Baseball Digest Birthdays: Casey Stengel

One hundred-twenty one years ago today one of the most colorful characters in baseball history was born. Charles Dillon Stengel had the monicker “Dutch” in his formative years, but he would become famous, and infamous, much later as “Casey” Stengel and the “The Ol’ Perfessor”.

Long before that though, the future Hall of Fame member was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1890. He was a good athlete growing up and quit high school to play for the Kansas City Blues of the American Association. He later played in the Northern Association and the Blue Grass League, but still studied to become a dentist.  Obviously, baseball won out and Stengel was chosen by the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1911 draft. He appeared in 17 games for the Dodgers in 1912, hitting .316 with one home run and 13 RBI.

Stengel hit .284 in six seasons in Brooklyn (who were known as the Dodgers, Superbas, and Robins during that time; they didn’t become the Dodgers full time until 1931.), and helped lead them to the World Series in 1916. He was 4-11 (.364) in the Series, but the Dodgers lost to Babe Ruth and the Boston Red Sox in four games. His final four seasons were in the tutelage of legendary manager Wilbert Robinson.

In 1918, Stengel was dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates as part of a deal for another future Hall member, pitcher Burleigh Grimes. Stengel was dealt three more times in his career, to the Philadelphia Phillies, New York Giants, and Boston Braves. One of his best seasons with the Giants was in 1922 when he hit .368/.436/.564 with 48 RBI in only 84 games. He also went 2-5 in that year’s World Series when the Giants topped the Yankees. One year later, he was on the losing end to the Yankees, but hit .417.

During his time in Pittsburgh, Stengel’s reputation for nutty/funny behavior was best exemplified when his Pirates team visited his old Brooklyn team. The fans booed Stengel mercilessly until he stepped into the batters’ box, doffed his cap, and a bird flew out.

Learn more about “The Old Perfessor” in Milton Richman’s 1957 profile in Baseball Digest. Click here to read all about it!

Stengel retired early in the 1925 season to become player/manager of the Worcester Panthers of the Eastern League. A year later he began a six year stint at the helm of the Toledo Mud Hens of the America Association. (He saw some playing time as well in five of the six years.) Then it was back to the Major Leagues and Brooklyn as a coach for two years before Stengel was named as the Dodgers manager. Unfortunately for Stengel, the Dodgers lacked talent and didn’t finish higher than 5th place before Stengel was fired after the 1936 season.

Stengel got another chance with the Boston Bees/Braves in 1938, but the talent level was no better than in Brooklyn. Boston had four seventh place finishes in Stengel’s first five seasons, but that may not have hurt as much as the broken leg Stengel suffered when a car hit him in April, 1943.  Casey missed 46 games, but the Braves continued their losing ways when he returned, though the  team moved up a notch to sixth place. With the Braves coming under new ownership prior to the 1944 season, Stengel decided to resign, saying he did not want to “embarrass the new stockholders…”.

Stengel’s best days were ahead of him though, as were many more games to manage. After one season running the minor league Milwaukee Brewers he returned to his roots as the skipper of the Kanas City Blues in 1945. Then it was three years at the helm of the Pacific Coast League’s Oakland Oaks before Stengel got the break of a lifetime. The Yankees and manager Bucky Harris agreed to a mutual departure after the 1948 season and Stengel was hired. He would wear the Yankees’ pinstripes and road greys for 12 seasons (Kind of sounds a little like the Joe Torre story, no?).

Stengel became one of the first managers to heavily utilize platooning. He inherited an aging DiMaggio, a young  Mantle, and stalwarts like Berra and Rizzuto. Though he would sometimes clash with veterans and maybe liked the attention he got a little too much, it’s hard to argue with “The Old Perfessor’s” success. 10 pennants and seven world championships, including five straight titles from 1949-1953. He was nearly fired after losing the 1957 World Series to the Milwaukee Braves and then fell behind three games to one to the Braves in the 1958 series. But the Yankees rallied to win three straight games and the Series. Among his memorable moments as Yankees manager was his 1958 anti-trust testimony in front of Congress, in which he had everyone in stitches with his rambling style.

Yankees ownership decided to go in a new direction after the 1960 season and let Stengel go. He would be out of the Majors for one season before accepting a job across town with the expansion New York Mets. The Mets were short on talent so they knew they needed a charismatic figure to help boost attendance. The 71-yr old Stengel was the perfect fit, it didn’t really matter what the Mets did on the field. Good thing too since they lost 120 games that first year and dropped over 100 in the next two seasons as well.

In July, 1965, the 75-yr old manager broke his hip getting out of a car and, on advice from his doctor, retired in August. A year later, the Veteran’s Committee selected Stengel for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Casey is the only person to wear the uniform of all four 20th century teams in New York and both the Mets (1965) and Yankees (1970) retired Casey’s #37.

The baseball world was saddened on September 29, 1975 when Casey Stengel passed away at age 85. He was married to his beloved Edna for 51 years.

Also Born Today:

Clint Hurdle (Big Rapids, MI 1953): Clint Hurdle was a Sports Illustrated cover boy in 1978 and was predicted to be a star in Major League Baseball. Though his time with the KC Royals and three other organizations never lived up to the hype, Hurdle has made a successful career for himself in post-playing days. He’s currently in his first year as manager of the surprising Pittsburgh Pirates, who are in the running for a division title for the first time in nearly 20 years. Hurdle previously managed the Colorado Rockies from 2002-2009 and took the team to it’s sole World Series appearance in 2008.