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Marty Appel’s Casey Stengel biography is worth your time

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Appel’s insight and research live up to the big personality of the “Ol’ Perfesser.”

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Chicago White Sox v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The Yankees and the personalities who donned the pinstripes are some of the most documented figures in sports history, and former manager Casey Stengel is no exception.

Richard Creamer published a thorough biography of Stengel in the 1980s, but New York Times bestselling author Marty Appel’s latest account of the Yankee skipper is absolutely worth the read, as Casey Stengel: Baseball’s Greatest Character hit bookshelves yesterday.

Armed with a fresh angle thanks to an unpublished memoir by Stengel’s wife Edna, Appel uses his lengthy experience with the Yankees’ organization and descriptive writing to capture the “Ol’ Perfesser” in a new light, especially in his upbringing and playing days in empty ballparks as a member of the Kankakee Keys, a team that eventually disbanded and left Stengel unpaid for a half month’s work. The youngster resorted to swiping a few team uniforms to try and make up for the financial loss of his $135 per month salary.

Appel’s account of Stengel’s early playing days were an enjoyable lead-in to Stengel’s historic tenure as Yankee manager, which began with a bang in the form of a World Series title in 1949. The championship began an unbelievable run that has never been matched in baseball. Appel accounts it all with entertaining quotes from numerous players and journalists from the golden age of baseball. Here’s an excerpt from the book which accounts Stengel’s early days as manager in the Bronx, en route to that first World Series win.

Casey sometimes called Henrich “Medwick” or “Handricks,” and sometimes called DiMaggio “Vince” if he wasn’t calling him “the Dago.” The players laughed behind Casey’s back, thinking he was occasionally off his game, but most came to realize he very much knew what he was doing.

Henrich was among the veterans who had a problem adjusting. “I’m afraid I’m a McCarthy man myself,” he reflected some years later. “He ran a better show. He did it without ever sacrificing self-respect. Stengel started out as a clown. When he won, he became a genius.”

Yankee fans will love the description of Stengel’s pinstriped tenure and may want to put the book down after the first 300 pages when his Yankees career ends, but that would be unwise. Appel sheds a bright light on Stengel’s honest impressions of his Mets teams of the sixties, which were historically poor, and yet seemed to somehow make Stengel even more lovable.

Stengel was fired from the Yanks after losing the 1960 World Series thanks to Bill Mazeroski and the Pirates, mainly due to his age of 70 years. Stengel had trouble letting go of that resentment towards the team, but as Appel states, Stengel never lost his love for the franchise that helped mold his Hall of Fame career.

As I mentioned earlier, Appel’s use of Edna Stengel’s unpublished memoir helps readers peer into the lesser known facets of Stengel’s personality. For example, his quirkiness in the dugout bled into his romantic life with his wife. Appel uses direct quotes from Edna’s work, such as this one below, to describe Stengel as a partner.

(He) turned his first pay check over to me, and he made a sort of speech. He said, “Edna, I understand that the average ball player brings gifts to his wife—you know, stockings, lingerie, and that sort of thing. I don’t know how to pick out that stuff, so you take the money and buy yourself anything you want.”

There are also excerpts from famous coaches impacted by Stengel’s tactics, such as NBA coach Phil Jackson, who coached the Bulls and Lakers to a combined 11 championships. Jackson recalls watching the Yanks on TV and marveling at Stengel’s ability to manage player egos and to keep things light in the clubhouse (I think Jackson could use some of those tactics now as president of the Knicks, but I digress).

This book is vintage Appel with his years of experience around the organization, while armed with new material that makes this a worthy read, regardless if you read Creamer’s biography or not. (Amazon)