The Complex, Two-Headed Casey (Part III)
For those Yankee lovers and Yankee haters and all those in between who have responded to my first two pieces on Charles Dillon Stengel, for you to enjoy and write to me about is another in the series.
Sparing no one including himself, Casey Stengel was equally at ease using the back of his hand or the glad hand. Not unduly concerned about hurting a player’s (or anyone else’s feelings) by a sarcastic or sharp criticism even in front of others, Stengel picked his times.
When the club was losing, he was muted. He even praised players when they were not doing well. When the Yankees were winning, he became almost intolerably edgy, riding his players, trying to prevent a let-down.
“They know when they’re losin’ and feel bad enough. But they’d better not fall asleep on me when they think everything is going la-de-dah,” he’d say.
He was hardest on the top talent like Mickey Mantle. Tolerance was reserved for those with lesser ability. He did not hesitate to replace these players as soon as he could. But he also would not denigrate them when they were on the scene, not much.
“Look at him,” Stengel said of Bobby Richardson. “He doesn’t drink, he doesn’t smoke, he doesn’t chew, he doesn’t stay out late, and he still can’t hit .250. They say some of my stars drink whiskey, but I have found that ones who drink milkshakes don’t win many ball games.”
One time, he went to the mound to remove a pitcher.
“I’m not tired,” said the annoyed hurler.
“I’m tired of you,” Stengel replied.
He sat down next to Bob Cerv in the Yankee dugout: “Nobody knows this, but one of us has just been traded to Kansas City.”
Charley Murdock, an announcer for Radio Station WRVA in Richmond, Virginia came in with a tape recorder. “Mr. Stengel, “I’d like to tape an interview with you and Mantle and a couple of other players for a sports show. Fifty thousand watts, sir.”
“Ask the players,” barked Casey, “Don’t ask me. I got no time for broadcasting. I’m managing a ball club here.”
A Boston writer asked him: “What was the idea of firing Rizzuto on Old Timer’s day? There’s been a lot of editorial comment about that here in Boston.”
Stengel gave him the full response treatment. “You’re entitled to your opinion, But I’ll tell you this. I needed an outfielder which when I saw the chance to get Slaughter I took it. It was his first time around on waivers and you don’t think I’d have got him the second time around, do you? Also, I got four outfielders hurt, Cerv, Collins, Siebern, and Noren. If anything happens to Mantle, what happens to me then? Also you got to remember Hunter comes through pretty good at short so I don’t need Rizzuto. Now wait a minute, wait a minute here.”
The legendary Roger Kahn covered the Yankees for a time and got a close look at Casey in action. “We flew back from Milwaukee after the Braves had taken games four and five of the 1957 World Series,” the noted author said. “I was with Stengel at the Stadium and a guy from WPIX-TV put a microphone in his face and asked: ‘Did your guys choke up out there?’
“And Stengel said: ‘Do you choke up on the f—— microphone?”
“And then he turned around, dropped his pants, scratched his buttocks and kept talking. Later Stengel explained to me: ‘We’ve gotta put a stop to them terrible questions. When I said ‘F—‘ I ruined his audio and when I scratched my a– I ruined his video.”
Players had mixed feelings about Stengel. Clubhouse meetings could last an hour or more with Casey motor-mouthing it non-stop.
“He confused a lot of players,” Rizzuto said. “He had two tempers, one for the public and writers, and one for the players under him. The players were frequently dressed down in the dugout and clubhouse. He could charm the shoes off you, if he wanted to, but he could also be rough.”
Written by acclaimed sports author and oral historian Harvey Frommer, with an intro by pro football Hall of Famer Frank Gifford, When It Was Just a Game tells the fascinating story of the ground-breaking AFL–NFL World Championship Football game played on January 15, 1967: Packers vs. Chiefs. Filled with new insights, containing commentary from the unpublished memoir of Kansas City Chiefs coach Hank Stram, featuring oral history from many who were at the game—media, players, coaches, fans—the book is mainly in the words of those who lived it and saw it go on to become the Super Bowl, the greatest sports attraction the world has ever known. Archival photographs and drawings help bring the event to life.
Dr. Harvey Frommer is in his 39th year of writing books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports books including the classics: best-selling “New York City Baseball, 1947-1957″ and best-selling “Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball,” his acclaimed Remembering Yankee Stadium was published in 2008 and best-selling Remembering Fenway Park was published to acclaim in 2011.