On this day in 1965, New York Mets Manager Casey Stengel announces his retirement, ending his 56-year career in professional baseball. The 75-year-old Stengel had broken his hip in a fall the previous month, and was instructed by his doctor that resuming the duties of manager would take too great a toll on his health.
Charles Dillon “Casey” Stengel made his big league debut as an outfielder with John McGraw’s New York Giants in 1912. He parlayed his guts and guile at the plate into a 14-year playing career in the National League. His greatest moment as a player came in the 1923 World Series with the Giants. With two outs in the ninth inning, Stengel won Game 1 with an inside-the-park home run. He also hit a game-winning homer in Game 3, and for the series, Stengel hit an impressive .417 with two home runs and four runs batted in, though the Giants lost to the Yankees four games to two. For his career, Stengel hit a respectable .284, with a .393 average in his three World Series appearances.
Stengel’s real fame came as a manager. Though he had only middling success with the Brooklyn Dodgers (1934-1936) and Boston Braves (1938-1943), he managed to score a job with the New York Yankees in 1949 to replace the retiring Joe McCarthy, the winningest manager in major league history. Where he had previously managed only struggling teams, Stengel now had a roster of great players at his disposal. He made great use of platooning players, sitting right-handed hitters against right-handed pitchers and vice versa. His record of 1149 wins versus 696 losses with the Yankees over the next 12 seasons was among the greatest in managerial history, and included 10 American League pennants and seven World Series victories. After a heartbreaking loss in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates, however, the Yankees replaced the 70-year-old skipper with Ralph Houk, believing Stengel was simply too old to manage. Stengel responded: “I’ll never make the mistake of being 70 again.”
In 1962, the New York Mets, an expansion team, hired Stengel as manager. That team went 40-120, the worst record in major league history. They simply did not have good players, but Stengel held on for four seasons, trying to craft a contender out of a mix of young players lacking major league skill and washed-up veterans. All the while, the “Ol’ Perfesser,” as he as known, confounded and amused the press with his trademark doublespeak or “Stengelese,” including lines like, “They say it can’t be done, but it don’t always work.” It was no use, however: the Mets remained a losing team, and Stengel, exhausted by a long career, could sometimes be found napping on the bench.
Stengel was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame as a manager in 1966. His record of five World Series victories in a row from 1949 to 1953 remains a standard for excellence in the major leagues.