Charles Dillon Stengel was born in Kansas City
, in 1890, and briefly considered a career in dentistry before beginning his baseball
career with the Brooklyn Dodgers
in 1912. Stengel was a starting outfielder for the Dodgers from 1913 to 1917, batting .316 for them in 1915. He was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates
, where he played the 1918 and 1919 seasons, and moved on to the Philadelphia Phillies
in 1920. Stengel hit a career-best 9 home run
s for the Phils in 1920. In the middle of the 1921 season, Stengel was traded back to New York
, this time to play for the New York Giants
. Stengel was the fourth outfielder for the Giants, and posted an impressive .368 average in 1922, and .339 in 1923, each in about 250 at-bats. In the 1923 World Series
, Stengel smacked two game-winning home runs, but the Giants lost in six games to the New York Yankees
In 1924, Stengel was traded to the Boston Braves, and concluded his playing career there in 1925. Stengel was a lifetime .284 batter with decent speed, stealing 131 bases in his career. He was a postseason terror, batting .393 in three different World Series.
Stengel's second career as a manager was by far more successful. He began inauspiciously, with the Dodgers in 1934, leading them to 71 wins and a sixth-place finish, 23.5 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals. In 1935, Stengel's Dodgers finished fifth, 29.5 games behind the Chicago Cubs. Stengel lasted one more season, winning only 67 games and finishing seventh, in 1936, before he was fired.
Stengel was hired in 1938 to manage the Boston Braves, where he managed Joe DiMaggio's brother Vince. The Braves won 77 and lost 75, and only finished 12 games out of first place. Stengel's 1939 club returned to its losing ways, posting a record of 63-88 and finishing 32.5 games out of the running. Stengel managed the Braves until 1943 with similarly poor results, while, in 1941, the Brooklyn Dodgers under Leo Durocher, went to the World Series. Stengel's Braves finished 38 games behind.
Stengel managed in the minor leagues until 1949, when New York Yankees general manager Bob Weiss tapped him to manage the ballclub. Stengel had managed under Weiss in the minor leagues, which was the only conceivable reason that the job would go to a man who was 60 years of age and had posted exactly one winning season in nine tries as a major-league manager. Stengel was an unpopular choice among fans, sportswriters, and his own ballplayers, particularly Joe DiMaggio. To make matters worse, DiMaggio missed the first half of the 1949 season with a heel injury, but the Yankees played well without him and even better upon his return, and squeaked past the Boston Red Sox by a one-game margin and into the World Series.
Stengel had some excellent players besides DiMaggio (who batted .346 in half a season). Rookie catcher Yogi Berra led the team with 91 runs batted in. First baseman Tommy Henrich clubbed 24 homers. Pitcher Vic Raschi won 21 games, while Allie Reynolds won 17, and reliever Joe Page had 13 wins and 27 saves.
Stengel had his revenge on the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series, steamrolling them in five games. The star was pitcher Allie Reynolds, who threw a complete-game two-hit shutout in Game 1, and saved Game 4 by retiring the last ten Dodgers and preserving a two-run lead.
Stengel's Yankees enjoyed an unprecedented postseason run, winning five straight World Series. In 1950, Berra and DiMaggio combined for 60 homers and 246 runs batted in, and Vic Raschi again won 21 games. The chosen World Series victim was the Philadelphia Phillies, swept in four games. The Phils only scored five runs off of the Yankee staff. Vic Raschi threw a two-hitter, and rookie Whitey Ford won his first World Series start.
The New York Giants went down in six games in 1951, and the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1952 extended the Series to the full seven games before losing. Mickey Mantle hit a tiebreaking homer in the seventh game, a 4-2 Yankee win.
The Dodgers lost again in 1953 in six games. Stengel failed to make the Series in 1954 despite winning 103 games; the Cleveland Indians won 111. The Yankees were back in 1955, and lost to the Brooklyn Dodgers, who they had abused in 1952 and 1953. The series went seven games, with the Yanks being shut out by Johnny Podres in the deciding game. Outfielder Duke Snider cracked four home runs in the Series for Brooklyn.
The Yanks beat Brooklyn in 1956. Yogi Berra homered three times and drove in 10 runs, pitcher Don Larsen threw a perfect game, and in the deciding Game 7, pitcher Johnny Kucks threw a three-hitter, backed by four Yankee homers--Berra twice, Elston Howard, and a grand slam by Moose Skowron.
The Yanks played the Milwaukee Braves in 1957 and 1958, losing in '57 and winning in '58. In 1957, the Yankees ran into the double threat of outfielder Hank Aaron, who smacked three homers, and pitcher Lew Burdette, who beat them three times, including Game 7 against Don Larsen.
In 1958, Burdette and Larsen again squared off in a deciding game. Larsen faltered early, and was replaced by Bob Turley. The Yanks broke a 2-2 tie in the eighth with four off of Burdette, three on another Moose Skowron homer. It was the last World Series won by Stengel as a manager.
The 1959 Yanks finished a distant third to the Chicago White Sox, but the 1960 team, buoyed by the addition of Roger Maris, made the World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Yankees dominated the Pirates in their victories, winning 16-3, 10-0, and 12-0, but the Pirates were able to win the low-scoring contests, and the Series again went to seven games. The Yankees turned a 4-0 deficit into a 7-4 lead, but an error by shortstop Tony Kubek led to a five-run eighth for Pittsburgh. The Yankees tied the game at 9, but Pittsburgh second baseman Bill Mazeroski hit a walkoff homer in the bottom of the ninth to send the Yankees to a 10-9 defeat.
Stengel was not offered a contract for the 1961 season, as he was 70 years old and was considered to have mismanaged the 1960 Series.
In 1962, Stengel became the first manager of the expansion New York Mets, leading them to a miserable 40-120 record, the worst showing of any baseball team in the 20th century. Stengel left the Mets midway through the 1965 season in poor health after three consecutive last-place finishes. He died at the age of 85 in 1975; his uniform number 37 has been retired by the Mets.
While hugely successful as a manager (seven championships in twelve seasons as a Yankee), Stengel is most famous for his witticisms, for example his comment on drafting undistinguished catcher Hobie Landrith with the first pick of the Mets' expansion draft: "If you don't have a catcher, you've got alot of passed balls". His testimony before the US Senate anti-trust exemption hearings in 1958 probably deserves an entire node of its own. He responded to a question by senator Estes Kefauver with a 45-minute rambling monologue, and when Mickey Mantle was asked to testify immediately afterwards, he said, "My views are about the same as Casey's." Or, commenting on his Brooklyn days, Stengel called it a "borough of churches and bad ball clubs, many of which were mine".
Source: The Baseball Encyclopedia, 6th edition, ed. Joseph Reichler, 1985.