Maury Allen is a sportswriter for the New York Post who covered the Mets in those marvelous early years when Casey Stengel presided benignly over the most endearingly inept group of mortals ever to masquerade as a major league baseball team. He was a member of that pack of journalists whom Stengel called "my writers," and he seems to have known the Old Perfesser fairly well.
Out of this experience Allen has written You Could Look It Up: The Life of Casey Stengel (Times Books, $10.95), the first full biography of Stengel since his death four years ago. It is an earnest, amiable, affectionate book. It is also a considerable disappointment. It tells us a great deal that we already knew about Stengel and very little that we did not. It has plenty of accounts of games in which Stengel played or managed, plenty of reminiscences by his friends and rivals, plenty of ball-park atmosphere—yet Stengel himself is as much a mystery at the end of this book as he was at the beginning. Allen has failed to locate the private individual behind the public personality.
Sometimes that can't be avoided; some men and women are mysteries that their biographers simply can't crack. The problem here, however, is that Allen doesn't seem to have made much of an effort. He has been content to record a lot of material about Stengel without really exploring it, without making the attempt—which is one of a biographer's chief responsibilities—to discover what it means.
To be sure, Allen scrupulously recounts the familiar story: Stengel's boyhood in Kansas City; his gritty big-league career; his woeful managing stints in Brooklyn and Boston; his surprising selection by the Yankees and his glorious triumphs with them; his memorable Indian summer with the Mets. Allen understands that beneath the clown's greasepaint was a serious, encyclopedic baseball mind; he is particularly good at explaining the student-teacher relationship between Stengel and John J. McGraw, and the later teacher-student relationship between Stengel and Billy Martin.
But there are other matters he just doesn't delve into. Stengel's long and presumably happy marriage is largely unexplored territory. So, too, is Stengel as entertainer, as public personality whose image was carefully self-created.
Allen's is a competent account, but it is more a baseball book than a biography. The real Stengel still eludes us.