Jul 29, 2014

The First Mets Manager: Hall of Famer- Casey Stengel (1962-1965)

Charles Dillon Stengel was born on July 30th 1890 in Kansas City Missouri to Irish, German immigrants.

He was a five foot eleven all around left hander who started out a pitcher with a Kansas City minor league team.

He attended Dental school to have a back up career if baseball didn't work out. The dental school background also helped him negotiate a contract in baseball. He could run fast, hit well but not pitch all that great, so he was switched to being an outfielder. He was a hardnosed player who always hustled on the field. He was a brawler who liked his liquor & nights out on the town.

Casey Stengel Brooklyn Superbas
In 1912 he made it to the big leagues with the Brooklyn Superbas, who later became the Dodgers. In his first game he had four straight base hits , walked & had an RBI.

Trivia: While playing in a poker game during a rain delay, another player commented "you finally won a hand there Kansas City". The moniker stuck, this led to people shortening it to KC, which soon became Casey.

He also first earned the nickname "Professor" when he went to rehab a shoulder injury with his old high school coach, who was now with the University of Mississippi.

He held out for a bigger contract before the 1913 season, but was sent a contract by Charles Ebbetts before the season began. History remembers him as the first Brooklyn player to come to bat in the new Ebbetts Field & the first to also hit a HR. In 17 games his first season he hit .316. He would spend six years in Brooklyn, leading the league in on base percentage in 1914 while batting .316 with 19 stolen bases.


In 1916 he helped Brooklyn win a pennant, hitting 27 doubles & driving in 53 runs & scoring 66. He was one of the leagues best right fielders as well, leading the league in assists & double plays turned.

He hit .364 in the World Series loss to the Boston Red Sox. The next year he led all right fielders in fielding, double plays, assists & games played. Casey eventually went to play in Pittsburg with the Pirates (1918-1919) but was not happy there.

In a famous game back at Brooklyn, the fans were really letting him have it on a bad day. He put a small swallow, under his cap & when he got onto the field getting booed, he tipped his cap & the swallow flew away. He had given the crowd the bird, even the umpire had to laugh. That move didn't amuse management & he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for parts of the next two seasons.

In July of 1921 he was traded to the New York Giants along with Johnny Rawlings in exchange for Lee King, Goldie Rapp & Lance Richboug. 

He was more of a part time player & pinch hitter by this time, playing for Manager John McGraw. But in 1922 an injury had him see more playing time as a regular & Casey batted .368 in 84 games.

He helped the Giants get to two World Series, winning the Championship in 1922 in the second ever NY Subway World Series. The Giants won both of those first two match ups. Stengel injured his led in the '22 Series & went 2-5 in two games before getting side lined.

Stengel 1923 World Series: NY Giants
Post Season: In the 1923 Series he was the Giants best all around hitter, batting.417 (5-16)with two HRs & four RBIs, in the six game Series loss.

In Game #1 in the Bronx ballpark, he hit a game winning top of the 9th inning, inside the park HR, putting the Giants up 5-4.

In Game #3 he hit a HR over the right field porch, scoring the only run of the game, as Art Nehf out dueled Sad Sam Jones 1-0. As he rounded the bases, he blew kisses to the fans & snubbed his nose to the AL New York's team bench.

This didn't go over well, as he was fined by the Commissioner, Kennesaw Mountain Landis who was at the game.

Owner Jacob Ruppert wanted him suspended but Landis replied: "Casey Stengel just can't help being Casey Stengel."

Stengel also drove in runs in the next two games, which the Giants lost. In his time under John McGraw Stengel studied the legendary manager, learning all he could. With his memory he filed the information & used it later on during his managerial career.

In November of 1923 Stengel was traded to the Boston Bees where he played out the rest of his playing career. In 14 seasons he hit .284 with 1219 hits 60 HRs 182 doubles 89 triples 131 stolen bases 575 runs scored & a .356 on base % in 1277 games.

In the outfield he had 147 assists with a .964 fielding% in 1183 games.

In 1931, he joined his old team mate & friend Max Carey, as coach who was now manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Stengel began his managerial career in 1934, taking over for Carey, with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Casey & Edna Stengel at the Polo Grounds
He had a "prodigious memory" which had him recall every detail of specific events. He began modestly as a manager but became baseballs winningest managers.


His was never considered to be the best manager, as a lot of credit to his team's success went to his All Star players. He would coach the third base box, entertain the fans & the media with his stories.

He irked his old Giants team, when he beat them in the last two games of the 1934 season, making them loose the pennant to the St. Louis Cards Gas House Gang. Giants manager has Bill Terry had said a few weeks earlier "Is Brooklyn still in the league?" which irked Stengel.

While in Brooklyn he invested in an oil field & a new drug called penicillin, both were successful & made him a lot of money.

He stayed at the helm in Brooklyn for three seasons finishing under .500 each time, never higher than fifth place. In 1938 he began a six year stay as manager of the Boston Bees who became the Boston Braves in 1941.

Four straight seventh place finishes had him fired during the 1943 season. In these years he managed in the minor leagues, winning a championship with Toledo in 1927.

During this time, Stengel moved with his wife Edna, to Glendale California & would live there until the time of his death. While in California he managed the Oakland Oaks in the Pacific Coast League.



It was there the Oaks had their legendary Championship season with the so called "Nine Old Men" behind Stengel on the field. This run got Casey inducted into the Pacific Coast League's Hall of Fame.

In 1943 on one of he & his wife's Edna's trips to New York, he was struck by a taxi cab hurting his leg. In the hospital he suffered a staph infection & would always walk with a limp from there on in.


Stengel & "his man" Yogi Berra as Mets
In 1949 he got the call as manager of the A.L. New York team. There in an ever changing revolving door of high priced players, Casey had his core All Stars for many years & went on to win five straight World Series.

He won seven championships & ten pennants in twelve seasons. He has managed the most World Series games (64) & had the most Series wins (34) of any manager in history.

In 1954 his club won the most games of his run with them, but they lost the pennant that year to the mighty Cleveland Indians. His main player in New York was the catcher he called his man, he said he never played a big game without "his man" , who was catcher Yogi Berra.


Quotes: Casey once said of Berra "He'd fall in a sewer & come up with a gold watch".

ome of the other All Stars like Mickey Mantle were drinking too much & not taking care of them selves, with not enough focus on the game like Stengel had wanted.

After missing the 1959 Series & then losing to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1960 he was let go after his successful run as manager. It was first thought that he would resign, but instead he shocked the press when he announced he was being let go due to the new youth movement. He told the press "I'll never make the mistake of being 70, again".

He went off to California & worked as V.P to a bank in Glendale owned by his wife's family. Eventually he was persuaded by his old friend & G.M. George Weiss who was now working for the expansion New York Mets.

He convinced Stengel to return to baseball & be the Mets first ever Manager.

He began with his already famous Stengelese talking, during the expansion draft when the Mets first pick was an unknown catcher named Hobie Landrith.

He said "You have to have a catcher or you'll have a lot of passed balls". At the first press conference he said "it's an honor to be joining the Knickerbockers".

He was presented with a key to the city as New York City held a parade for it's newest National League team. There was a lot of excitement around the Mets, fans were hungry for NL baseball since the Dodgers & Giants had left for the West Coast.

Stengel would now have the rare privilege to have on field affiliations with all four New York baseball teams.

In Spring Training, the Mets took over St. Petersburg when the AL club had left to go to Ft. Lauderdale. He entertained the press with his fast talking & promoting of his young players.

Stengelese at its best. It was said that while he was talking about one subject his mind would be thinking of the next topic and he'd start talking about that one, then jump back & forth to both topics without missing a beat. This would confuse listeners, but whether done purposely or not, many believe Casey always knew what he was saying.

Being such a successful manager in New York gave him credibility, while even at 72 years old, he was still sharp & wise. He would talk to anyone who would listen, and could go on for hours at a time.

Stengel would be out early in the morning in each city to talk to a reporter, but it even wore him down. Once when Press Secretary Lou Niss came calling Casey said "tell them I'm being embalmed". 

On his three catchers in Spring Training he said: "I got one that can throw but can't catch, one that can catch but can't throw, and one who can hit but can't do either."

That season the Mets lost a record 120 games; finishing in last place. The team would find a new way to lose every day, but through it all they became loveable losers, New York's underdog, darlings.

The fan base grew even though the team wasn't winning. A lot had to do with Stengel's promotion of the team & it's players. He was the best public relations man a team could want; it was he who gave the club the name "the amazing Mets".

He said when people teach their children to talk, their first words are not mamma & dadda but "Metsie, Metsie".

During the season, Stengel made some legendary quotes like; "Cant anybody here play this game?" & "Been in this game one-hundred years, but I see new ways to lose 'em I never knew existed before." He told the press after one horrible loss "Don't cut my throat, I may do that later myself". 

When slugger Frank Thomas kept trying to pull the ball, where there was sign on the right field fence that said hit it here win a boat, Stengel said "If you want to own a boat, join the navy".


If things were not confusing enough, the '62 Mets had two pitchers named Bob Miller. Stengel couldn't tell the two apart & just called one of them Nelson to make it simple. 

One of the Mets first folk heroes, Marvelous Marv Throneberry, once hit a triple but was called out for not touching second base. When Stengel went to argue, coach Cookie Lavagetto told him " don't argue too much, I think he missed first base too".

In 1963 the Mets started out the same way with an Opening Day loss, after the game Stengel said "we're frauds, & we can't fool the New York fans". That year the Mets won eleven more games, going 51-111 finishing up in tenth place, but their attendance went up by one million.


In 1964 the Mets opened up the new Shea Stadium, at the time it was one of the biggest & most beautiful Stadiums. Located right across from the World's Fair, Shea's first year of attendance was 1.7 million, second in the National League to only the L.A. Dodgers. finished tenth again, going 53-109, Stengel said: "President Lyndon Johnson wanted to see poverty so he came to see my team."

In 1965 He compared his two new rookies Ed Kranepool and Greg Goossen to reporters saying: "See that fellow over there? He's 20 years old. In 10 years he has a chance to be a star. Now, that fellow over there, he's 20, too.

 In ten  years he has a chance to be 30." During an exhibition game at West Point, he fell on a wet pavement breaking his wrist. He carried on without missing a game.


When young slugger Ron Swoboda first came up, he was hitting HRs but couldn't field all at that well. Stengel said "Amazing strength, amazing power - he can grind the dust out of the bat. He will be great, super even wonderful. Now, if he can only learn to catch a fly ball."

During a rare four game win streak he said " If this keeps up, I'm about to manage until I'm one hundred". The Mets went 31-64 under Stengel, until July 24th.

It was on that day the Mets lost their tenth straight game, after an Old Timers Day in which Casey's upcoming 75th birthday was honored.

After the game there was a party at Toots Shor's restaurant in Manhattan, but it was there he slipped in the bathroom & broke his hip. His wife convinced him it was time to retire, the Mets kept him on the payroll as a West Coast scout.

That year he became the first Mets player to have his number retired, as #37 will never be worn by another Mets player.

Mets #37 Retired: 1966
Not everyone was amused by Stengel's managerial ways, some critics felt he was far too old to get through to the young Mets players, some fifty years his junior.

It seemed some of the press were divided into agreeing with Casey or opposing him. Strangely the younger reporters were the ones who sided with Stengel, like Maury Allen.

A young broadcaster at the time Howard Cosell, who did Mets pregame shows with former Dodger Ralph Branca, was very critical of Stengel. He & Jackie Robinson brought it to the public's attention that Stengel was falling asleep in the dugout.

Cosell also commented on how he was not helping to develop the young Mets talented players.

Cosell stated that Casey's losing ways was making the New York kids fall in love with futility, as opposed to the mid western kids who had Vince Lombardi's winning ways. He was seen falling asleep in the dugout at times during the games.

In 1969 as the Mets were enjoying their Amazing World Championship season, Stengel was always around Shea promoting his ball club. Now the Amazing Mets were actually Amazing for their winning ways.

Stengel threw out the ceremonial first pitch in the first World Series Game held at Shea Stadium. He was interviewed on television telling everyone how "amazing, amazing, amazing" the Mets were .

At the game he sat next to his old player when he managed, Joe DiMaggio & the Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. The Mets presented him with a World Series ring after the season, he wore it proudly the rest of his life.

That summer he was also honored as the greatest living Manager, at baseball's All Star Game, celebrating its 100th season. Stengel would keep making appearances around Shea Stadium at Old Timers Day games & special occasions.


He also spoke at banquets, & made appearances at the World Series, continuing to amuse with his stories. His legacy became larger than life with his colorful personality & love of the game.

Honors: He threw out the first pitch of Game #3 of the 1973 World Series at Shea Stadium, between the Mets & Oakland A's. He had to leave during the game due to ill health. Casey Stengel was

In 1973 his wife Edna, suffered a stroke & had to be moved to an assisted living facility. He stayed in the house at Glendale, assisted by a woman who served as nurse & secretary.

In 1975 he was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer & passed away on September 29th at age 85. He is laid to rest with Edna, in Forest Lawn Cemetery alongside many celebrity personalities at Glendale California.
Honors: In 1966 Casey Stengel was inducted in the baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstwon.

In 1981 he was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame.

In his honor Casey Stengel Plaza, outside of Shea Stadium's Gate E was named after him, as is the New York City Transit's Casey Stengel Depot across the street from Citi Field. There is also a Stengel entrance at Citi Field.



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