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This review is from: Forging Genius: The Making of Casey Stengel (Hardcover)
Goldman takes one of baseball's most entertaining characters and somehow manages to present us a story as lifeless as a pine tar rag. There is no organizing theme to this narrative. Although the chapters are presented chronologically (playing career, managing in Brooklyn, then Boston), the anectodes skip around in an unorganized way -- making it hard to keep track of what is happening when, or why we should care.
Here's what's interesting:
- Casey Stengel played for John McGraw, and they had a close relationship that amounted to McGraw willingly tutoring and nuturing Stengel's active mind. McGraw was an important mentor to Stengel, as a faculty advisor is an important mentor to a graduate student. (McGraw's influence among 20th century managers has been well documented by Bill James).
- Casey was instrumental in shaping Billy Martin's playing career, both with the Oaks in the PCL and with the Yankees. But there are important differences between Stengel and Martin's approach to managing (although this is never discussed).
- Casey managed some incrediblly bad teams (Boston Braves, NY Mets) and some incrediblly good ones. And he liked to platoon players, use his bench, and valued multi-positional players that increased his decision-making flexibility. On his best teams was able to rely on a few switch-hitters or star hitters that allowed him to save his platoon match-ups for players with reserve or part-time roles. However, this rarely (if ever) was extended to pitchers, whom he constantly moved in and out of different roles regardless of their talent level.
What we don't read about in this book is how managers that came after Stengel also employed these kinds of techniques. Whitey Herzog (for example) valued multi-positional players. Earl Weaver built active benches with situational hitters around a few switch-hitting or star regulars (as did Herzog) and used complez defensive and offensive platoons.
There is a good anecdote or two in the text, but this is not the best source for reader's looking for funny Stengel stories. At worst, this book merely reinforces the idea that baseball players are little more than Strat-o-matic cards to be shuffled in and out of the line up to manipulate probability distributions. Upon finishing the book, we are left with little idea of how Casey actually liked to built his teams, communicate with players, solve problems or provide leadership. We are told Stengel was (and considered himself) a good teacher, but we don't really know what Stengel was trying to teach, which is disappointing.