For a kid born in 1946 and growing up in Lefty Grove's Georges Creek Valley, playing baseball should be a natural. Sometime it doesn't work out that way. Rotten vision and Coke bottle bottom glasses rendered me useless on a baseball diamond, so I didn't play organized ball with my pals. On the other hand, I followed the sport just as fiercely, collecting my hundreds of baseball cards, listening to - later watching - the Washington Senators and the Baltimore Orioles, and arguing about those Yankees, love 'em or
Whether you love or hate the Yankees really doesn't matter today. It's simply a great day in baseball history for a beloved man of the game who happened to do well - very well - with the Yankees. His name was Casey Stengel, born on July 30, 1890, in Kansas City. Stengel took over as the Yankees' manager in 1949 and won the World Series championship. They won again in 1950. And 1951, 1952, and 1953. It's a record of consecutive wins that still stands. Stengel went on to win two more championships with the Yankees in 1956 and 1958.
He retired in 1960 only to return to the game two years later as manager of the "Lovable Losers", the New York Mets. Fans loved them and their "Old Perfesser" coach who captivated the press and broadcast media with his quips and comments, delivered in his famous "Stengelese" style, nurtured over his rich career.
To learn more about Casey Stengel, visit his Baseball Hall of Fame page here. The page links to some good multimedia features, as well. Link to Wikipedia's more extensive biography here. The Official Casey Stengel Site has a great list of quotes here.
I left Georges Creek Valley in 1956 and have no idea what happened to my baseball pals. For certain, most of them left Appalachia in search of a better life. But regardless of their destinations, I imagine baseball was never left behind. Though we are pulled in many directions, and obligations place demands on our leisure, the old pastime is still with us, thanks to icons like Stengel. If you want to honor the old man, I can't think of a better way than gathering all the men and boys in the family - and the girls who'll understand - sitting them down for two hours and watching Field of Dreams. Chances are, Casey will drop by.
On second thought, I think the girls can find something else to do.