Casey Stengel is elected to the Hall of Fame

Written by: Alex Coffey

Charles Dillon Stengel, D.D.S. It has an official-sounding ring to it – if one is unfamiliar with 20th century baseball history, or doesn’t speak Stengelese.

But for students of the game, imagining Casey Stengel as anything other than an endearing representative of the National Pastime is simply unthinkable.

“I started out to be a dentist,” Stengel told The New York Times. “The dean of my school said, ‘Why don’t you be an orthodontist?’ That way I could have got a lot of rich kids and put a black filling in their mouth. The dean said, ‘Always try to be a little different.’”

Stengel was certainly different, just not in the dental industry. His career in baseball spanned from 1912-1925 as a player, and was followed by 25 years as a manager. After he left his last managerial stop with the New York Mets in 1965, he took up a position with the team as vice president, in charge of scouting West Coast players.

On the field, he averaged .284 and played in three World Series – batting .400 for the 1922 matchup against the New York Yankees, helping to lead his New York Giants to victory.

But on the sidelines was where Stengel earned his Hall of Fame plaque. He began his career with the Brooklyn Dodgers (1934-1936) and then the Boston Bees/Braves (1938-1943).

An unlikely choice to manage the Yankees in 1949, he led the Bronx Bombers for 12 seasons, winning 10 pennants and 7 World Series titles.

Under his leadership, the Yankees became the first – and still the only – team to win five consecutive World Series championships (1949-1953).

He ended his career by managing the Mets in their first four seasons (1962-1965).

Despite his success, Stengel was thoroughly surprised when commissioner Ford C. Frick announced on March 8, 1966, that he’d been elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans’ Committee. Frick planned to deliver the news at Huggins-Stengel Field, the Mets spring training site, without any warning to Casey, who was under the impression that he would be delivering a plaque to then-Mets president George Weiss.

“This is amazin’ to me because there are so many guys who I think belong there ahead of me who are not in there yet,” the 75-year-old Stengel said to the crowd. “But I am very proud and I will save my acceptance speech if Ted Williams will be kind enough to allow me five minutes when I am inducted at Cooperstown.”

What was even more amazing was that Stengel would not only join baseball’s elite group of 104, but would be elected under special circumstances. The Veterans Committee, by recommendation of the BBWAA, had decided to waive the five-year post-retirement rule for Stengel’s eligibility.

After a 1966 Induction Ceremony in which he was inducted alongside Williams, Casey put a cap on a fine career. In typical fashion, his speech took up more time than his fellow inductees’ did – at 20 minutes – as he reminisced on some of his favorite baseball memories in front of 7,000 fans in Cooperstown. But it wouldn’t be a Casey Stengel speech without a biting remark or two.

“I want to thank everybody,” he said to the crowd. “I want to thank my parents…and I’m thankful I had baseball knuckles and couldn’t become a dentist.”

Alex Coffey was the communications specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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