‘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.”


The 10 biggest wins in Mets history

Here is one man’s opinion of the biggest wins in Mets history, ranked in order. The Mets are looking to make some more history beginning tonight when they face the Royals in the World Series.

1. The Amazins: Perhaps the most improbable champions ever, the Miracle Mets overcome a 3-0 deficit and defeat the Orioles 5-3 to take the 1969 World Series in five games. Series MVP Donn Clendenon and Al Weis homer and Jerry Koosman hurls a complete game as the Mets go from the outhouse to the penthouse.

2. Gets past Buckner: The heavily favored Mets, 108-game winners, are a strike away from elimination in the 10th inning of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. Then base hits by Gary Carter, Kevin Mitchell and Ray Knight, a wild pitch that plates the tying run, and a Mookie Wilson grounder that eludes Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner lead the Mets to a 6-5 win over the stunned Red Sox.

3. Seventh heaven: Two nights later, after a rainout, the Mets win their second World Series with an 8-5 win over the Red Sox in Game 7. Series MVP Ray Knight and Darryl Strawberry hit home runs to rally the Mets, who trailed 3-0 in the sixth inning.

4. You gotta believe: In 1973, the Mets languished in last place as late as August 30, then won 21 of their last 29 games and beat the Cubs 6-4 to take the NL East. Buoyed by reliever Tug McGraw, who coined the rallying cry “You gotta believe,” and manager Yogi Berra, who said “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over,” the Mets beat the Reds for the NL pennant, but lost a seven-game World Series to the A’s.

5. 16 innings: The Mets were down 3-0 entering the ninth inning (detect a theme here) before coming back and eventually prevailing 7-6 over the Astros in 16 innings in a dramatic showdown at the Astrodome to win the 1986 NLCS in six games. Celebration above.

6. Daniel Boom: Daniel Murphy turns into Babe Ruth right in front of our very eyes, homering in a playoff game for a record sixth consecutive game. Murphy’s blast earns the Mets an 8-3 win and a  four-game sweep over the Cubs and this year’s NL pennant. Murphy takes NLCS MVP honors.

7. Wild night: This 1985 classic started as a July 4 game and finally ended at nearly 4 am the next morning. The Mets beat the hometown Braves 16-13 in 19 innings, after Atlanta pitcher Rick Camp tied it with an unlikely 18th-inning home run.

8. Yes, Yes: The date was June 1, 2012. After more than half a century and 8,020 games, left-hander Johan Santana pitches the first no-hitter in franchise history in a victory over the Cardinals at Citi Field. The Mets defeated the Cardinals 8-0.

9. 9/11/2001: As New York and all America grieves over the the 9/11 attacks, Mike Piazza, left, gives us something to smile about. Piazza belts a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning to lift the Mets to a 3-2 win over the Braves. “A small miracle,” is how Mets’ manager Bobby Valentine described the blast.

10. First win: After nine straight losses to open their inaugural 1962 season, the Mets finally won their first game on April 23. They beat the Pirates 9-1 at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh behind the five-hit pitching of left-hander Jay Hook. Felix Mantilla and Elio Chacon each had three hits, and Chacon, Bobby Smith and Hook each knocked in a pair of runs to pace the attack The Mets won just 40 games the whole year.

10 honorable mentions in chronological order

Jim Hickman becomes the first Met to hit for the cycle (a natural cycle at that) as the Mets beat the Cardinals 7-3 in this 1963 game at the Polo Grounds…Tom Seaver retires the first 25 Cubs before Jimmy Qualls singles with one out in the ninth. Seaver finishes with a one-hitter in the Mets 4-0 win which set the tone for the 1969 season…Center fielder Tommy Agee makes a pair of stunning catches and Gary Gentry and Nolan Ryan combine to blank the Orioles 5-0 in Game 3 of the 1969 World Series… Lenny Dykstra’s two-run, walk-off homer leads the Mets to a 5-4 win in Game 3 of the 1986 ALCS…Dave Milicki hurls a nine-hit shutout as the Mets beat in the Yankees 6-0 in their first inter-league meeting in 1997… Al Leiter pitches a brilliant two-hitter as the Mets beat the Reds 5-0 in a 1999 playoff tiebreaker game in Cincinnati…Todd Pratt homers in the 10th inning as the Mets beat the Diamondbacks 4-3 and wrap up the NLDS in four games…Robin Ventura hits a grand slam single as the Mets beat the Braves 4-3 in Gave 5 of the 1999 NLCS…Trailing 8-1 going into the bottom of the eighth, the Mets score 10 runs, capped by a Mike Piazza three-run homer, and beat the Braves in this 2000 contest at Shea Stadium…Mike Hampton pitches a three-hitter and the Mets advance to the first Subway Series in 44 years with a 7-0 win over the Cardinals in Game 5 of the 2000 NLCS.


Yanks, Mets Both Won First Games on April 23

Teddy Ballgame, Ted Williams, hit his first major league homer on April 23, 1939.

On this day in 1903, the New York Highlanders — now known as the Yankees —  won their first major-league game, a 7-2 decision over the Washington Senators behind starting pitcher Harry Howell (no, not the former Rangers defenseman, knucklehead).

Exactly 59 years later, April 23, 1962, the Mets won their first game, beating the Pittsburgh Pirates 9-1 behind Jay Hook, below, to end a nine-game losing streak. The Mets would go on to lose a record 120 games that season.

Ted Williams in 1939 and Hank Aaron in 1954 each hit first major league home run on this date. Pete Rose got his first major league hit, a triple, 47 years ago today.

Cardinal third baseman Fernando Tatis enjoyed the greatest single inning in baseball history by hitting two grand slams in one inning — both against the Dodgers Chan Ho Park — on April 23, 1999. Park somehow survived and is still pitching today.

Hoyt Wilhelm isn’t pitching any more, but on this date in 1952 New York Giants knuckleballer homered in his first major league bat. He never hit another one — it was his only home run in 1,070 games.

On April 23, 1946, Ed Head of the Brooklyn Dodgers pitched a no-hitter against the Boston Braves at Ebbets Field. Head won, 5-0. At least Head came out ahead..

On this date in 1964, Houston’s Ken Johnson became the first pitcher ever to lose a nine-inning no-hitter,

Warren Spahn, the winningest left-hand pitcher in baseball history with 363 victories, was  born on April 23. Another Hall of Famer, Sunny Jim Bottomley, was also born on April 23, as was ex-Brooklyn Dodger Dolph Camilli, and former Braves defensive standout and current White Sox Andruw Jones. Duke Carmel and Sean Henn are the only Yankees born on April 23.

These players … and others ….share a birthday with William Shakespeare, shown above, former President James Buchanan, Shirley Temple, Lee Majors, Roy Orbison …and the SportsLifer.


Top 10: New York State of Mind

 

The SportsLifer couldn’t get through the year without one more top 10 list.

So here they are, the top 10 moments in New York sports, 2008.

1. Catch XLII: Sparked by the unbelievable Eli Manning to David Tyree pass play, the Giants rally to defeat the previously unbeaten Patriots in the Super Bowl.

2. Yankee Money: Failing to make the playoffs for the first time in 15 years, Yankees sign free agents C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Texiera.

3. House Cleaning: The Knicks finally manage to get rid of Isiah Thomas, and new coach Mike D’Antoni puts Stephon Marbury out to pasture.

4. Collapse: For the second year in a row, the Mets fall apart in a September swoon and allow the Phillies to steal the NL East championship.

5. Collapse Redux: Brett Favre and the Jets lose four of their final five games and miss the playoffs, forcing the removal of coach Eric Mangini.

6. Final Farewell: Many of the greats return as the Yankees play the final game in the House that Ruth Built and the Mets close Shea Stadium.

7. Giants Among Men: Despite the distraction of the Plaxico Burress shooting, the Giants earn top seed in the NFC heading into the playoffs.

8. He Said, He Said: Disgraced Roger Clemens tries to clear his name of steroid allegations by trainer Brian McNamee.

9. Domination on Ice: The Rangers continue their sudden mastery of the cross-river rival Devils, taking round one of the Stanley Cup playoffs 4 games to 1.

10. Smart Sign: The Mets pull a huge off-season deal, acquiring left-handed pitcher Johan Santana from the Minnesota Twins to fortify their pitching staff.


Meet the Mutts

It’s gotta be tough being a Met fan these days. There’s not much to say – other than bag it — after the Mets’ blew it in September and failed to make the playoffs for the second year in a row.

The collapse was historic. You have to go back to 1950 and 1951, when the Brooklyn Dodgers lost the National League pennant on the last day of the season to the Whiz Kid Phillies in 1950… and then followed that up by blowing a 13 1/2-game lead to the New York Giants and losing a three-game playoff to their arch-rivals on Bobby Thomson’s home run in 1951…to find more baseball heartbreak in the same place.

Plenty of blame to go around with the Mets, but you can’t point the finger at Johan Santana. He was absolutely brilliant down the stretch, and would most likely have won the National League Cy Young Award if not for the Mets’ bullpen.

Amazingly, the Yankees and the Mets finished with identical 89-73 records this year. You have to go back all the way to 1993 — when the Mets finished last in the NL East and the Yankees second in the AL East — to find the last time New York didn’t have a team in the playoffs. It will be a quiet October in Queens and the Bronx.

As they said so many times in Brooklyn: “Wait Till Next Year.”


Woodstock: Better Late Than Never

“The thing the sixties did was show us the possibilities and the responsibility that we all had. It wasn’t the answer. It just gave us a glimpse of the possibility.”

— John Lennon

Well, I finally made it to Woodstock, 39 years too late.

Back in the summer of ’69, just out of high school, I was on the New York State Thruway, just over the Tappan Zee Bridge, when the transmission on the old Ford woodie wagon gave out. Never made it past Tuxedo Park.

I did see Jimi Hendrix at the Westchester County Center in White Plains in 1968, and I caught the Who in an amazing concert at Holy Cross College barely a month after Woodstock. Yeah, and in 1973, I made the trek to Watkins Glen in upstate New York along with 600.000 others to see the Allman Brothers, the Grateful Dead and the Band live and in concert.

But Woodstock was THE rock concert of all-time, the singular event that defined the Sixties for present and future generations.

So this week I drove up to Bethel, N.Y., near Monticello, to see The Museum at Bethel Woods, shown right, which celebrates the Woodstock festival and the spirit of the Sixties.

(To clarify, Bethel is about an hour and a half from Woodstock, which bore the name of Music and Arts Festival. Frame of reference, Max Yasgur’s farm was in Bethel.)

It’s a wonderful museum and brought back some memories and flashbacks of that time in America’s life. And the music — from Richie Havens to Hendrix, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Santana, Janis Joplin and the Jefferson Airplane — was amazing.

How did they ever pull off a show like Woodstock, in the middle of nowhere, with more than 400,000 people? And with no cell phones?

Woodstock Weekend in Sports

Meanwhile, there are some sports parallels for Woodstock weekend beginning Friday, August 15, in the summer of 1969. Going into baseball action that weekend, the Mets were in third place in the National League East, 10 games behind the Cubs and a game behind the Cardinals.

Over the weekend, the Mets swept Saturday and Sunday doubleheaders from the expansion Padres, and were sitting eight games back of the Cubs by the time Hendrix played the National Anthem at Woodstock on Monday morning. The Miracle Mets run was underway.

The Yankees were in fourth place in the newly-formed American League East, tied with the Washington Senators 22 1/2 games behind the Orioles. The Yankees did win two of three in Chicago on Woodstock weekend.

The Jets, fresh off their Super Bowl III triumph, crushed the Giants, 37-14, at the Yale Bowl before 70,874 fans to stamp themselves and the AFL as legitimate, at least in New York.

And In golf, Raymond Floyd edged out Gary Player by a stroke to win the PGA tournament in Dayton, Ohio.


Matty and the Jinx

My friend Matty and I have known one another since the ’60s. We’ve gone to some great sports events together, including the Super Bowl, World Series and the Olympics.

For the most part , we cheer for the same New York teams. We’ve seen a few wins, but more often than not, we’ve seen the ugly side of New York sports.

We came to call it simply The Jinx. When Matt and I go to games together, bad things happen to our teams.

Take for instance December 27, 1997. We went to the Garden for a matinee game, which the Knicks lost, 97-94, to the Toronto Raptors on a buzzer-beater by Doug Christie.

Meanwhile, at the same time, on the TV in the suite at MSG, the  Giants are frittering away a 19-3 halftime lead and losing to the Minnesota Vikings, 23-22, in a playoff game at Giants Stadium.

That day clearly demonstrated the power of The Jinx.

The Jinx Top 10

  1. Super Bowl XXV, Tampa, Ravens crush Giants, 34-7, 2001
  2. Red Sox shut out Yankees 1-0, 6-0 at Shea Stadium, 1975
  3. Red Sox beat Yankees 2-1, 1-0, Fourth of  July, 1973
  4. Knicks lose to Raptors on buzzer-beater at MSG while…
  5. Giants blow 19-3 lead, lose playoff game to Vikings, 1997
  6. Giants lose to Cowboys, 30-29, on missed extra point, 1985
  7. Mets lose playoff game to Houston, 3-1, Shea Stadium, 1986
  8. A’s blow out Yankees early, 13-5, Yankee Stadium, 1987
  9. Red Sox beat Yankees, 8-3, on 50th birthday party, 2001
  10. Iona Prep loses, 60-6, to St. Francis, 1966