Thursday, January 27, 2005

 

January 27th, 1944

Casey Stengel Fired as Manager of Boston Braves

Casey Stengel was fired when the Braves were sold to three new owners who decided they were unhappy with Stengel. He had managed the team for six seasons to a cumulative record of 373-491 (.432). Although the teams' record was hardly Stengel's fault (they would lose almost 175 games the two seasons following his firing) Stengel was not regarded as a managerial genius. He had skippered the Brooklyn Dodgers for three seasons in mid 1930s and left there with a winning percentage of .453, better than his Boston turn but certainly not by much. In fact, as the 1944 season approached, Stengel had managed nine seasons with a career 581-742 (.439) record and an average finish of sixth.

In the off-season of 1948-49, the Yankees were searching for a manager, having fired Bucky Harris after a 94 win season that resulted in just 3rd place behind
Cleveland and Boston. They decided to hire the previously unremarkable Stengel. The decision would create one of the greatest partnerships between manager and team in baseball history. It paid off immediately as the Yankees won 97 games (holding off the Red Sox by just a game) and won the World Series 4-1 against one of Stengel's previous teams, the Dodgers. In 1950 the Yankees again won the pennant, this time winning 98 games and sweeping the "Whiz Kids" Phillies in the series. In 1951, the Yankees won their third straight pennant and met the Giants in the World Series, after the Giants dramatic performance to win the pennant against the Dodgers.

It was this World Series that Stengel reportedly advised Mickey Mantle to try and chase down everything he could from right field because "the old man [Joe DiMaggio] can't get 'em like he used to." It was a wise decision on the manager's part both in his appraisal of DiMaggio's skills (an appraisal that Joe Torre would be wise to consider regarding his current center fielder) and for his knowledge that moving DiMaggio for Mantle would have caused more trouble than it was worth. Unfortunately for Mantle, chasing a Willie Mays fly ball he caught his knee (on a drain pipe according to many stories) and tore the cartilage. Mantle missed the rest of the Series and would never play healthy again. Despite this, the Yankees won their third straight World Series, defeating the Giants in six games.

The Yankees would win the Series again in 1952 and 1953, for five straight titles in each of Stengel's first five years (a record unlikely to ever be tied, let alone broken). In 1954 the Yankees would win their most games ever under Stengel, 103, but still finish eight games behind the Indians who put together a 111 win season. In 1955 the Yankees would return to the World Series but fall to the Dodgers in seven games. After a two year "drought" the Yankees found their Series winning ways in 1956 taking their revenge against the Dodgers in seven games. The Yankees won the pennant again in 1957 but fell to another one of Stengel's former clubs, the now
Milwaukee Braves in seven games. In 1958 the Yankees again got their revenge on a team that had vanquished them a season earlier, taking the Series in seven games over Milwaukee, including the game winning outburst against Lew Burdette who had shut them out in Game 7 the year before.

In 1959 the Yankees suffered the worst season under Stengel, going just 79-75 and finishing third. They rebounded in 1960 to win 97 games before famously falling to
Pittsburgh in seven games. After the season, Stengel was fired and replaced by Ralph Houk. Stengel left the Yankees with a 1149-696 (.623) record, seven World Series victories and ten American League pennants and an average finish of first.

Stengel would go on to a stint with the Mets, of course, helping to create the image of the early Met teams as being hilariously inept. Stengel is also well-known for a variety of quotes, many of which are seemingly throwaway lines but actually reflect a fairly astute knowledge of the game: "The secret of managing is to keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who are undecided," "The Yankees don't pay me to win every day, just two out of three," "I don't like them fellas who drive in two runs and let in three.” Stengel's best quote however was his after the 1958 World Series, but one that also serves as slogan for his entire career--and, for that matter, the career of most managers: "I couldn't have done it without my players."




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