Home Arts and Leisure Before Yogi Berra, There Was Casey Stengel

Before Yogi Berra, There Was Casey Stengel

He managed the Boston Braves for three years

1 comment

Casey Stengel famously asked “Can’t anybody here play this game?” of the hapless 1962 Mets. But he may have asked the same question of the 1939 Boston Braves.  And the 1940 Braves…and the 1941 Braves…

Stengel was best known as the wisecracking manager of the Mets in the 1960s and as the canny leader of the New York Yankees, a powerhouse during the 1950s.  By then he’d figured out to manage:

The key to being a good manager is keeping the people who hate me away from those who are still undecided.

Casey Stengel, manager of the Boston Braves. Photo courtesy Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones collection.

Casey Stengel, manager of the Boston Braves. Photo courtesy Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones collection.

Perhaps he hadn’t done that when he managed the Braves.

Casey Stengel

He was born in 1890 in Kansas City, Mo., to a middle-class family. He played sandlot ball as a boy. He later said,

I want to thank my parents for letting me play baseball, and I’m thankful I had baseball knuckles and couldn’t become a dentist.

He played 14 seasons in the National League, hitting a solid .284 and playing excellent defense.  Stengel played five years with the Brooklyn Dodgers, then with three other National League teams before coming to the Boston Braves in 1924-25. Of his playing career, he once told a U.S. Senate subcommittee:

I had many years that I was not so successful as a ball player, as it is a game of skill.

Casey Stengel, Owner-Manager

When Stengel’s major league playing career ended, he invested some of his earnings in Texas oil fields. He parlayed his profit into a part ownership of the Boston Braves in 1938.  He then turned to managing. That first year, he  managed the team to a fifth- place finish with a 77-75 record – the only winning record he’d have as a Braves manager.

It was downhill from there, one losing season after another.

He once fatalistically asked,

Without losers, where would the winners be?

Stengel was not a strict disciplinarian. He did have one rule about players’ activities off the field: they couldn’t drink in the hotel bar because that’s where he drank.  He didn’t have curfews:

“Being with a woman all night never hurt no professional baseball player. It’s staying up all night looking for a woman that does him in.”

With Stengel as manager, the team finished in seventh place all three years, with a  190-267 record.

Just before the 1943 season, a taxicab hit Stengel as he crossed Commonwealth Avenue in Boston. The accident fractured his left leg. During his six weeks in the hospital he developed a staph infection and forever after walked with a limp.

A sportswriter said the cabdriver was the person who had done the most for Boston baseball.


Finally on Jan. 27, 1944, Stengel resigned. He described what happened in his inimitable Stengelese:

I became a major league manager in several cities and was discharged. We call it discharged because there is no question I had to leave.

He then managed several teams in the minor leagues. When the Oakland Oaks hired him, he commented on the team’s proximity to the Bay Bridge:

Every manager wants to throw himself off a bridge sooner or later, and it’s very nice for an old man to know he doesn’t have to walk fifty miles to find one.

Stengel went on to manage the Yankees, then the Mets. He won five pennants with the Yankees. With the Mets, an expansion team, he didn’t do so well. In their first season, 1962, they won only 40 games and lost 120 — the worst record of amy 20th century team. But his colorful comments, gleefully reported by New York sportswriters, helped win fan support despite the team’s failures on the field.

He’d say things like,

Good pitching will always stop good hitting and vice-versa.

I don’t know if he throws a spitball but he sure spits on the ball.

I don’t like them fellas who drive in two runs and let in three.

Pitching great Warren Spahn, who played for Stengel in 1942 and – at 44 – for the 1965 Mets, had his own take on Stengel:

I’m probably the only guy who worked for Stengel before and after he was a genius.

Stengel finally retired in 1965. He had broken his hip after falling off a bar stool.

There comes a time in every man’s life, and I’ve had plenty of them.

This story last updated in 2024.

1 comment

Molly Landrigan January 28, 2014 - 11:19 am

He was really quite a character, wasn’t he? I was sorry when the Braves left Boston.

Comments are closed.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest artciles from the New England Historical Society

Thanks for Signing Up!

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join Now and Get The Latest Articles. 

It's Free!

You have Successfully Subscribed!