For true baseball obsessives, the All-Star break represents the three longest days of the season.
That’s because no games that count toward the pennant races are played.
If you’re struggling to get through the 72 hours during which time no movement in the standings takes place, let me suggest the book you must read.
It’s titled “Casey Stengel: Baseball’s Greatest Character,” and the author is Marty Appel, who knows more about the Yankees than anyone alive.
Casey Stengel is a vivid, loving, deeply researched valentine to the greatest character in the history of baseball, the manager who won the most World Series (seven in all) and whose longevity and depth of knowledge of the game will never be surpassed.
As a player, Stengel came to bat against Christy Mathewson.
As a manager, he worked with DiMaggio, Mantle, and the players who would become the World Series-winning 1969 Mets.
Stengel even gave the Mets the nickname they carry to this day: The Amazins.
But in baseball, no one was more amazing than Stengel, and Appel has brought this extraordinary human being to life for a new generation of fans.
I got to speak with him just prior to the All-Star break to ask him about the book.
Michael: What’s the secret to writing a book about Casey Stengel?
Marty: You just tell the stories and get it out of the way!
Michael: Bob Creamer wrote a book 30 years ago about Stengel. Why a new one?
Marty: I loved that book and the author, Bob Creamer, was a good friend. So when my editor at Doubleday suggested the idea of a Stengel biography, I thought, what I could do with the subject that Bob Creamer didn’t do?
But as it turned out, Bob’s book was pre-internet, and I was able to use the internet to tap into a lot of long-lost anecdotes. I was able to digitally visit old newspapers in minor league towns where Casey played and managed. So I got a lot of fresh stuff, and then the family gave me an unpublished memoir by Casey’s wife Edna, that she wrote — a full book in 1958.
So there was a whole different side of Casey that emerged out of that. And with all that, I had a lot of fresh material to work with.
Michael: You wrote that Edna never published her memoir because she didn’t get a deal she liked.
Marty: She wanted $100,000, which in 1958 was crazy! But she was firm, she was a businesswoman, and that was her price. Nobody met it, so she put it away.
Michael: They were very wealthy, so they didn’t need the money.
Marty: She didn’t do it for the money, but she had her price in mind, and she was gonna stick with it. I don’t know if she thought, “Some day Marty will make good use of this!”
Michael: There’s a moment in the book where you describe a personal encounter with Casey.
Marty: He was an old man then. I needed to know whether he was coming to the Yankees’ Old Timers Day the following week.
I just was happy as can be, walking in to the manager’s office in Texas, when he was at their Old Timers Day. And I said, “So Casey, can we count on seeing you next week, in New York?”
He said, “I told you, I’d let you know when I know. And that’s all there is to it.” So yeah, I just caught him in a grumpy moment. But I was glad I did, I mean, I had an encounter with Casey Stengel.
Michael: How do you think he would have done with the modern ballplayer?
Marty: Hard to say. The game is such a different animal today. Today’s players are multicultural. He didn’t have that experience, really. There might have been an occasional Cuban, or Puerto Rican, but that was about it.
The players were all on one-year contracts, they were all making less money than him, except for Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio, earlier. So, it would have been an entirely fresh, new experience for him.
Michael: Do you think he’d like the game, the way it’s played today?
Marty: I think he would not have liked how all the stats are computerized, and you don’t have an edge as a manager, if you can just retain things in your head.
And I certainly think he would have disliked the replay rule, which keeps the manager in the dugout, and keeps him from going out and arguing. Because he used that to good advantage. He would rile up the fans, rile up his team, score points with the umpires. It was a show. He loved that part of it. Today’s manager is very different than what they were in Casey’s day.
Michael: Today everyone’s using Sabermetrics to make decisions, but Casey kept it all in his head.
Marty: That was an advantage, that he could remember everything. The advantage would have been negated with everybody having these tablets, or looseleafs, describing every game situation. So he would have lost an advantage there. He really did know that stuff. And he was still operating at full force in his last year with the Yankees, in 1960, where he’d be thinking three or four innings ahead. And really have an edge there.
By the time he went to the Mets it was wholly different. He wasn’t that engaged in the games. But even his last year with the Yankees, he was.