Sparky Anderson, manager of the world champion Detroit Tigers, is aware of Ty Cobb’s records, Babe Ruth’s home run revolution, Joe DiMaggio’s elegance and Willie Mays’ multiple skills.
He just happens to think that Casey Stengel was “the greatest man” in the history of baseball.
“At one time or another he touched every fan,” says Anderson in arguing his point. “He was in baseball as a player and manager for 50 years and spread the gospel of baseball to more people than anyone else it has ever known. He had television to help him do it, too, and therefore was able to influence more people than anyone else.”
There were, of course, many sides to Stengel--the double-talker, the surprisingly stern manager, the teacher and the story teller.
“He used the double-talk as a ploy to avoid answering questions he didn’t want to answer,” says Anderson. “You could be listening to Casey when he was in that mood, go away, come back three hours later and he’d still be talking, unaware you had even gone.”
Stengel was one of the greatest after-dinner speakers baseball ever had and everyone hated to follow him to the dais.
“I remember one speech Casey gave at the New York Baseball Writers Dinner,” recalls Anderson. “He had everyone in stitches for a half hour. I felt sorry for the next speaker and won’t embarrass him by identifying him. I thought the audience was gonna throw stones at the poor guy.”
Stengel had been an unsuccessful manager before joining the New York Yankees in 1949. He was given the difficult task of converting an old club into a young one while continuing to win. He succeeded far beyond expectations by winning five consecutive World Series and American League pennants in 10 of 12 years.
“I’ve heard stories about his managerial approach,” says Anderson. “His players always said he was easier to play for when they were losing than when they were winning. He could be a hard driver.”
Stengel’s celebrated platoon system was developed through a period of trial and error during the 1947 season. He was forced to tinker with his personnel because of a series of injuries and soon found players with multiple talents who could be platooned or played at different positions efficiently.
With the New York Mets, late in his career, Stengel provided humorous material for writers and broadcasters covering the team as a means of covering up its weaknesses with laughs.