltimore, 5-4.

Murcer gave the bat he used that night to Diana Munson, Thurman’s widow. He never used it again.