Casey Stengel might have played with or against, managed for or against and just plain knew more people than anyone else in Major League Baseball history, a point Marty Appel makes in his new biography, “Casey Stengel: Baseball’s Greatest Character,” due out later this month.
The bonus was that Stengel was no Zelig-like, in-the-background figure. He was front-row center, by sheer force of his personality – combined with unparalleled success in 12 years as the Yankees manager from 1949 to 1960.
Indeed, one of the inspirations for Appel’s book was the MLB Network show “Prime 9,” naming Stengel “Baseball’s Greatest Character” in 2009, a mere 119 years after he was born in Kansas City. (Hence the nickname, from K.C.)
There have been other books written by and about Charles Dillon “Casey” Stengel over the decades, but this one arrives just in time given that the ranks of those with firsthand experience with him are dwindling fast.
Several of the people Appel interviewed since have died, and others are in their 80s or 90s, supporting evidence for Stengel’s famous old quote about most people his age being dead at the present time.
At 68, Appel is an invaluable direct tie to a fading Yankees era, having been the youngest public relations head in major league history when George Steinbrenner elevated him in 1973. He had worked for the team since 1968.
All of the above makes this a compelling read, and a particularly educational one for anyone under 60 or so.
In Appel’s book, Stengel is young again, embarking on a career in which he worked for all four of the city’s major league teams – the Dodgers, Giants, Yankees and Mets – while selling both himself and the game along the way.
Excerpts from a previously unpublished memoir by his wife, Edna, add context to a life that included no children of his own but decades of charming the children of others.
Among many other anachronistic delights is the enormous importance Stengel placed on nurturing relationships with his era’s powerful newspaper reporters and columnists. Let’s just say that is less of a priority for 21st century players and managers.
Appel resists flourishes in his prose, mostly telling tales straight and succinctly. Going into too much detail would have been a bore and a chore for readers, given the looping arc of Stengel’s life.
The man was born in 1890, closer to the American Revolution than to today. His is a long story, worth the retelling.