Famous From Missouri
From Kansas City, Missouri
Casey Stengel—baseball’s greatest character
Text and research by Jeremy Hulshof for the State Historical Society
Casey Stengel was a twentieth-century professional baseball player and manager who is best known for managing the New York Yankees to ten American League pennants and seven World Series championships from 1949 to 1960. Today he is recognized as one of baseball’s greatest managers.
He was born Charles Dillon Stengel on July 30, 1890, in Kansas City, Missouri, the youngest child of Louis and Jennie Stengel. His father was a German immigrant and insurance salesman who operated the city’s street sprinkler, which controlled dust on the unpaved streets. This allowed young Charles, who was known as “Dutch” to his friends, to grow up in a moderately middle-class neighborhood.
Stengel, who was given the nickname “Casey” as a tribute to his Kansas City roots, made his major-league debut late in the 1912 season for the Brooklyn Dodgers. In 1916 he took part in his first World Series with Brooklyn. He left baseball briefly in 1918 to serve in the U.S. Navy during World War I, but was back in baseball the following year. He played in two more World Series, both with the New York Giants, helping them to win championships in 1922 and 1923 and even managing to outhit legendary New York Yankee Babe Ruth during the 1923 contest.
During his playing days, Stengel began developing a reputation for making people laugh. In one game, he famously responded to heckling from the crowd by hiding a sparrow under his baseball cap so that it would fly away when he sarcastically tipped his hat to them. Later, as a manager, he became known for giving rambling, colorful interviews in a language sportswriters referred to as “Stengelese.” Stengel remains widely quoted within baseball for comic statements such as “Good pitching will always stop good hitting and vice versa.”
Despite his lack of previous success as a major-league manager, Stengel was hired in 1949 to manage the most successful team at that time, the New York Yankees. His hiring caught the baseball world by surprise. Thanks to the talents of legendary players such as Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, and Joe DiMaggio, Stengel led his team to five straight World Series victories from 1949 to 1953. Stengel remains the only man in history to lead a team to five consecutive World Series championships.
Under Stengel, the Yankees also won the World Series in 1956 and 1958. They competed in, but lost, the series in 1955, 1957, and 1960. After losing to the underdog Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1960 World Series, the Yankees hired a new manager for the 1961 season. Stengel resurfaced in 1962 as manager of the New York Mets, a National League expansion team widely regarded as one of the least talented teams in major-league history. Stengel left the Mets during the 1965 season, announcing his retirement on August 30, 1965. An official ceremony was held a few days later, on September 2. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, on March 8, 1966. Casey Stengel died from cancer on September 29, 1975, at the age of 85.
This article used by permission of the State Historical Society.
Casey Stengel, 1953.
Casey at the Bat
By Ernest Lawrence Thayer
Published: The Examiner (06-03-1888)
The Outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play.
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that -
We’d put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat.
But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
And the former was a lulu and the latter was a cake;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Casey’s getting to the bat.
But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despis-ed, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and the men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.
Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.
There was ease in Casey’s manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey’s bearing and a smile on Casey’s face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt ‘twas Casey at the bat.
Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance gleamed in Casey’s eye, a sneer curled Casey’s lip.
And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped-
“That ain’t my style,” said Casey. “Strike one,” the umpire said.
From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore.
“Kill him! Kill the umpire!” shouted someone on the stand;
And it’s likely they’d a-killed him had not Casey raised his hand.
With a smile of Christian charity great Casey’s visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, “Strike two.”
“Fraud!” cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered fraud;
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that Casey wouldn’t let that ball go by again.
The sneer is gone from Casey’s lip, his teeth are clenched in hate;
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.
Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville - mighty Casey has struck out.
This is the complete poem as it originally appeared in The Daily Examiner, June 3, 1888.
Baseball stars on the Perry Como Show, 1960.