What had become evident to everyone in Stengel's Milwaukee performance was his ability to develop young players. In the fall of 1944, the Yankees were in the process of being sold to MacPhail, and Weiss would no longer be under Barrow's thumb (but very much under MacPhail's). Weiss had been running the New Haven club when Stengel was at Worcester. Their paths had crossed various times, and they had respect for each other. Weiss asked Casey if he'd take over the Triple-A Yankee farm club in Kansas City -- still bearing the name Blues and descendants of the team that had signed Stengel to his first contract.
So Stengel spent 1945 back in Kansas City, managing a team that finished seventh (since the Yankee system, depleted by the war, did not yet have its players back), and not having much fun seeing Milwaukee win again. Not one of his Kansas City players ever became a recognizable Yankee. Besides, MacPhail had taken over in New York, and Weiss found out that Larry's thumb was even bigger and heavier than Barrow's. There was no reason for Stengel to stick around.
However, the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League had been purchased by Brick Laws, and he was looking for a manager. Would Casey be interested? This top minor league, coming out of the war, was a haven for ex-major leaguers as well as prospects, in an exploding population region, working itself up to ask for semi-major league status (which it never got). Oakland was only 400 miles north of Glendale, and the Coast League schedule called for week-long visits to a town, two of which were Los Angeles and Hollywood. It sounded like a good deal, and Casey took it. After all, he was still a young chicken of fifty-five.
With a 188-game schedule and a roster full of veterans, Stengel started to put into practice all his ideas about lineup juggling, unorthodox moves, and motivation now so clear in his mind. He had, now, that key ingredient: He didn't need the job. He had himself a ball in Oakland, and was beloved by the community (and West Coast writers), and as funny as ever, and successful. The Oaks finished second, fourth, and first, selling more than 500,000 tickets each year -- more than his teams had ever done in Brooklyn and Boston. It wasn't the majors, but it was pretty good fun for a spry, affluent fifty-eight-year-old with a limp.
And, for the umpteenth time, the outside world was moving in strange ways. MacPhail had hired Bucky Harris to manage the Yankees in 1947, and they ran away with the pennant and beat the Dodgers in a 7-game World Series. Immediately afterward, in an emotional scene, MacPhail announced his retirement. That left Weiss as the only high-ranking baseball man in the organization whom Topping and Webb could turn to -- and Harris wasn't Weiss's man. (Weiss never had any use for anyone who wasn't indebted to him, at least in Weiss's eyes.) In 1948, the Yankees failed to repeat, missing by 2 games in that three-way finish with Boston and Cleveland, after many disputes between Weiss and Harris about bringing up farm products for help during the season. That was all the excuse Weiss needed to unload Bucky.
Weiss wanted Casey. Topping was against it. Webb, who had met Stengel casually in Oakland, was won over. Yankee scouts who had been covering the Pacific Coast League endorsed him heartily as the best manager out there.
In New York, of course, Stengel was as firmly identified as a clown as the Statue of Liberty was as a statue. The Daffy Dodger managing the lordly Yankees? That would be a joke in itself. His old friends in the Big Town were delighted to see him and Edna again, but no one thought it made much sense. Publicity? Yes, the best. Victories? Never.
But it was no joke.
Excerpted and reproduced From The Man In The Dugout, Expanded Edition: Baseball's Top Managers & How They Got That Way by Leonard Koppett, by permission of Temple University Press.
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