Transcript of Episode 3, Oct. 9, 2017
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CASEY STENGEL [vintage recording]: I would say the reason why they would want it passed is to keep baseball going as the highest paid baseball sport that has gone into baseball and from the baseball angle …
KING KAUFMAN: You’re listening in on the world’s greatest deliberative body.
STENGEL [vintage recording]: It’s been run cleaner than any baseball business that was ever put out in the hundred years at the present time.
KAUFMAN: This is Casey Stengel testifying to a Senate subcommittee about antitrust exemptions for sports. It’s 1958, late in his 12-year run as manager of the New York Yankees.
STENGEL [vintage recording]: You men are not making enough money, you can’t drink like that. They said this is a holiday for the Shell oil company …
KAUFMAN: The Yanks won 10 pennants and 7 championships in those dozen years, and these are the two ways Casey Stengel’s remembered. As manager of the most dominant team in baseball history and as an eccentric. The Old Perfessor. The guy who said the secret to managing is to keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who are undecided.
STENGEL [vintage recording]: … you oughta be home and raising more children because the big league clubs now give you a hundred thousand for a bonus …
KAUFMAN: A clown.
STENGEL [vintage recording]: … to go into baseball. And by the way I don’t happen to have any children and I wish Mrs. Stengel and I had eight. I’d like to put em in on that bonus rule.
KAUFMAN: That’s what fans and the press thought in 1949 when the Yanks hired him.
STEVEN GOLDMAN: And people had a hard time, particularly when he went to the Yankees, which as Red Smith said were kind of similar to U.S. Steel in the austere way that they ran themselves.
KAUFMAN: This is baseball writer Steven Goldman, author of a book about Stengel called Forging Genius.
GOLDMAN: You know, Babe Ruth was somebody they tolerated. That was not the mindset. You know, Lou Gehrig going home to mom, that was the mindset. And they couldn’t reconcile the idea that he could be funny and comical and also care about winning.
KAUFMAN: But wait, there’s more. When he got to the Yankees, Casey Stengel wasn’t just a clown. He was a loser. He’d managed in the National League for nine years with the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Boston Braves: and they were terrible. The Braves were so bad they’d changed their name to the Bees for a while, hoping nobody’d recognize them.
Stengel was a loser after the Yankees too. In 1962 the Mets hired him as their first manager and he presided over the losingest season in baseball history, cracking jokes and coining the nickname still associated with the franchise: The Amazin’ Mets.
STENGEL [vintage recording]: They figured a man with experience who’d been up and down would be able to solve the situation in two or three years instead of five years.
KAUFMAN: Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn was on that team. He’d begun his long career playing for Casey in Boston. He used to say “I’m the only guy who worked for Stengel before and after he was a genius.”
Sure, Stengel had lousy players with the Braves and Dodgers and great ones with the Yankees. But maybe there’s something to Spahn’s joke, and the National League Stengel really wasn’t a genius yet. Plenty of managers have had great players and none of them won 10 pennants in 12 years. Could it be that what made Stengel a genius was all that losing?
[Theme music: “Big Swing Band” by Audionautix]
I’m King Kaufman and this is Can’t Win 4 Losing, a podcast about losing. On this episode: Casey Stengel, the winningest, losingest and language manglingest manager in baseball history. Plus: What happens when a Little League’s best player meets its worst, 40 years later. You might know one of these guys. Grab a bat. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride. This is Can’t Win 4 Losing.
We think now of the Brooklyn Dodgers in romantic terms. Branch Rickey, Jackie Robinson, the Boys of Summer. That’s not how it was when 43-year-old Casey Stengel took over as manager in 1934. Even in the context of the Depression, the Dodgers had no money. Big league rosters were shrunk to save on payroll, and with poor personnel, Stengel had to be creative. Steven Goldman.
GOLDMAN: He quickly learned both there and with the Braves, that if you tolerate bad players that you will lose. And when he got to the Yankees, he not only realized he had depth. Other teams had depth. This is one of the criticisms of Casey Stengel, that, yeah, anybody could have managed. Phil Rizzuto used to say that. “You or I could have managed those teams, gone away for the summer and still won.” But the thing is, like Leo Durocher had some depth with the Giants, but he played the same nine guys every day until they dropped.
KAUFMAN: Stengel became great at getting as much as possible out of his players. He platooned heavily, using left-handed batters against right-handed pitchers and vice-versa. He didn’t invent that practice. In fact, he’d been platooned himself as a player. He’d been a speedy outfielder in the teens and ’20s. He hated being platooned. But as a manager he became a master at it—among other things.
STEVE JACOBSON: Well, he understood people and he understood players.
KAUFMAN: Steve Jacobson was a beat writer for Newsday who covered Stengel as both Yankees and Mets manager.
JACOBSON: Joe Torre used to say that I hit .320 and I hit .240 in consecutive years, and I tried every bit as hard. And some managers don’t understand that. And Casey did.
KAUFMAN: He was also a risk-taker. He was 58 when the Yankees hired him. He’d spent a decade losing in the National League. Even that was six years in the past. He looked like a guy who’d never get another chance. What did he have to lose? Steven Goldman.
GOLDMAN: He was willing to try anything, and he didn’t worry about some of the anal things that managers worry about in terms of losing games.
KAUFMAN: Outfielder Hank Bauer used to tell a story about going 4-for-4 with three homers, or something like that, and Stengel pinch-hit for him in the ninth inning. When he complained, Stengel said “Well, are you a thousand hitter?”
GOLDMAN: We now have the resources to know that there’s no game like that that ever happened with Hank Bauer. But he strongly believed it, and I talked to him and he believed it. That’s the kind of thing Casey would do, and not just on instinct, but on a sense that here’s the crucial moment in the game. He was willing to roll the dice that way.
KAUFMAN: If Stengel’s time with the Braves and Dodgers in the ’30s and ’40s shaped him as a manager, his time with the Mets in the ’60s didn’t mean much beyond cementing his reputation as one of the game’s most colorful characters. The expansion draft was stacked against the new teams. The Mets knew they were going to lose a lot for a few years while they built through the farm system. They hired Casey as a P.R. man, a mascot. Here’s Steve Jacobson.
JACOBSON: He knew that’s what it was. And it was fun.
GOLDMAN Casey would go do parades, do TV shows, do radio shows, “Come see my Amazin’ Mets, some of whom aren’t that amazin’. Come see my major leaguers who aren’t even semipro players.”
KAUFMAN: Steven Goldman.
GOLDMAN: The thing about Casey was that sometimes his humor could be very biting, and sometimes the players may not have appreciated to see that in the paper that the manager was making fun of them.
KAUFMAN: Here’s an example of that. Late in his time with the Mets Stengel mentioned a young catcher named Greg Goosen. “He’s 19,” he said, “and in 10 years he’s got a good chance—to be 29.” Biting, but also accurate. Goosen turned 29 right on schedule, and he’d been out of baseball for five years.
Mostly, though, Stengel played the lovable old coot.
MARTY APPEL: I think he actually found the same amusement in it that the fans and the writers saw.
KAUFMAN: Author and longtime PR man Marty Appel has written a new biography: Casey Stengel: Baseball’s Greatest Character.
APPEL: He had Gene Woodling on the ’62 Mets, who had been with him on the five straight world championship teams, and one day the Mets are getting clobbered and Woodling’s sitting in the dugout, and Casey just walks by him and winks and says, “Ain’t like the old days, is it?”
SEN. ESTES KEFAUVER: Mr. Mantle, you have any observations with reference to the [applicability] of the antitrust laws to baseball?
MICKEY MANTLE: Uh, my views are just about the same as Casey’s.
KEFAUVER: If you will redefine just what Casey’s views were we’d be glad to know.
KAUFMAN: Some of Casey’s best lines come out of his time with the Mets. “Been in this game a hundred years,” he said once, “but I see new ways to lose ’em I never knew existed before.” One time he said, “We’re a much improved ball club, now we lose in extra innings!”
Steve Jacobson, the Newsday writer, was covering the Mets first spring training in St. Petersburg in 1962. His wife was with him and they went for a drink in the hotel bar. Stengel was there with a few players.
JACOBSON: I introduced her to Casey, and he took her by the shoulder, and said “I don’t even know you and you can be my number three catcher.”
KAUFMAN: My favorite story about Casey Stengel was told by Wells Twombly in the San Francisco Examiner when Stengel died in 1975. Back in 1961 an unemployed Stengel was sitting in the press box at a Los Angeles Angels game, drinking and talking with Twombly, who at the time was a young reporter. After a while it dawned on Twombly that Stengel was being totally lucid. He was making perfect sense. No Stengelese. He said “Casey, that jargon of yours. It’s just a joke.” Stengel looked at him and said, “Son, This is gonna be our little secret, isn’t it?”
STENGEL [vintage recording]: …in why they’d want it passed is to keep baseball going as the highest baseball sport that has gone into baseball and from the baseball angle. I’m not going to speak of any other sport. I’m not in here to argue about any other sport. I’m in the baseball business. It’s been run cleaner than any baseball business that was ever put out …
KAUFMAN: When we come back: A team so bad Casey’s Boston’s Bees had nothing on ’em. Their worst player meets the best player in the league.
* * *
I had my own formative period of losing, though I haven’t parlayed it into the same kind of success Casey Stengel did. Then again, I’m not 58 yet.
The first team I ever played for, the North Venice Little League Minor Dodgers in Los Angeles, went for 0-for-1971. I contributed by going 0-for-1971 at the plate But this is not where I launch into that story about how I was always the last kid picked for the team and all that. I held my own as an athlete, but in baseball, my favorite sport, I never played on a good team and I never hit much.
I had a little bit of an excuse that first year. I’m not going to go into the details of the league’s stupid rules that I’m NOT bitter about, but for the whole season that I was officially 8 years old, I was really 7. That makes a difference at that age, right? A year is like a third of the time you’ve been potty trained.
So we’re rolling along, losing every game, and there must have been a spate of errors at some point in the season because our coach—I think his name was Mr. Adams so let’s just call him Mr. Adams—he made us write the word THINK in the pocket of our mitts. I guess so we’d think.
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen 8- and 9-year-olds play baseball. Not to mention 7-year-olds. But try to imagine how many errors there must have been for the coach to say “Boy, you kids are making a lot of errors!”
Well, I think it didn’t work, because we got to the last game of the season, and we hadn’t won. We were 0 and 19. There was one team almost as bad as us Dodgers: the Yankees. They had three wins, the three times they’d played us. And now, in the last game of the year, it was the Yankees against the Dodgers. Our last chance to get a win, and we really had a chance.
Mr. Adams was an electrician, or something like that where he wore a dark blue work jumpsuit. During the season, he’d grown a mustache. Now, if you weren’t around for the ’60s and early ’70s you probably think everybody was a hippie. No. There were like 12 hippies. They just all got on TV all the time. Nobody had mustaches except surfers and movie stars. So in Venice California, yeah, your best friend’s oldest brother might have had one, and we did actually see movie stars driving around sometimes. But just a regular dad? An electrician, or something? No.
And get this. Mr. Adams said that if we won that last game, he would shave off that mustache, right in front of us!
Raquel Welch could have sashayed up to the snack bar and bought Wacky Packages and it wouldn’t have been as glamorous as Mr. Adams shaving off his mustache right in front of us. We pulled down our caps. We made with the infield chatter. We pounded our fists into our gloves, right where it said THINK.
And it was a humdinger of a game. People came over from the other fields to watch when their games ended. It’s the Dodgers! They have a chance! They’re scoring runs!
We lost. 30-27. Yes, I remember the score.
Mrs. Adams had brought shaving cream and a razor. The coach told us he was proud of us, we’d played our best game of the year. He put the cream on his mustache. But then that was it. He spread out his hands. He said that was all he could do.
ADAMS [imitated voice]: That’s it kids. Can’t do it.
KAUFMAN: We lost.
ADAMS [imitated voice]: We didn’t win.
KAUFMAN: And at that moment I knew: Someday I was going to start a podcast about losing.
OK not really. I’ve just always wanted to do that “At that moment I knew” thing. I have not been haunted by this experience. I mean, I was 7 years old. It’s fine. It was an early lesson that losing happens, and you move on. I sometimes have the feeling that the world is one giant conspiracy against me, and maybe that winless introduction to organized sports contributed to that. But more likely, the world really is one giant conspiracy against me.
Anyway, I don’t really remember any of the names of my teammates that year except our one good player, Mitch Nahas. But I’ve always remembered the best player in the league, a kid named Vince Beringhele.
He was a year older than me, and big, and he was the fastest pitcher in the league and one of the few who could reliably throw strikes. Plus he could hit. He played for the Pirates. He was utterly dominant. I remember another one of my coaches saying, “This kid could play pro ball someday.” I think Vince was 11 at the time.
VINCE BERINGHELE: I was drafted out of high school by the Kansas City Royals as a shortstop and I chose not to sign …
KAUFMAN: This is Vince Beringhele.
BERINGHELE: … and I went on to UCLA, where I was drafted by the Dodgers and played three years in the Dodger organization.
KAUFMAN: For 10 years he’s been the head baseball coach at Cal State Los Angeles. He’s also coached at Loyola Marymount and UCLA.
For one year anyway, I was the worst player on the worst team in a league. I always wondered what it was like for the best player on the best team.
BERINGHELE: Obviously, all childhood memories of baseball are great.
KAUFMAN: “Obviously.” I just want to reiterate. They shouldn’t have even let me play until the next year, when I really was 8.
BERINGHELE: You know, they were fun and it was a great time. It’s been a long family tradition of actually playing up there.
KAUFMAN: Berignhele’s dad, Bud, was a low-level minor leaguer in the 40s and 50s. Vince got as high as A-ball. His career was over at 22.
BERINGHELE: I had three knee surgeries so—I was not a player who hit home runs. I was a line drive, doubles, singles, steal you bases type of a guy. When you lose a step or two at that level it becomes more difficult, so my third year, when I knew my knees were shot and I wasn’t able to steal bases like I used to, and do the things that I did. I tried to hit homers and I became just a .260 hitter and hit .265 that year and that was the end of it.
KAUFMAN: Was that your choice or did they say so long?
BERINGHELE: I got my release from them in the off-season and I spent a year trying to get re-signed playing in all the semipro leagues and all those things chasing that dream because you never want to give up on it.
KAUFMAN: I’m working on this theory. With incredibly rare exceptions, like a Barry Sanders walking away in his prime, everyone’s athletic career ends in failure. Whether you don’t make the high school team, or you fall short of the big time, or you make the big time but you lose a step. Everybody loses. All those golden ones, all those stars of all those leagues. They eventually get their version of being that kid who gets picked last.
BERINGHELE: The game ends at some point for everybody. It’s a difficult time when you’re told you’re not good enough anymore in something that you have a great deal of passion for. So, yes, you’re right. It does end at some point. It’s really, I remember opening the mail and getting the letter from the Dodgers and just the sickening feeling in the stomach, the emptiness, the “oh, what am I going to do now? Now I’ve got to grow up.” So, you know, it’s hard to be old at 21 and think that you’ve got to figure out exactly what you’re going to do.
KAUFMAN: That was one part of baseball that was easier for me than him. The end of my career was not traumatic at all. I just stopped playing when I was 12.
The day I talked to Vince Beringhele he was getting his team ready to play in the CCAA championship tournament in Stockton, California. I told him I’d always remembered his fastballs whizzing past my knees.
BERINGHELE: I can still throw a little. I didn’t throw today, but I can still throw and I hit a little from time to time. Not as much bat speed and definitely no power anymore. [Laughs]
KAUFMAN: Yeah, well, it happens to the best of us. And the worst of us.
BERINGHELE: Oh, it’s awful. [Laughs.]
* * *
Can’t Win 4 Losing is written, edited and produced by me, King Kaufman, with mastering and production help from Geoffrey Redick. Artwork by Chris Morris. Visit him at ChrisMorrisIllustration.com. To go behind the scenes on Can’t Win for Losing, see photos and get more information on the stories and music in the podcast, go to our website, CantWinPodcast.com
Our opening theme is Big Swing Band by Audionautix at Audionautix.com. The closing theme is “Can’t Win For Losing” by Johnny Rawls, courtesy of Deep South Soul Records. Visit Johnny at JohnnyRawlsBlues.com. Buy his music and find out when he’s going to be playing near you.
Other music used in this episode include “Aces High” and “Dirt Rhodes” by Kevin McLeod. He’s at Incompetech.com. We used all of it under a Creative Commons License through FreeMusic.org, which by the way is an incredible resource for creative people. It’s a project of listener-supported WFMU-FM in Jersey City, New Jersey, and if you’d like to help them out, go to FreeMusicArchive.org/donate.
The Casey Stengel bios mentioned are Casey Stengel: Baseball’s Greatest Characterby Marty Appel and Forging Genius: The Making of Casey Stengel by Steven Goldman. Steve Jacobson has also written several books, most recently the biography of gambler Arnie Wexler, All Bets Are Off. You can buy all these books at CantWinPodcast.com.
Special thanks for their help with this episode to Cecilia Tan, Peter Paris, Jeb Bernstein, Joe Shoulak and Paul Helms.
If you like this podcast and you want to help us, the best way to do that is to subscribe and write a review. You can also follow us on Facebook at Can’t Win 4 Losing—that’s the number 4, or on Twitter and Instagram at @CantWinPodcast. If you’ve got a story about losing in your own life, call us up and tell it. We’ll give you 50 bucks if we use it. The number is 510-646-1082.
This episode of Can’t Win 4 Losing is Dedicated to Glass Joe.
* * *
Next time, on Can’t Win 4 Losing.
SCOTT RAAB: That string of failures that can be reduced easily to a misery montage.
RECORDED VOICES: Jordan with two seconds to go puts it up. It’s good! At the buzzer! / Byner had the first and goal and lost the ball!
BARRY GIFFORD: I didn’t enjoy the fact that the Cubs were getting the —- kicked out of them all the time.
KAUFMAN: Golden State.
WOMAN: Well it’s finally our turn.
KAUFMAN: A lifetime of losing. And then, finally, a championship. On the next Can’t Win 4 Losing.
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