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Did Casey Cost the Mets Reggie Jackson?

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Did Casey Cost the Mets Reggie Jackson?

Dave Jordan's picture
Dave Jordan
Dave Jordan is the co-author of the critically-acclaimed baseball autobiography, "Fastball John."

Did Casey Cost the Mets Reggie Jackson?

What’s the first image that comes to mind when you hear the name “Casey Stengel?”

I asked the question to a group of savvy baseball fans from across the country. “Wit & wins.” Yankees.”Lovable losers.” “Metsie.” “Stengelese.” “Bird flies out from under his cap.” Great quotes from Roger Angell and Roger Kahn. What’s interesting is that the most popular response coming from this group of 35 to 60-year-olds was “Mets.” Understandable as Casey’s career in pinstripes ended in 1960 and most of the groups' memories began with Casey’s journey as Mets manager in 1962.

Of the 50 or so fans who responded, not one said “ballplayer.” Casey is remembered for so many roles (manager and baseball ambassador), quotes ("Good pitching will always stop good hitting and vice-versa"), nicknames (“The Ol’ Perfessor”), moments (his appearance before Congress in 1958), and yet very few people realize how productive Stengel was in the field. Six seasons of over 500 plate appearances. He finished his career with a .284 batting average and .356 on-base percentage. Although it says an awful lot about the lack of power-hitting during the early 20th century, Casey finished in the top 10 for home runs four times. His career OPS+ is 120, which compares favorably with notable modern ballplayers such as Ben Zobrist and Pablo Sandoval. In 1922, Stengel hit .368 in 283 plate appearances. Since that time, do you know how many players with more than 250 PAs and less than 500 finished a season with a higher batting average? Nine. Maybe that's too specific a data set, but to be sure, Stengel was no Casey at the bat.

That’s the main takeaway for me from reading Marty Appel’s latest book, “Casey Stengel: Baseball’s Greatest Character.” This is the kind of work the former Yankees PR director and current de facto team historian has composed for years, and a work that more knowledgeable baseball readers have come to expect. The author of the highly-acclaimed “Munson” biography, as well as the bestselling “Pinstripe Empire,” in addition to a host of the other books, Appel takes you on a tour through baseball’s childhood during the 1910s leading us into the life of a man who was truly the game’s Zelig until the 1970s.

The book has enjoyed glowing reviews in print as well as on the web and rightfully so, but for me, what Marty Appel does better than anyone else in baseball writing, is that he guides you through the museum of the subject matter. He’s not here to use the platform to show off his narrative flair or chew up literary scenery like some over-eager Oscar-caliber actor. No, you buy Marty’s books because you want to go to Cooperstown and it’s too far away or too costly. He brings the experience to your night table, to your Saturday afternoon recliner, to your Sunday morning cup of coffee. Appel leads the reader through the baseball halls of fame, fortune, tragedy, achievement, aftermath. In my review of “Empire” from a few years back, this nugget holds up as well (if not more so) for “Stengel:”

“Appel escorts you about like a prideful guide who adores his job, every so often taking each of you aside, speaking softly as if sharing a secret tidbit that not everyone gets to hear on the other tours.”

A simple search will provide an assortment of reviews for the book, but here’s a quick teaser for some of the fascinating events, remarks and notations that make "Stengel" such a joy:

• A story about Casey that few folks would find hard to be true (p.44) but Appel includes here.

• Public criticism in 1916 about post-season "surge pricing" (p.53.)

• Baseball’s first players’ union and holdouts (p.54.)

• Where Casey learned his baseball managing (p.68.)

• Why Casey ended up in Boston (p.83.)

• One of the true responsibilities of minor league managers in the 1920’s (p.96.)

• A detailed re-telling of the Len Konecke story (p.110.)

• Which Yankee great Stengel cut at a Brroklyn Dodgers tryout in 1935 (p 113.)

• Casey’s investments in oil and those who threw in with him (p.117.)

• Interesting footnote about the name change for the National League Boston franchise during the 1930s (p.119.)

• Warren Spahn’s hysterical quote about Stengel (p.127.)

• Funny story about why Yankees co-owner Larry MacPhail sold his share of the team in 1947 (p.169.)

• Yankees were the first to employ advance scouts as well as the origins of the “Instructional Leagues” (p.171.)

• It wasn’t the Copa story that doomed Billy Martin’s Yankee tenure in 1957 (p.245). Casey saved Billy many more times than history has given him credit for.

• Yankees Coach Ralph Houk and famed Yankee pitcher/drinker Ryne Duren on a Wabash Cannonball train in 1958 (p.259.)

• The real reason the Mets drew so well their initial season in 1962 (p.299.)

• Also from the Mets' maiden campaign, a very telling Casey quote spoken to the former Yankees outfielder Gene Woodling – no folksy words, no Stengelse (p.299.) A real, behind-the-scenes remark.

• A somewhat mysterious injury story involving Casey’s hip in 1965 (p.323.)

During our last Q&A, I asked Marty about the nature of lovable losers. I’m gonna throw that back in here along with a host of questions I had after reading “Stengel:”

INSTREAM: To me, there’s five parts to the book composition process: Researching, interviewing, writing, editing, promoting. What do you like most?

APPEL: Researching. It helps to have the experience to know where to look. So the hunt is minimized and the reward is quick. I'm in love with the treasures I found on Newspapers.com. What a tool that was! And The Sporting News archives - oh boy, did they cover baseball great in their day.

INSTREAM: You mention Edna (Stengel’s wife) wanted Casey to resume dental school (p 29). How did she really feel about the baseball life?

APPEL: Edna loved the "baseball life" but was mostly happy just being with Casey, and if that meant retiring from baseball and just traveling or being at home with him, she would have been fine with that, too.

INSTREAM: Most people only know Casey Stengel for his time as a manager, and while they assumed he was a player, never really gave it much thought. What kind of player was Casey? Was he a good soldier, so to speak? A good teammate? Troublemaker?

APPEL: He was a decent player - if there were All-Star Games back then, he probably would have made a few. He was a good teammate, but he could be a rule-breaker. John McGraw thought he was a serial smart-aleck.

INSTREAM: Let’s put the ‘Ol Perfessor’s playing career in some perspective. He finished among the top 10 home run hitters in four of his seasons (I know that’s not a lot back then and some of them were inside-the-park-jobs, but still…) He finished his career with an OPS+ of 120. Of course no one paid much attention to those numbers back then, but he also walked nearly as much as he struck out. Batted .393 in 33 post-season plate appearances.It’s really quite a revelation when you look at his numbers through a sabermetric lens, no? There’s more than a few good to even great players under that 120 OPS+ figure.

APPEL: This would not come as a surprise to him; he thought he was pretty good. But in 1915 he had a terrible year, and I think it eroded his reputation afterwards. If you toss that one year out (which of course, you say for everybody), he's a .290 lifetime hitter. And he may have played sick in 1915, it was never really clear.

INSTREAM: There’s so much in the book about the love story between Casey and his future wife, Edna. In her own words: “He wasn’t handsome…..he kept double-talking me, and I was doubly hard to convince….I didn’t say ‘Yes’ the first day….I still had the romantic idea of marrying some tall, distinguished-looking man.” Edna’s brother and Father (a real estate man in between fortunes at the time) got involved promoting the relationship. This doesn’t sound like a storybook courtship by any means.

APPEL: It was unorthodox, to be sure. But remember, they were both in their thirties (which might explain why they didn't have children). I think you get a little less romantic in your actions by the time you're in your thirties.

INSTREAM: How did Casey and his Boston Bees get along with the cross-town Red Sox?

APPEL: They were certainly the #2 team in town, a forerunner of the day, a decade letter, when the Braves would move to Milwaukee. Little about the Bees was more high profile than about the Red Sox.

INSTREAM: Not every writer found Casey’s histrionics cute. 1930’s & 40’s-era Boston sportswriter like Dave “The Colonel” Egan had a particular distaste for Stengel during his time managing the Braves/Bees. Were there writers that were aligned with each team back then? Were there “Red Sox” writers & Braves/Bees writers?

APPEL: In Boston, many writers covered both teams (New York reporters would switch in mid-season). Egan was a columnist, he certainly had the freedom to observe the whole Boston sporting scene.

INSTREAM: Do you think if Casey was not an investor in the Boston Bees, would he have lasted as long as manager?

APPEL: Pretty good theory. If you want to last longer as manager, you might think of investing in the club. Worked for Connie Mack.

INSTREAM: Bill Veeck didn’t want Casey (“a clown”) as manager for the AAA ballclub he owned in 1943 and lists seven reasons why. The team went on to win 102 ballgames. Casey wasn’t invited back for the following season once Veeck returned from military service. Hmmm.

APPEL: Veeck never did warm up to Casey, not then, and especially not when he managed the Yankees, who represented everything Veeck hated.

INSTREAM: And then, a year later, he checks in with Casey about an investment. The dynamics of people in business are absolutely fascinating.

APPEL: Investment advice certainly can have life of its own.

INSTREAM: What was Yankees co-owner Dan Topping’s issue with hiring Casey to manage the Bombers?

APPEL: He just didn't know him, so he thought he was unworthy of the lofty status the Yankees held. And then it didn't help when Casey called him "Bob" at the press conference where he was introduced. (Bob Topping was the brother).

INSTREAM: Jerry Coleman said “I played for Casey for eight years…he was never close to the players and exuded very little warmth.” Was this the experience of most of the players during his time managing both the Yankees & Mets?

APPEL: He was never a "player's manager." He didn't care what they thought about him, and that probably came from his days with McGraw who was similar. The Yankees who played for both McCarthy and Stengel preferred McCarthy. the ones who played for both Stengel and Houk preferred Houk. But they were all happy to cash their world series checks every year!

INSTREAM: Much has been discussed about Casey’s strained relationship with Joe DiMaggio. You made a distinction between magazine pieces vs the daily press. What was Joltin’ Joe’s relationship with the beat guys like?

APPEL: With some, like Jimmy Cannon, he had a nice relationship, centered on meeting up at Toots Shor's for drinks. Others he held at arms length, just as he did some teammates. Tommy Henrich told me he never once had dinner with Joe.

INSTREAM: So in addition to Casey's issues with DiMaggio you mention that he also showed little respect for Phil Rizzuto’s seniority. Do you think Casey had an issue with “Joe McCarthy Yankees?” Or vice versa?

APPEL: The only issue was his need to show who was boss. The McCarthy Yankees never really took him as seriously as they should have, so there was always that tension.

INSTREAM: What’s interesting is Casey’s relationship with the writers and their discretion with what they saw – almost call it collusion to keep certain things quiet against their better interests.

APPEL: That was a carryover, an understanding, a tradition. The writers traveled with the team (ate and drank on the team) and saw a lot they didn't report. It really lasted that way into the 1960s. And the food and drink is no more today.

INSTREAM: Casey referenced “my writers” quite often. Did he have a favorite?

APPEL: I think he liked John Drebinger of the Times a lot during his Yankee days, but he really had a fondness for all of them. They were his companions in the hotel bars late into the nights. Friendships were formed. With the Mets, it was clearly Maury Allen because Maury was fascinated by Stengel and couldn't get enough of him.

INSTREAM: You mention a bit about the business success and failures of the Lawson family. The Valley National Bank opening in 1957. How much did Casey’s presence in their lives enhance their business interests?

APPEL: Casey was a Vice President of the bank, and spent enough time there where he had a secretary. People did come in to see him, and he'd coax them into opening accounts. He would tell them, "I'm only a Vice President; I'm not authorized to hand out free samples."

INSTREAM: You mention quite a bit about Edna’s memoir of her life with Casey. The book remained unpublished in 1958 because “the offers she received were not substantial enough.” As something of an experienced hand in this world and having read the book, do you think there was enough content there for a successful publishing?

APPEL: She was pretty firm that she wanted $100,000 for her book, which was an awful lot of money at the time. When no offers even close to that appeared, she seemed fine with just walking away.

INSTREAM: “The secret of managing is to keep the five guys who hate you away from the undecideds.” To me, this is one of the great quotes in corporate management history.

APPEL: It still works, right?

INSTREAM: What do you think was Casey’s most satisfying World Series victory?

APPEL: Oh, certainly 1949. He had been in baseball since 1910 and at last got to prove that he was a good manager. He won that pennant despite more than 70 injuries to the club. That one halted all doubters, of which there were many.

INSTREAM: Without getting into the details of Len Shecter’s role in the Wabash Cannonball train story, did Casey “lose control” of “his writers” toward the end of his time as Yankee manager?

APPEL: Some writers began to appear on the scene - Shecter was one - who didn't care much about the free food and free drinks, but were looking for stories. So in a small sense, that control was indeed fading.

INSTREAM: “Baseball today is serious business. You don’t tolerate heavy drinkers. No man is so good, so important, that you have to take a lot of nonsense from him and shut your eyes to his wanderings and rule fractures.” Amazing that this was said in 1959.

APPEL: Casey was a walking contradiction on things like this. He was a rule-breaker at heart, and a hard drinker too. But he liked guys who could 'handle' their liquor, and didn't have a lot of respect for the "milk shake drinkers."

INSTREAM: The Yankees finished in third place in 1948 after winning the previous year and dismissed Bucky Harris as manager. The Yankees finished in third place in 1959 after winning the previous year. How much did the two-year contract save Casey’s job for 1960?

APPEL: I think it saved him for sure. Houk was already in the picture. The team really underperformed. I think he threw pitching coach Jim Turner under the bus to help save his own job.

INSTREAM: The frequent talk about Casey’s retiring – was this coming from his writers’ or the Len Shecter types?

APPEL: It wasn't coming from Casey. Edna would have loved it, but Casey wanted to go on forever. So it was from the writers, for sure.

INSTREAM: Did Casey have a better relationship with Del Webb or Dan Topping at the end of this time as manager?

APPEL: Webb had been a longtime friend and couldn't even bring himself to attend Casey's 'farewell' press conference.

INSTREAM: How important were the panel show appearances Casey made to increase his “face of the game” profile?

APPEL: I don't know if they took on "importance," but just like profiles of him in Saturday Evening Post, Life and Look, they all added up to increased attention for his teams.

INSTREAM: Casey’s continuing use of turn of the century expressions well into the 1960s. Was some/most/all of this an affectation?

APPEL: Oh no, this was quite natural to him. And if someone had told him, "Casey, people don't use that expression anymore," he was not about to change.

INSTREAM: Is it possible for a ballclub in 2017 to be beloved not just in spite, but because of their incomptence? Is it possible to become lovable losers like Casey's Mets in today's sports world?

MARTY APPEL: I'm sure many expansion clubs in all leagues have studied the Mets success and tried to emulate it - without success. It came down to Casey, and what he did there remains a remarkable business model that is hard to duplicate.

INSTREAM: Love to hear about the conversation to bring Casey back in 1970. Whose idea was it to retire Casey’s number?

APPEL: Bob Fishel. He had a sense that would bring Casey back. And he was right. He was my mentor at the Yankees - their PR Director 20 years - and he was terrific at things like that.

INSTREAM: Toots Shor plays such a rich role in 1950’s-‘60s Mickey/Billy/Whitey/Yogi/Casey lore. What was his restaurant/bar scene experience like as he entered into the 1970s?

APPEL: Towards the end suggests the final years in different locations when Toots was not in good health and it was no longer The Place to gather. Other places like Mike Manuche's had replaced it as the gathering spot for NY sports. And all the night games that baseball had reduced the visits by players and team officials.

INSTREAM: George Steinbrenner buys into the New York Yankees organization in late 1972. Does any relationship at all develop between "The Boss" and Casey?

APPEL: There was none.

INSTREAM: How come no other Yankees reps attended Casey's funeral in 1975?

APPEL: Hard to know. He had been out of their lives for years, and few had "kept in touch." They weren't friends; they were employees. Would you go to your boss's funeral 15 years later? But looking back, the Yankees front office, including me, should have been better represented.

INSTREAM: You have mentioned before that 1976 was your most satisfying Yankee year working in the organization. It’s interesting that Casey’s passing almost closes the Yankee era before the new ballpark was opened.

APPEL: We put a plaque in Monument Park for Casey when the new Stadium opened in 1976 - I wrote it. Happy to have had a hand in that.

INSTREAM: And the final question that I haven’t seen anyone else ask you. Did Casey Stengel cost the Mets Reggie Jackson? Also, was Mets management receptive to any further prospect advice from Stengel after the 1966 Major League Draft?

APPEL: Frankly, I'm not sure how seriously they took Casey's scouting report. They might have chosen Chilcott even if they hadn't dispatched Casey to look at him. But it didn't help that he sent back a good report!

*****Card art courtesy of Giovanni Balistreri of the When Topps Had (Base) Balls Blog - @wthballs.

Blog image: 
Instream and Yankees historian Marty Appel explore his definitive look at “Stengel."

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