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Master and Commander

Posted By Alex Belth On November 21, 2004 @ 6:17 pm In Bronx Banter | Comments Disabled

In researching the 1964 Cardinals for the Curt Flood project I’m working on, I came across a good bit about the difference betweeen Casey Stengel and Yogi Berra in Bill Veeck’s book (written with Ed Linn), “The Hustler’s Handbook.” In his first year as Yankee skipper, Berra won the pennant, then lost the World Serious in seven games and was promptly fired. So much for Yankee loyalty:

The decision to make Yogi Berra, of all people, the manager of the Yankees was admittedly one of the more moonstruck episodes in baseball. Furthermore, pitting him against Casey Stengel of the crosstown Mets was the worst mismtach in history. No boxing commission would have allowed it. Yogi is a completely manufactored product. He is a case study of this country’s unlimited ability to gull itself and be gulled.

Veeck, continued…

Yogi had originally become a figure of fun because with his corrugated face and his squat body he looked as if he should be funny. When he turned out to be a great baseball player in spite of his odd appearnce, a natural feeling of warmth went out to him, as to the ugly duckling who makes it big in a world of swans. It pleaased the public to think that this odd-looking little man with the great natural ability had a knack for mouthing humorous truths with the sort of primitive peasant wisdom we rather expect of our sports heroes. Besides, there was that marvelous nickname. You say “Yogi” at a banquet and everybody automatically laughs, something Joe Garagiola discovered to his profit many years ago.

Casey Stengel, an earlier prospector in those fields, had made this discovery long before Garagiola. Casey had always bounced his best lines off Yogi. Newspapermen and magazine writers, pickt it up, were happy enough to go along with the act, since it made their own jobs that much easier and also because, I suppose, enough of them eventually came to believe it themselves.

As manager, Yogi go the Yankees space in the papers, which was, when you come right down to it, what he was hired for, although he still didn’t come close to the Grand Old Gnome of Shea Stadium. But, then, Stengel had something going for him. Casey is a legimately funny man.

There is, however, one point that should be added here, irrelevant though it might be. Yogid did do one thing that Casey didn’t. Yogi won the pennant, and Casey finished last. Berra cut it close, wining by only one game, but the pennant was really pretty much locked up through the entire final week. And, whatever their protestations, a close race was exactly what the Yankees wanted.

However, Casey did beat Yogi at the gate. The Mets were second in the NL in attendance in 1964 drawing 1,732,597 fans, while the Yankees topped the AL, yet still trailed Casey’s boys, with a final mark of 1,305,638.


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