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Words | Retooling

October 16, 2012

Stengel and Bill Skowron in 1954

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.

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.

| Alfred Wright, Sports Illustrated, March 14, 1955 |

It was only a footnote at the time, but that “questionable pitcher” would give the Yankees one of the most thrilling moments in the history of baseball in October, 1956.  Stengel’s Yankees would retool, and would go on to win 5 out of the next 6 pennants.

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