The 1959 baseball season opened officially last, er.... Well, perhaps it wasn't strictly official, but for those whose principal interest in the national game lies in watching that agile, 67-year-old gray-haired champion, Charles Dillon Stengel, slide into a peroration amid a swirling cloud of verbal Stardust, the new season had begun. Casey, the West Coast banker in New York for a testimonial dinner, was at bat again, and, as usual, once the ball was in the air, it was a little hard to tell which side he was playing on or which way he was running.
"I know what our guys can do and what they can't," Casey told a group of eagerly note-taking sportswriters, "so maybe we wouldn't be lucky if we traded with that fella in Cleveland or that other fella in Washington. Those fellas only want to offer nothing for something, so unless my bosses suddenly decide to make a deal which would be too good to turn down I'll stick with my guys at least for a month or two and maybe by then every one of them will have watches which can tell when midnight comes."
All of which was Mr. Stengel's perfectly simple and straightforward way of telling his Yankee ballplayers that they had better get on the ball come spring. Both Casey and his guys came in for considerable criticism on the part of fans last year despite the miraculous last-ditch victory in Milwaukee. Yankee Stadium, despite the sudden surcease of all National League competition, yawned gap-toothed with empty seats for much of the season and Casey was frank to admit the reason: "We lost our chance to recruit the National League fans because we stunk." Casey's front-office bosses were well aware of the situation and took it out on the Yankee manager. Casey, as always, was quick to jump to the defense of his fellas, but last week he was letting them know in no uncertain terms that it mustn't happen again.
"My trouble," he told the newsmen, "is that I'm too easy, and if certain men are not in at night I am responsible. Who is supposed to be responsible if not the manager, so if you get tired running 90 feet to first base I'll have to fine you.
"And," Mr. Stengel added for the benefit of a few Yankees who have been threatened (though not very seriously) with salary cuts, "if some of them don't like it here a big moving van will move up and one or two of them will get socked in the butt, and let's see how they like it outside of this great city."
So that was that. And how did the scolded fellas take it? "Well," said Mickey Mantle, who, along with Pitcher Whitey Ford, has sometimes been suspected of staying up too late at night, "I don't want to sound like I'm bragging but I think I've done a pretty good job and Casey Stengel is out of line."
Out of line? Well, maybe, but not out of breath, not by a long shot.
Except in burlesque and the orange industry, navels have gone largely out of style in the West. In the Far East, however, where eyelike umbilici peer inscrutably from countless Buddhas, the navel is held in high regard. "Think with your navel, walk with your navel, look and listen with your navel," warned one of the great proponents of Japanese Zen Buddhism, "and thus become truly enlightened."