by Lincoln Mitchell
March 21, 2023
Part II - Leo and Casey
There are two other Hall of Famers who wore the uniform of both the Giants and Yankees, but did not play for both. Leo Durocher and Casey Stengel were among the most famous managers in the history of the game, but both were also big league players.
Stengel and Durocher had extremely long lives in baseball. The first time Durocher appeared in a big league game, flying out as a pinch hitter, the Yankees lineup included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel and Earle Combs. In the last game Durocher managed for the Houston Astros, the number five hitter for his opponent, the Atlanta Braves, was Dusty Baker. From Ruth to Baker is an impressive chunk of baseball history. Stengel’s span of baseball history is no less formidable. Stengel played his first game in 1912 as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. The cleanup hitter on the Pirates, who the Dodgers were playing that day, was Honus Wagner. Fifty-two years later when Stengel managed his last game for the Mets against the Phillies, the opposing cleanup hitter was Dick Allen.
Durocher and Stengel were also both great characters who were huge media personalities from the 1920s through the 1960s. Durocher married movie stars, was one of the most nattily dressed men in the game and made cameos on television programs. Durocher was known as “Leo the Lip” because he talked so much. In his early years, Stengel was a showman who entertained fans with stunts like tipping his cap to the crowd only to have a bird, that he had previously managed to capture, fly out from under his cap. As manager of the Yankees and later the Mets, Stengel was a source of entertainment and numerous bon mots for the New York media. His 1958 testimony to congress is equal parts, brilliant, hysterical and nonsensical. His age and the wisdom he dispensed earned Stengel the nickname “the Old Perfessor.”
Durocher was a light hitting shortstop who played more than fifteen seasons in the big leagues. After beginning his career with the Yankees, where he remained until 1929, Durocher played for the Reds and Cardinals and ended up with the Dodgers in 1938. He became player manager of that team in 1939. One of the smartest moves he made as the Dodgers manager was in 1940 when he made Pee Wee Reese the starting shortstop and benched himself.
In 1947, Durocher was still managing Brooklyn and was preparing to play Jackie Robinson on Opening Day when he was suspended for allegedly consorting with gamblers. He was reinstated for the 1948 season, but the Dodgers fired him at the All-Star break that year. A few days later the Giants hired him to manage their club. Durocher led the Giants to two pennants and was the Giants’ skipper when Bobby Thomson hit the shot heard ‘round the world in 1951. However, Durocher’s greatest contribution to the Giants was the patience he showed with a supremely talented, but slumping young prospect in earlier that season. Even as Willie Mays failed to get a hit in his first 14 trips to the plate, Durocher assured Mays that he was going to remain the Giants centerfielder. When Mays finally got a hit, a long home run off of future Hall of Famer Warren Spahn, Durocher according to Mays’s biographer James Hirsch told reporters “I never saw a f#cking ball leave a f#cking park so f#cking fast in my f#cking life.”
Durocher was a successful manager, winning pennants in Brooklyn in 1941 and in New York in 1951 and 1954, but Casey Stengel was the most successful manager in baseball history. While managing the Yankees from 1949-1960, Stengel won ten pennants and seven World Series. In 1951 Stengel led the Yankees past Durocher’s Giants to win the World Series in six games.
Those 1950s Yankees teams were led by Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra, but in New York in those years, Stengel was a huge star in his own right.
Stengel managed three New York teams-the Yankees, Mets and Brooklyn Dodgers, but never the Giants. However, he played several years for the Giants. After leaving Brooklyn and having stopovers with the Pirates and the Phillies, Stengel landed with the Giants in 1921. As a member of the Giants, he played against the Yankees in three consecutive World Series from 1921-1923. Those were the first World Series appearances by the Yankees.
Stengel was an outfielder and a pretty good overall player. He played during the tail end of the deadball era into the early years of the more home run centered game. He, like most players of his generation, never hit for much power, but he could get on base and play solid defense in the outfield. Stengel was the kind of player who Stengel the manager would have used well, getting him in the lineup against pitchers he could hit and using him in the field late in games for defense.
Baseball managers no longer are public figures the way Stengel and Durocher were, but both these men had deep ties to both the Giants and the Yankees and were among the most visible, successful and famous managers of the twentieth century.
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