New York Yankees History: Casey Stengel, the greatest Yankee Manager?

NEW YORK - JULY, 1962. Casey Stengel, manager of the New York Yankees, talks with shortstop Tony Kubek before a game at Yankee Stadium in 1960. (Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images)

For the New York Yankees, the question of who was the greatest manager of all time is a fun question with so many great managers.  You have Miller Huggins, Joe McCarthy, Billy Martin, and Joe Torres, an addition to a list that includes Casey Stengel.

Charles Dillion Stengel was born in 1890 in Kansas City, Missouri. Stengel would grow up to be a mediocre baseball player but excel as the winning-est Yankee Manager of all time. Charlie Stengel played sandlot baseball as a child, and also played football and basketball at Kansas City’s Central High School. While there his baseball team won the state championship

During his teen years, he played for several semi-pro baseball teams even though he was underage. During that time, he was paid a dollar a day. When he was offered a contract by the Kansas City Blues, his father had to sign the contract. Even at a young age, Sengel was cantankerous and stubborn, his Father said the young “Charlie” wanted to play ball and there was no way I was going to change his mind.

He reported to spring training for the Blues, but failed to make the team and took a job with a lower Kankakee Kays team. He finished the 1910 season batting .237. During the off-seasons of 1910-11, not being sure he would make it as a baseball player, he attended dental school. He didn’t do well at that either as he was left-handed, and dental equipment of the time was only right-handed. Stangel would later say, “want to thank my parents for letting me play baseball, and I’m thankful I had baseball knuckles and couldn’t become a dentist”.

After hitting .357 with the Aurora Blues, Stengel would be purchased by the Brooklyn Dodgers. In 1912 an older player would take Stengel under his tutelage and get him a locker next to his. This association would lead to him learning to play the outfield.

Throughout Stengel’s career, he would fight with his bosses over pay. When the Dodgers opened their new stadium, Ebbets Field, Stengel would hit the first home run in the new stadium. Stengel continued to play well, finishing the season with a .316 batting average, though hitting .351 when right-handers started against Brooklyn and only .250 when left-handers started. After holding out for better pay, Stengel signed with the Dodgers for 1913. He won the starting center fielder job. In 1913, he hit an inside the park home run against the Yankees.

It was in 1913 that Charlie would become “Casey” as teammates noticed he had K.C. stenciled on his bags. All of this time, Stengel continued to fight about his pay. As the Dodgers looked to cut payroll, they wanted to reduce Casey’s as well. He eventually signed a contract, but shortly afterword was traded to the Pirates. During those years until 1925, Stengel would play for the Pirates, the Phillies, the Giants, and the Braves. Stengel started 1925 on the active roster of the Braves, but when the Braves owner purchased the Worcester Panthers, he made Casey the player-manager of the team.

This began a coaching career that would take Casey to Cooperstown and the Hall of Fame to which he was named in 1966. In 1932 he would take the job of managing the Brooklyn Dodgers. From 1938 to 1943, he headed the Braves. Being relatively unsuccessful in both jobs, he returned to manage in the minors. He was more successful there and was named manager of the year in 1948.

That year was also the year he met up with Billy Martin, a shortstop that the Case was very found off. As early as 1940, Casey was always mentioned as a possible manager for the Yankees, but he never got the job. After winning a minor league championship on the west coast, Yankee scouts on the West Coast recommended Stengel. Casey became manager of the Yankees in the offseason in 1948, and he brought his shortstop Billy Martin with him.

The glory days of Casey’s management would begin along with the future dynasty of the New York Yankees. Stengel tried to keep a low profile during the 1949 Yankee spring training. Still, there was considerable media attention as Stengel shuttled rookies from one position on the field to another and endlessly shuffled his lineup. He had the advantage of diminished expectations, as DiMaggio, the Yankee superstar, was injured with a bone spur in his heel, and few picked New York to win the pennant. Gaining media attention and not wanting the media to know what he was doing, he started his “Stangleaze,” the ability to talk to the media, answer questions and leave the media wondering what he said.

In the 1949 World Series, Stengel’s first as a participant since 1923, the Yankees faced the Brooklyn Dodgers; The Yankees would win the series in five games. In 1949 he was Manager of the Year, and his low key days were over. In the years to follow, the New York Yankees would win the Series in 1950-51-52-53, a five-time World Series win that would not be repeated ever in baseball. After not winning in 54 or 55, the Yankees would again win in 1956. In 1958 the World Series was again against the Dodgers, who won the first two games at Ebbets Field. Stengel lectured the team before Game 3 at Yankee Stadium, and the team responded with a victory then and in Game 4. For Game 5, Stengel pitched Don Larsen, who had been knocked out of Game 2, and who responded with a perfect game, the only one in major league postseason history. The Yankees took the series in seven games, their seventh World Series win under Stengel, making him the all-time winner of the most World Series to this day in New York Yankee history.

The Yankees finished 79–75 in 1959, in third place, their worst record since 1925, as the White Sox, managed by Lopez, won the pennant. There was considerable criticism of Stengel, who was viewed as too old and out of touch with the players. The Yankee improved in 1960 but lost the World Series to the Pirates. Soon after, Stengel was advised that his contract would not be renewed, Stengel requested that the termination is announced at a press conference; it was granted, and on October 18, 1960, Topping and Stengel appeared before the microphones.

After Yankee executive Topping evaded questions from the press about whether Stengel had been fired, Stengel took the microphone, and when asked if he had been fired, he stated, “Quit, fired, whatever you please, I don’t care.” Topping said that Stengel was being terminated because of his age, 70, and alleged that this would have happened even had the Yankees won the World Series. Thus ended the Yankee career of Casey Stengel.

Casey would continue to manage as he was hired by the crosstown New York Mets. In his four years with the Mets, they would go 175-404. Stengel was invited to an Old-Timers’ Game. Sometime during that evening, Stengel fell and broke his hip. The circumstances of his fall are not known with certainty, as he did not realize he had been severely injured until the following day. Stengel spent his 75th birthday in the hospital. Recognizing that considerable rehabilitation would be required, he retired as manager of the Mets on August 30, replaced by Wes Westrum, one of his coaches. The Mets would again finish in the last place.

Suffering from mild Alzheimer’s, in the last year of his life, Stengel cut back on his travel schedule and was too ill to attend the Yankees’ Old-Timers Day game in August 1975. That same year it was announced that “Casey’s boy” Billy Martin would be the new team manager.  For Stengel, diagnosis of cancer of the lymph glands had been made, and Stengel realized he was dying. In mid-September, he was admitted to Glendale Memorial Hospital, but the tumor was inoperable. He died there on September 29, 1975. Upon his death, Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times wrote: “God is certainly getting an earful tonight.”

Casey Stengel once said that running a baseball team was easy: “The secret of success as a manager is to keep the five guys who hate you away from the five guys who are undecided.”

Many New York Yankees fans remember Joe Torre’s dynasty of the late ’90s and 2000s and deem him the best Yankee Manager.  This writer feels that title should go to Casey, and his most ever World Series wins speaks for itself.