An unabashed fan reveals Mr. Stengel as magnificent in victory and defeat - Sports Illustrated Vault |
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An unabashed fan reveals Mr. Stengel as magnificent in victory and defeat

The fair-minded biographer (if such there be) is supposed to state the case against his subject as well as for him. Joseph Durso, the author of Casey, The Life and Legend of Charles Dillon Stengel (Prentice-Hall, $5.95), is obviously and happily prejudiced. Durso gives Casey's critics their due. He admits that there were those who saw the Professor as vain, excessively interested in money, inclined to play favorites and impatient to the point of harshness with those who admired him less than he thought proper.

Conscientious journalist that he is, Durso puts all this in the record, but he is happiest when he has got the critics out of the way and can settle down to his story.

Even people who have only a casual interest in baseball know about Casey, his comic-opera stunts (the time he doffed his cap to the crowd and a sparrow flew out of it) and the lulling, plausible but mysterious language known as Stengelese, which produced sentences like, "Most people are dead at my age, and you could look it up."

In 1944 newspaper writers voted Casey the funniest manager in baseball. It was a more serious tribute than some outsiders recognized, for sportswriters are stern judges of humor. It is all that keeps some of them in the business: the chance for honest laughs in a world grown gray with politics and economics. But not any clown can win the laughs, though he may win space in the papers. The appealing thing about Stengel, right from the first when he was a bush leaguer in the Midwest, was the imagination of his humor. It was never derogatory of his game. Casey loved baseball and he celebrated it with laughs, somewhat as King David showed reverence by dancing before the Ark of the Covenant.

Bill Veeck, in his introduction to the book, rightly praises Durso for "seeing beyond the buffoonery and the bandy-legged walk." Veeck adds his own tribute to Casey: "Don't let the Stengelese fool you. Casey can make himself understood anytime anywhere—when he wants to. He can be incomprehensible at a government hearing, but his athletes will get the message that night."

Durso takes Stengel over more than 50 years, from his failure as a left-handed dentist in Kansas City through the 10 pennants and seven World Series he won over 12 seasons with the Yankees and on to three years in the cellar with "my amazin' Mets."

These years reveal the Stengel spirit as perhaps even finer in defeat than in victory. It almost seems as though Casey made the Mets up out of his own head, so true was this outfit to that spirit. Durso has caught its gallantry as well as its laughter.