Casey Stengel (Part Two): The Mets Years

In 1961 after Casey Stengel had been fired, he turned down several managerial jobs, the Detroit Tigers, San Francisco Giants & Los Angeles Angels, all wanted him.

Instead he went to work for Glendale Valley Bank, in Glendale, California which was owned by his wife's family. 

His old friend, George Weiss was now working as General Manager for the expansion New York Mets. Originally Stengel did not to manage an expansion team, because the rules of the expansion draft guaranteed the team would not be a competitive team. Weiss eventually convinced his old friend to return to baseball & take the job as the Mets first Manager. 

Right away he began talking in what was known as his famous "Stengelese". During the expansion draft when the Mets first pick was an unknown catcher named Hobie Landrith. Casey said, said, "You have to have a catcher or you'll have a lot of passed balls". 

On October 2nd, 1962 Casey was introduced by Mets owner Joan Whitney Payson as the Mets first Manager.  It is said that at the Mets first press conference he said "it's an honor to be joining the Knickerbockers".

In 1962 before the team ever took the field, New York City held a parade for its newest National League team. Casey was presented with a key to the city. 

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. 

So the team went out to get as many old players from those teams that they could, unfortunately they were all past their prime & at the end of their careers.
Trivia: Casey Stengel has the rare privilege for having on field affiliations with all four New York baseball teams, either as a player or manager.

In Spring Training 1962, the Mets began to play in  St. Petersburg & the AL club left to go to Ft. Lauderdale. Casey entertained the press with his fast talking & trying to promote his young players. Stengelese at its best. 

It has been said about him that the best way to describe what he was saying was, that while he was talking about one subject his mind would be thinking of the next topic. 

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 if it was just natura, those who knew him, believed Casey always knew what he was saying.

Being such a successful manager in New York had given him credibility, but 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.

No one promoted his new Mets team, as untalented as they would be, more than Casey Stengel. He was the best public relations man a team could want; it was he who gave the club the name "the amazing Mets".

In each city the team went to, Stengel would be out early in the morning talking to reporters, no matter how much toll it took on him. Once time when Mets Press Secretary, Lou Niss came calling for him, Casey said "tell them I'm being embalmed". 

Commenting 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."

In an exhibition game against his former AL Team, he played all his best players & won the game 4-3. It meant a lot to him, but not as much to the opponent who treated it like the exhibition game it was.

In April that season, Casey appeared in an ad for Rheingold Beer, with that year's Miss Rheingold, Kathy Kersh. Kathy Kersh the model / actress would appear as Cornelia in a 1967 episode of Batman, she would later marry Robin (Burt Ward) in real life. Casey was donning his Mets uniform in the ad which was a no-no for MLB. Commissioner Ford Frick fined the manager $500.

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 somehow through it all they became loveable losers. New York's underdog & the city's National League's darlings. The team especially grew attention from young men & female fans.

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 said when people teach their children to talk, their first words are not mamma & dada 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 Mets slugger Frank Thomas kept trying to pull the ball, because 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 & he 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 the call, coach Cookie Lavagetto told him " don't argue too much, I think he missed first base too".

On the few days the team won games or had a player stand out for a major accomplishment, Stengel would sit back letting the press swarm over the player. When they lost, which was usually the case, he started his own talks. where he would be the focus.

The Mets drew 900,000 fans in their first season at the Polo Grounds, with attendance for Giants & Dodger games accounting for half that number.

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". 

The first annual Mayor's Trophy Game was played that season, where both New York teams went head to head in an exhibition game. Casey once again took it seriously, beating his old team & manager Ralph Houck 6-2. It was exciting for his players & the Mets fans, even though the game meant nothing.

That year the Mets won eleven more games than in their inaugural season, going 51-111 finishing up in tenth place, but their attendance went up by one million.

1964 & the New Shea Stadium: The Mets opened up the new Shea Stadium, at the time it was one considered of the biggest & most beautiful Stadiums. It was located right across from the 1964 World's Fair, grounds. Shea's first year of attendance was 1.7 million people, second in the National League to Dodger Stadium. 

The Mets finished tenth again, going 53-109, Stengel said: "President Lyndon Johnson wanted to see poverty so he came to see my team." Casey also commented that Shea had 57 bathrooms & he needed one now.

He once compared his two rookies Ed Kranepool and Greg Goossen to reporters saying: "See that fellow over there? He's 20 years old. In ten years, he has a chance to be a star, now that fellow over there, he's twenty too, in ten years he has a chance to be 30." 

When young slugger Ron Swoboda first came up in 1965, he was hitting HRs but couldn't play defensively 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 an exhibition game at West Point, he fell on a wet pavement breaking his wrist. He carried on without missing a game.

By this time, he was 74 years old & age was affecting him. People were getting critical of his managing the team & the team's losing. Some of his critics said he was far too old to get through to the youth movement of his young players, who were fifty years younger than in him in some cases. 

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

Some famous outspoken critics included Howard Cosell & Jackie Robinson. 
At the time, Cosell was a young broadcaster doing Mets pregame shows with former Brooklyn Dodger Ralph Branca. Cosell brought it to the public's attention that Stengel was falling asleep in the dugout. Cosell also stated that Casey was no longer 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 with the Green Bay Packers.

Life went on into the 1964 season. During a rare four game win streak that year 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.

On that day the Mets lost their tenth straight game, & the Mets celebrated Old Timers Day in which Casey's upcoming 75th birthday was honored as well.

After the game there was a party at Toots Shor's restaurant in Manhattan. Unfortunately, Casey slipped & fell off a bar stool breaking his hip. 

 He would need a long time to rehabilitate, his wife Edna, convinced him it was time to retire. The Mets kept him on the payroll as a West Coast scout.

Mets #37 Retired: 1966
#37: On September 2nd, 1965, he became the first Met to have his number retired, as #37 was never worn by any another Mets player.

Honors: In 1966 Casey Stengel was inducted in the baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown.

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.

1969 World Series: Stengel threw out the ceremonial first pitch in the first 1969 World Series Game #3, the first Series game held at Shea Stadium. He was interviewed on television by Tony Kubek, telling everyone how "amazing, amazing, amazing" the Mets were.

At that game he sat next to his old player when he managed, Joe DiMaggio as well as the MLB
Commissioner, Bowie Kuhn. The World Champion Mets presented Casey 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 the MLB All Star Game in Washington D.C. celebrating its 100th season. Stengel would keep making appearances at banquets, appear around Shea Stadium at Old Timers Day games, World Series' & special occasions in the years to come.

Stengel would continue to amuse with his stories. His legacy became larger than life with his colorful personality & love of the game.

1973 World Series: Casey 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 also joined the Mets, as well as New York's Mayor Lindsay in Oakland for Game #6.

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.

Casey made his final appearance at Shea Stadium, during the 1974 Old Timer's Day celebration. He arrived on a chariot from the outfield & was escorted to the field by several young lady escorts.

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.

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

Citi Field: 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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