Look at them line drives," snorted Charles Dillon Stengel, the gnarled oak of baseball whose roots are now firmly planted in the sod of Yankee Stadium. Mr. Stengel was peering through the rope mesh of a batter's cage in St. Petersburg, Fla., where his Yankee baseball team was starting to work the winter's creaks and squeaks from its joints. "This Silvera'll hit you nothing but line drives, won't you, Charlie? Hey, Charlie, they could use you in the movies, Charlie. How much you charge—$200 a line drive?"
Mr. Stengel was in a happy frame of mind as his athletes sweated and grunted under the Florida sun. At 64, the onetime Kansas City dental student who swiped the name of Casey from his home town was enjoying some visions—visions of a sixth American League pennant in seven years. Last fall, after the Yankees finished second to Cleveland—thus failing to win the championship for the first time since Casey took charge in 1949—he was petulant and irascible. He even went so far as to say he would trade any players on his ball club except Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle.
BLOOD IN A BLUE EYE
Stengel's winter barters were not that drastic, but he made a deal with the Baltimore Orioles that was the biggest baseball news since the World Series. He dealt off nine players, including dependable Outfielder Gene Woodling, Pitcher Harry Byrd, who had been only so-so in a Yankee uniform, a promising young catcher named Hal Smith, who led the American Association in batting last year, and some lesser talent. In return he got 24-year-old Bob Turley, probably the fastest pitcher in the major leagues, a couple of mediocre infielders and a questionable pitcher named Don Larsen. Casey was looking for a pitcher who could win 20 games, and Turley was the target of his trading.
Now Stengel is back in Florida with blood in his eye and a slight California patio around his waistline after a winter at home tending to his lucrative business interests and plotting another pennant. In Casey's mind there is only one logical and satisfactory place for that American League pennant: Yankee Stadium.
During the first week of training, Casey shuffled and jigged his way around the grass of Miller Huggins Field, his blue, hawk's eyes taking in the performances and mistakes of an impressive but unevenly distributed collection of 46 ballplayers whose number he must reduce to 25 by May 12. Running through his mind was the question now bothering the entire American League: Does he have the pitching and the infield?
In his own anarchistic syntax, Casey has a way of bringing such matters into sharp focus. Musing on his dilemma, Casey said early in the week: "So, the way you look at it, you've got to say that if Mantle plays good I've got the best outfield in the league and the best catchers in the league. My outfield and my catching departments are of pennant-winning caliber, but if you want to go to the infield you can't say how strong it is or who will finally play where, although I know now who will start the way they figure at this moment. Then there's my pitching, and that's the other thing."
At noon each day, while the players took their brief break for lunch, Casey would retreat to the shade of the dugout and discuss for reporters some aspect of his team and its prospects. The first day it was the outfield, whose roster of only five players is incredibly thin for a manager like Stengel.
"Well, now look what we got," Casey began. "In left we got this Noren who's a fella can lead the league and bat you over .300, but then you think he's left-handed and you hardly ever see a graceful left-handed fella in left field can turn around and make that throw to second, but Noren can do it.
"Now Mantle. This year if he could play great I know I'd be better than last year. Look at the way he can hit left-handed to left and right, and right-handed to right and left, and he's fast on his feet for a base runner and a strong fella if he can improve his play."