An amateur in athletics is one who takes part in games for the fun of it, for the enjoyment of it, for the—go back to your Latin: amo, amas, amat—love of it. A professional in athletics is one who takes part because he gets paid.
The peculiar charm of Charles Dillon Stengel, one of the most successful professionals who ever lived, lies in his amateurish, or amatory, approach to his sport. Stengel talks a good deal, if not all, of the time, yet he has never been heard to say the immortal words, "I love baseball." But he does love baseball, and his love for it is a pleasant thing to see. Stengel enters his 50th year as a professional baseball man next season; few men married 50 years look upon their wives with the fondness with which Casey gazes on baseball.
It is obvious that Stengel needs the game; it is his life. He knows the game, better probably than any other man who has ever lived. But most of all, he enjoys the game, extracting from it excitement and wonder and delight, as a 12-year-old boy does. Never is baseball routine to Casey Stengel. Never is its kaleidoscope of action and counteraction dull. Never is his hunger for baseball's great prizes sated.
This is remarkable, because if anyone should be sated, artistically and financially, it is Casey Stengel. Artistically, he has had the triumphs denied lesser men: from the season of 1911, when at the age of 20 he batted .352 to lead the Wisconsin-Illinois League in hitting through the World Series of 1923 when he hit an inside-the-park home run in the ninth inning to beat the New York Yankees in the first World Series game ever played in Yankee Stadium to his current reign as manager of those same Yankees, with whom he has won nine pennants in 10 years and seven world championships. Stengel's feeling for the propitious moment is magnificent—the crowd in the Stadium that day in 1923 was the largest, by more than 12,000 people, ever to see a Series game up to that time, and his home run was the first Series homer ever hit in Yankee Stadium. Two days later, before a still larger crowd, he beat the Yankees again with another home run, the second Series home run ever hit in Yankee Stadium.
January 5, 1959
Financially, Stengel has made a vast amount of money from baseball, both directly and indirectly. He has had a professional contract of one sort or another for 49 years. He has met people through baseball who touted him on to extremely successful investments; he prospered and became so sound and knowing financially that a year or so ago he joined a group of Californians in opening a bank in Glendale, of which he is a director (right).
Yet still he pursues baseball. Not like old Mr. Mack, going through the motions in his long decades of decline; not like old John McGraw, desperately ill and unable to rouse the old competitive fire either in himself or in his players; not like young Leo Durocher, angrily, avariciously. Stengel plays to win, and he does win, but he enjoys the process. And his enjoyment reaches the onlooker, so much so that this bent, wrinkled, gray-haired old man is far beyond the Mantles, the Musials, the Williamses as the dominant personality of the game.
This past year was the monumental one of his career. He completed his great decade of managing. He guided the American League to victory in the All-Star Game. He testified before a congressional hearing on baseball and completely disarmed the Congressmen with his shrewd, wise, rambling, hilarious discourse. He won the pennant, and it was just about the easiest he ever won, though the taste of it became just a little sour late in the year when his team grew bored with its overwhelming lead and played out the season in lackluster, indifferent style.
They carried this dreary manner of play into the World Series and lost three of the first four games. The third loss was an utter disaster, with a Yankee outfielder making an incredible sequence of errors that brought defeat and seemingly crushed hope.
But defeat does not awe Casey, and he is on good terms with hope. The year before he batted .352 for Aurora he hit only .223 for Maysville. Before he starred in the World Series he had been traded from seventh-place Brooklyn to eighth-place Pittsburgh to eighth-place Philadelphia. Before he came to the Yankees he managed in the majors for nine years without ever getting out of the second division.
At this nadir of Yankee fortunes, the 67-year-old Stengel ran up the dugout steps, shouting at his players, rallying them, rolling his arms in the gesture that means, "Let's go! Let's get 'em!" In the worst moment of defeat he was looking for victory.
Next day the Yankees won. They won the next game, as Casey juggled his pitchers. And they won the next game, overwhelmingly, to take the Series. It was the most remarkable comeback in World Series history and the sweetest triumph of Casey Stengel's long career.