It was cruelly hot and humid this evening in the New York Yankees' dugout at Cleveland. At one end of the long bench sat Casey Stengel, all alone. The Yanks were deep in a slump, and sportswriters have a way of avoiding the bench of a losing ball club. In the old days Stengel would have been surrounded, but now there were only two baseball reporters seated at the far end of the dugout, and they were silent in the oppressive heat. On the field the dispirited Yanks were taking batting practice.
Only the monotonous hollow sound of ball against bat and the resulting echo disturbed the quiet moment. Presently Casey's eyelids grew heavy, fluttered and then closed. Not for long, to be sure, but perhaps long enough...just long enough to dream.
The grand ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York rocked with the laughter of the 1,500 persons attending the annual dinner of the New York Chapter, Baseball Writers Association of America, on the evening of February 1, 1959. The speaker was Casey Stengel, and he had never been in better form. With the memory of his masterful handling of his Yankees in the superb seven-game World Series of 1958 still fresh in the minds of his audience, he played to the hilt the role of the eccentric genius, running on through nonstop sentences filled with obscure parenthetical asides and hilarious references to "this fella, that fella, the other fella." Then, abruptly, Casey was strangely silent. He stood for a long moment, staring up at the ceiling, and something about his manner caused a hush to fall over the assembly. Partly raised drinks were slowly lowered. Men exchanged glances in half alarm, half expectation of a bigger, better joke to come. At last Casey spoke:
"I ain't," said Casey, "going to beat about the bush. Here it is. I'm 69 years old. I won nine pennants for the Yankee organization, except I have to say it was the players that done it, with the help of Mr. George Weiss in the front office, and I just won another world championship. Now I been thinkin' things over and I decided this is the time to hang up old No. 37 and retire."
Stengel raised his voice and rushed on: "Yes, I'm quittin' and I got to say this. I'm turnin' over to whosoever Mr. George Weiss picks as new manager the greatest Yankee ball club I ever managed and I'm sayin' right now it's goin' to win again because it's got good everythin'—pitch-in', hittin' and the fellas that can make that double play and go for the big one when it's needed. It can't lose, I don't care who's manager. Even Bill McCorry, the travelin' secretary, could manage this ball club to the pennant. Thank you, one and all, and if you ever get out to Glendale, California drop in and see me in my private office at the bank."
The audience rose as one man, and the cheers for Stengel rattled the crystals of the great chandeliers. Stengel stood smiling, his hands clasped above his head. There were excited exchanges at tables here and there. Men shouted in each other's ears: "Smart move...quit winner...great time to go out...couldn't top his record anyway...one of baseball's immortals...cinch for Hall of Fame
Spontaneously, a mighty chorus sang For He's a Jolly Good Fellow. It was the most moving farewell in all baseball history.
General Manager George Weiss waited for a few days before announcing Stengel's successor. No one was surprised when Weiss named Ralph Houk, Yankee coach, who had frequently been mentioned as a candidate for the job when and if Ol' Case decided to retire.
When spring training had rolled around, the annual predictions were made. Milwaukee was the No. 1 selection to repeat in the National League and, as for the American, nobody dared to suggest that the Yankees could fail to win again. As one writer put it, "The Yanks have just too much hitting, pitching, speed, defense and depth. Weak spots in the Yankee lineup? There just aren't any weak spots."
But as the season opened (and Casey Stengel settled down in his job at the bank in Glendale, California), strange things began to happen. The powerhouse of Stengel's regime began to break down. Pitchers—even Stengel's "perfessional," Whitey Ford—couldn't seem to go the route. There was a rash of injuries and flu cases and mysteriously sore arms. Before June 1st the incomparable Yankees were, horribly incredible though it was, in last place. They rallied, but in early July they fizzled out, and again it was noted that they were not even playing .500 ball any more.