"The job this year was simply to get a club started. Why, we couldn't even hire office personnel at first because we didn't have an office. Now we have what I think is the finest office in the majors. Of course we don't want to confine ourselves to leading the league in office space. The main thing is to build up our scouting staff. We had great scouts with the Yankees. Kritchell, Devine, Greenwade. We have Wid Matthews now, but we have to wait until contract time and some of the other good scouts become dissatisfied with their organizations. Then we can make moves. But right now all we can do is hope the players come along and it gets a little better. Anyway the manager is doing a fine job, isn't he?"
The manager certainly is. This is, everybody agrees, Stengel's finest year. When he was running the Yankees and winning 10 pennants and becoming a legend, Casey never really struck you as the one they wrote of in the newspapers. His double-talk was pleasant, but it had a bit of show business lacquer to it. And he could be rough on young players. Norman Siebern, once a tremendous outfield prospect, never got over a couple of Casey's tongue-lashings. And Bobby Richardson and Clete Boyer weren't the most relaxed players in the world under Stengel.
But here with the Mets, at age 73, Stengel is everything you ever read or heard about him. The man has compassion, humor and, above all, class. There is no grousing and no screaming that players are letting him down. Mr. Stengel came to baseball this year ready to stand up no matter how rough it became. Well, it has become awful rough, and he is standing up as nobody ever has. And trying. He talks to the players, and he makes all the moves he knows. When they do not work out, he simply takes off his cap, wipes his forehead, then jams it back over his eyes and takes it from there.
In the rare instances when he does have the material to work with in a situation, that old, amazing Stengel magic is still there. Two weeks ago in St. Louis, the Mets won two against the Cards, and one of the wins was a result of Stengel's moves.
Curt Simmons, a lefthander, was pitching for the Cards, and Stengel sent up Gene Woodling, a lefthanded hitter, to pinch-hit. Normally, this is not protocol. But Simmons had been coming in with a screwball as his best pitch. In a left-against-left situation, a screwball breaks toward the hitter and is easy to follow. Simmons had to go with a fastball. Woodling hit it on top of the roof in right, and the Mets had two runs and a ball game.
"I remembered another thing," Casey said after the game. "Once when I had Ford goin' for 20 games over with the Yankees, Woodling beats him with a home run down in Baltimore. What the hell, don't tell me he can't hit a lefthander. I remember him doin' it, and that's why I put him in there."
A few lockers down, Woodling was talking about Stengel.
"I was with him for five championships with the Yankees," he was saying, "and he and I had our differences. It's nothing new. Everybody knew that. But I've never seen anybody like him this year. This is a real professional."
You could see it a day later, when Casey and his Mets came into the dressing room after losing a doubleheader to the Cards. The manager had a wax container of beer in his hand, and he was growling about a call that he said cost him the first game.
"The man don't even know the rules," Casey was saying. "My man was in a rundown between third and home, and when he tries to go to home the catcher trips him right on the baseline. You could see the chalk was all erased. The umpire don't call it. Costs me a game. It was an awful thing."