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Always in a crowd, but in a way always alone, an old campaigner of the baseball wars roamed the eastern half of the United States during the last days of summer. He plodded a direct course, he hewed to a single line, he kept his sharp, all-seeing eyes focused on a single target. He sought one goal, one prize. People kept telling him the prize was already his, but he refused to believe them until it was in his grasp: his seventh pennant in eight years.
He is the most remarkable man in baseball, this old campaigner (opposite page), this paradoxical personality known as Casey Stengel. There is nobody remotely like him in the game. A superb baseball tactician, a master strategist, his manipulation of his players is based on sound, solid reasoning, the percentages, and his precise knowledge of every man in the league, his strength and weaknesses. True, he has a wealth of material to work with, but no one denies that he makes the most of it.
His memory is unbelievable. After a game, he can play it back to an audience pitch by pitch. His physical endurance is astounding. In addition, he is (when he wants to be) a master of public relations which, since he is manager of the New York Yankees, makes him a daily target for an unending parade of characters, some legitimate, others mere gadflies who divert him from the task to which he devotes each waking hour: the winning of ball games.
Finally, Casey is a clown. Not a buffoon, but an authentic clown, a skilled practitioner of an ancient art who can calculate a comic effect as accurately as he can sense a pitcher's fading stuff.
All these facets of Casey's personality were in evidence as he led his Yankees down the stretch. Time and again, the gadflies tried to swing him off balance. But, through hell, high water and hullabaloo, Casey held to his charted course until at last—near one September midnight in Chicago—even Casey had to admit that he was in.
This is the report of one who went step by step down the stretch with Casey:
Nobody was worried but Casey. He couldn't wait for the train to get to Washington. He likes to get out to the park early when he's worried. As early as 3 o'clock on the afternoon before a night game.
When the train finally pulled into the Washington station, Casey was the first one off. Stepping from the air-conditioned train was like stepping into a steel mill's blast furnace. The sportswriters, following Casey off the train, reeled under the impact of the 98° heat. Casey, off at a trot, yelled over his shoulder: "Come on, you guys!" A sportswriter yelled back: "Go on by yourself, skipper! We can't keep up with you!" Casey made a gesture of exasperation and broke into a half run.
A little later in the clubhouse, Casey worked at one of his first chores of the day: writing out the lineup for the opening game of the series with the Senators. As usual, he wrote down Mantle in the No. 3 spot and Berra No. 4. Then he scratched his head and pondered briefly over his abundance of infield talent. He decided to move Martin to third, play McDougald at second, Skowron at first and Hunter at short. With Mantle in center and Bauer in right, there was only one spot to hesitate over. He put Slaughter in left, hitting in the lead-off position.