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.”
Should Gary Sanchez, stalwart Yankees catcher, be American League Rookie of the Year?
Why not? In less than two months, Sanchez has already hit 19 home runs (fastest player ever to reach that number), to go along with 38 RBIs and a .337 batting average. He was named AL Player of the Month in August, when he also won consecutive Player of the Week honors.
And equipped with a strong throwing arm and pitch-calling capabilities, his defense is every bit as good as his offense.
If Sanchez plays in the rest of the Yankees games this year, he will wind up with 54….which is exactly one third of a season.
And despite limited duty, Sanchez numbers stack up well against Tigers pitcher Michael Fulmer (10-7, 3:30 ERA), who has dropped four of his last five decisions. Others in the rookie mix include Indians outfielder Tyler Naquin (14-42-.3010, Rangers outfielder Nomar Mazaro (20-64-.275) and Twins outfielder Max Kepler (16-60-.232).
There is precedent for winning the Rookie of the Year award while playing less than 100 games. Just last year, Houston’s Carlos Correa appeared in 99 games. Will Myers (88 games in 2013), Ryan Howard (88 games in 2005) and Bob Horner (89 games in 1978) were all named top rookie.
Hall of Famer Willie McCovey played only 52 games for the Giants in 1959, yet was named NL Rookie of the Year. Stretch — who broke in on July 30 that year with a pair of triples in a 4-for-4 day against the Phillies — hit .354 with 13 HRs and 38 RBIs. McCovey earned all 24 votes for Rookie of the Year.
Some might argue that Cincinnati’s Vada Pinson, who had 20 homers, 84 RBIs and a .316 batting average, was the most deserving NL Rookie of the Year candidate in 1959. Pinson led the league in runs (131), doubles (47) and outfield putouts (423), earning him 11 MVP votes. However he failed to qualify for the Rookie of the Year award because his 96 at bats in 1958 were just beyond the 90 cutoff.
Bob Gibson of St. Louis made his MLB debut in 1959, although he won just three of eight games. Other notable NL rookies in 1959 were future Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson, who hit .218 in his only season with the Phillies, and speedster Maury Wills, who would later go on to break the single season stolen base record with the Dodgers.
Now that his Yankee career has ended (some would say mercifully), Alex Rodriguez can fill the third base slot on the all-time Yankee team.
A-Rod won two MVPs with the Yankees (2005, 2007), hit 351 of his 696 career home runs in pinstripes and had more than 1,000 RBIs. And he helped lead the Yankees to their last World Championship, in 2009, with an outstanding post-season effort when he hit .365 with 6 HRs and 18 RBIs. His 54 home runs in 2007 are the most ever for a right-handed Yankee hitter.
Of course, A-Rod’s reputation will be forever stained by his admitted steroid abuse, his playoff collapses, and his insecurity. But this isn’t the Hall of Fame, it’s the Yankee all-time team.
Third base is the only position on the team not manned by a Hall of Famer. (Yeah, Wade Boggs played for the Yankees for several years, but his greatest years were in Boston.)
After A-Rod, here are the next five greatest third basemen in Yankee history.
Graig Nettles, power hitter and Gold Glove fielder who led the AL in home runs in 1976 and was a member of the 1977 and 1978 World Series winners.
Red Rolfe, another outstanding fielder, helped the Yankees win five titles (1936-39 and 1941) and retired in 1942 to become baseball coach at Yale.
Joe Dugan, aka Jumping Joe, was the third baseman on one of the greatest teams ever, the 1927 Yankees. A .280 lifetime hitter, he played on 5 Yankee pennant winners.
Gil McDougald, played multiple infield positions on five World Champions under Casey Stengel. He was AL Rookie of the Year in 1951. McDougald later coached at Fordham.
Clete Boyer, tremendous glove man, played the hot corner for five straight pennant winners (1960-64), and hit 95 homers as a Yankee.
Boggs, who hit .300 or better in four of his five Yankee years, and Scott Brosius, who won three straight World Series in his four seasons, deserve honorable mention.
The rest of the all-time Yankee team consists of Hall of Famers….or sure-fire Hall of Famers in the case of the shortstop and relief pitcher. Here’s the list:
C – Yogi Berra
1B – Lou Gehrig
2B – Tony Lazzeri
SS – Derek Jeter
3B – A-Rod
OF – Babe Ruth
OF – Joe DiMaggio
OF – Mickey Mantle
LHP – Whitey Ford
RHP – Red Ruffing
RP – Mariano Rivera
Football, basketball and hockey teams regularly finish with a .700 winning percentage. In the NFL for instance, 12 wins in 16 games accounts for .750. The Warriors finished with an .890 winning percentage this past season and the Spurs were .817. One more win would have put the Cavs over .700 as well. And in the NHL, a league which doesn’t count overtime losses as losses, good teams often boast winning percentages of .700 or better.
Baseball with its 162-game schedule is a different breed. To finish at .700 or above, teams must win a minimum of 114 games. The Cubs are challenging .700 in the early days of the season, and if they keep up the pace they could become the first team to have a .700 plus record in 15 years….and the first National League team to reach those heights in 107 years.
Throughout baseball’s long history, only nine teams have finished .700 or above. Here they are:
The .700 club
1906 Cubs 116-36 .763
1907 Cubs 107-45 .704
1909 Pirates 110-42 .724
1927 Yankees 110-44 .714
1931 A’s 107-45 .704
1939 Yankees 106-45 .702
1954 Indians 111-43 .721
1998 Yankees 114-48 .704
2001 Mariners 116-46 .716
The first three teams to achieve the feat were all NL clubs; the next six all AL. Yet only five of those nine teams went on to win the World Series.
The 1906 Cubs, pictured above, recorded the best regular season in history with 116 wins and a .763 winning percentage….yet lost the World Series to their cross-town rivals, the White Sox, aka the Hitless Wonders, in six games.
The next year the Cubs wound up with a .704 percentage, and swept the Tigers in the World Series (with one tie). The Cubs repeated as World Champs in 1908 – and haven’t won since.
In 1909 the Pirates won 110 games and took out Detroit in a seven-game World Series.
Three times the Yankees finished with .700 plus winning percentages — in 1927, 1939 and 1998. The Bronx Bombers followed through with World Series sweeps each time.
The Mariners set the AL record with 116 wins good for a .716 winning percentage in 2001, yet lost the ALCS to the Yankees in five games.
In 1954, the Indians win 111 games in a 154-game season, establishing the AL win percentage record at .721. Yet Cleveland was swept by the New York Giants in the World Series.
Finally, in 1931 the A’s won 107 games, but lost the World Series to the Cardinals in seven games.
The Yankees are not just lousy, they’re historically bad. In fact, their 8-15 start, is one of the worst in team history. If the aging Yankees continue their poor play, they could finish in last place for just the fifth time in their history. That happens to teams that can’t hit, pitch or catch the ball.
Now Joe Girardi knows how Harry Wolverton, right, felt more than a hundred years ago. Wolverton was the skipper of the worst team in Yankee history, the 1912 edition. Then known as the Highlanders, they were 50-102 for a .329 percentage — last in the American League, 55 games behind Boston. The Highlanders had a 7-16 record through 23 games
The 1908 Highlanders won 15 of their first 23 and then fell completely apart. They finished last in the AL at 51-103.
50 years ago, in 1966, the Yankees were 7-16 through 23 games. New York won just four of its first 16 games before Ralph Houk took over the managerial reins from Johnny Keane. The change didn’t help. The Yankees finished last in the American League for the first time since 1912 at 70-89.
25 years later, in 1991, the Bombers started 7-16 and stumbled to a fifth place finish in the AL East with a 71-91 mark under Stump Merrill. The previous year the Yankees finished seventh (and last) in the AL East at 67-95, yet still managed to win 10 of their first 23.
Exactly 45 years ago today, September 30, the last day of the 1970 baseball season, I paid the first of many visits to Fenway Park. Yankee history was made that night as Fritz Peterson earned his 20th victory of the season in a 4-3 win over the Red Sox.
Peterson had his finest season in 1970, finishing 20-11 overall with a 2.90 ERA. The left-hander won 17 games in 1969 and 1972, and finished his Yankee career with 109 wins. Overall, Peterson was 133-131 with a 3.30 ERA, including short stints with Cleveland and Texas. He retired in 1976.
In that 1970 game in Boston, Peterson, who doubled earlier in the game and scored the Yankees’ first run, took a 4-1 lead into the eighth inning before surrendering a two-run homer to Luis Alvarado. Peterson started the ninth but departed after surrendering a pair of one-out singles to Billy Conigliaro and Joe Lahoud. After giving up a walk with two outs to load the bases, Yankee closer Lindy McDaniel got Mike Andrew to ground out to preserve Peterson’s 20th win and earn his 29th save of the year.
The win capped off a strong season for the Yankees, who finished second in the AL East, 15 games behind Baltimore with a 93-69 record. The Orioles went on to defeat Cincinnati in five games to win the 1970 World Series.
Peterson, who recently authored a book “When The Yankees Were On The Fritz: Revisiting The Horace Clark Era,” was traded to the Indians in April of 1974, along with pitchers Fred Beene, Tom Buskey and Steve Kline, for first baseman Chris Chambliss and pitchers Dick Tidrow and Cecil Upshaw. Chambliss hit a dramatic ninth-inning, walk-off home run to beat the Royals in the deciding game of the 1976 ALCS, and was a key cog on Yankee World Series winners in 1977 and 1978.
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Baseball today mourns the passing of Yogi Berra. Yogi was an American icon, a World War II veteran who was part of the D-Day invasion and a Hall of Fame catcher with the Yankees whose record of 10 World Championships will never be equaled. But above all that, Yogi was a great husband, a loving father, and a wonderful man, whose kindness, humility and sincerity touched all who knew him.
Yogi Berra played in the first baseball game I ever saw, in the summer of 1958 at Yankee Stadium. Yogi batted fifth and played right field and was 0-for-3 with a strikeout and a walk. And although the Yankees lost to the White Sox that day, I was hooked on baseball for life.
Yogi was a walking Bartlett’s who said everything from “It ain’t over till it’s over” to “It gets late early out there” to “Nobody goes there any more, it’s too crowded.”
On a personal note, I played competitive softball until I turned 60. In the later years I became a catcher, and proudly wore #8 in honor of Yogi.
Yogi’s passing hits home for me. My father was born in 1925, the same year as Yogi. My dad passed on his love of baseball to me. No doubt, he’ll be watching the Yankee game tonight.
We used to argue about who was the best catcher in Yankee history, Bill Dickey or Yogi Berra. My father, who saw Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig play, would say Dickey. Sorry pops, it was Yogi.
RIP Lawrence Peter Berra.