Pitcher Ron Locke remembers Mets manager Casey Stengel

Locke65Ron Locke knows he pitched for a Hall of Famer in 1964. However, did he think Mets skipper Casey Stengel was anything like the zany character reporters claimed?

Locke replied:

“I thought Casey was a great man. He liked young kids coming up from the minors. he liked talking to young ballplayers to see what they knew about the game.

“But as far as a manager, he thought he had the Yankees. He liked to drink booze and staying up late at night. He really didn’t tell you much about the game.

“He liked talking to sports writers. I think the reporters hit the nail on the head when talking about Casey.”


Steve Kraly, 1953 Yankee, Honors Fans

A card of one meant gum for all in 1955!

Steve Kraly is more than a member of the 1953 New York Yankees. He’s a baseball legend in Binghamton, New York.

His record-setting season of 19 wins and 19 complete games got him his promotion to the majors. He’s been official scorer for the Binghamton Mets so long that fans honored him in 2008. In fan voting, Kraly was the winner in the team’s “Choose the Next Bobblehead” ballot.

He didn’t take the honor lightly. At the game’s bobblehead giveaway, he spoke briefly to the crowd.

“I was very humble,” he recalled. “I dedicated the figurine to the fans. I pointed to both dugouts and told the teams, ‘We’re only as good as our fans.’ Fans make the difference.”

Kraly lives in hobby infamy as #139 in the 1955 Topps set. He says that “$2,500 and a case of Topps bubblegum” were payment for his appearance. I asked if the facsimile signature is simply reproduced from the contract he signed as a minor leaguer. Nope. He remembers signing a facsimile card for the signature reproduction.

Kraly’s voice swells with pride as he tells of being selected by Topps to be part of the “Authentic Signature” series in the Heritage set. Kraly remembered that he was asked to sign only 50 of his 450 cards in red ink.

Kraly speculates that his 1955 Topps and his inclusion on the fabled 1953 team combine to keep the fan mail coming. How many letters come? “Lots,” he says. “I get some almost every day.”

The ex-Yank sounds stunned that some collectors include money with an autograph request. “I send back money,” he explains. “I write and ask the collector to donate this to their favorite charity. Or, I suggest they could donate to the children’s home here.”

The Children’s Home once served as an orphanage. Kraly’s late wife Irene was one of many children benefiting from the home’s services. In her honor, Kraly benefits the Home.

I said, “Casey Stengel and the Mets bought your contract in 1961. But you gave up baseball because of her.”

I could hear Kraly’s smile. “I had worked one day at IBM. I came home. She had the news. She asked me when we were leaving. I said, ‘You and the two kids are more important.'”

Kraly’s fondness extends to Stengel. “The best manager ever,” Kraly says. “He treated everyone equally. At that time, there was just eight teams in each league.” If an arm injury (blood clot) hadn’t short-circuited his career, Kraly thinks he could have been a part of the Bronx Bombers for 4-7 years.

Kraly pauses. His tone changed. “Now, there’s 30 teams. But there’s not that many good major leaguers. Today’s players are spoiled.” I imagined Kraly’s harsh assessment of current autographing habits and fan relations.

More than a half-century later, the fan mail still comes. One letter Kraly received was from Kenneth Hogan, a New York City firefighter. Hogan wanted some information for the book he was writing: Batting 10th For the Yankees: Recollections of 30 Yankees You May Not Remember.

Kraly called Hogan. They spoke. The former pitcher was so pleased with the finished results that he offers ordering information for the title.

Anyone who writes to Kraly will remember him. Crisp handwriting, with every letter legible. Know that your letter will get read. One way to offer your thanks in advance for Kraly’s guaranteed reply would be shown by sending the lefty a dollar or two with your letter. Earmark the donation for the local children’s home. The veteran pitcher’s wife has passed away, but the love hasn’t. Kraly is still pitching for Binghamton’s kids — including the girl named Irene.

Coming Friday: Why Harvey Meiselman’s 2011 baseball address list is the best yet.

Yankee Art Schult Tells On 1953 Topps

“The only picture they had…”

Art Schult got only the briefest chance to catch on with the 1953 Yankees.

In his “cup of coffee” with manager Casey Stengel, does Schult have a memory of the Hall of Famer?

Yes, but…

“RE Stengel – I was never very diplomatic and I really do not want to try at this late date.”

Schult accepted the nickname “Dutch,” although some mystery surrounds the title:

“I believe one of my buddies gave me the nickname ‘Dutch’ when I stole a couple of bases and it stuck for awhile.”

Most incredible is Schult’s recognition of his 1953 Topps card. Some collectors have guessed that Topps painters inserted random backgrounds on some cards. I thought Schult’s card looked like my backyard!

Not so.

“My contract was brought up to New York at the end of the 1950 season. I was drafted into the Service roughly the same time. The only picture they had was taken in Binghamton, New York, with the center field wall in the background.

I had the pinstripes on but the cap had TC (Triple City logo) and the number on the uniform was #6 which couldn’t be shown. That is why they doctored the card.”

Tomorrow: Remembering my conversation with Hall of Famer Johnny Mize.

Bud Harrelson: ‘I Always Wanted the Mets.’

Good luck finding
a ‘Derrel’ autograph

Did Bud Harrelson want to play for the San Francisco Giants? I quoted to him from The Ballplayers, a 1990 reference book.

“Harrelson grew up in California wanting to play for the Giants, who rejected him as too small.”

This was repeated in a thorough SABR biography.

I asked for details. Who did the rejecting? How? His reply was fascinating:

“The Giants never scouted me. I always wanted the Mets.”

The Ballplayers did point out one epic week in Harrelson’s career. In the same week in late 1966, he secured Met wins against the Giants and Pirates with dramatic steals of home. The losses dashed pennant hopes for both clubs.

Why don’t we see more steals of home today?

“The old-time pitchers had a longer wind-up.”

Harrelson learned to switch-hit after struggling to hit his weight in 1965.

“Casey Stengel encouraged me. I wanted to play every day, right and left.”

I enjoyed discovering the Ultimate Mets Database entry for Harrelson. Be sure to check out the fan memories section, too.

Tomorrow: Revisit Yankee Stadium, circa 1964, with Roger Repoz

Walter Alston & Casey Stengel Successful Today? Not Likely, Says Pitcher Larry Miller

Back in 2001, former pitcher Larry Miller still threw strikes.

Verbal strikes, that is.

Miller didn’t sugar-coat his opinions when asked about hurling for two
Hall of Fame managers in a three-year career. Furthermore, Miller slung
a high, hard one at the 1960s Mets organization.

“I never got to know either Alston or Stengel as people,” Miller began. “As managers, they had similar skills as far as making proper strategic moves during a game. Neither spent much effort trying to connect with the players. My belief is that neither would be very successful managing today’s players who require and demand special considerations.”

When coach Wes Westrum took over the Mets following Stengel’s retirement, Miller felt that the new manager was doomed.

“Westrum took over a team still brimming with expansion players. The core of the ’69 Mets (Seaver, Ryan, Koosman, McGraw, etc.) were just coming into the organization as minor leaguers. The best manager in baseball at that time would have had difficulty improving the Mets record.

“The old saying ‘You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken s – – – ‘ applies here.”

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