When I was 8 years old, in 1972, I remember watching a New York Mets game with my dad, and during a rain delay WWOR TV showed some old Mets footage from 1962, their inaugural season. Prominent in the footage was their first manager, one Charles Dillon Stengel, and his double-talk, or "Stengelese" was both amusing and confusing to an 8 year old fan. I asked my dad why a baseball team would hire someone to be their manager who was such a clown. My dad's response was along the lines of "not judging a book by it's cover," and he explained to me a bit about Stengel's career as both a quality major leaguer who once played for his beloved NY Giants, as well as his very successful career with the crosstown rival Yankees. I was intrigued by this man, able to simultaneously attract people to his persona yet, underneath the facade was a brilliant manager who was able to take the lessons he learned from old masters like John McGraw and expand upon them and make them his own.
A number of years later, I had the great fortune to receive a copy of Robert Creamer's bio of Casey back in 1985, as a present from my dad, and like everything Creamer wrote, you could look at it as a "definitive work" on his subject. However, since his Casey bio was written, the ability to receive information and conduct research has improved exponentially and therefore a great deal of information that previously wasn't available about Casey's early playing career was now readily accessible.
Marty Appel's research, as always, is astounding, leaving no stone un-turned, and his hard work paid off as he was able to access an unpublished manuscript written by Casey's late wife, Edna, which offered great insight into both their relationship as well as a wealth of additional information about Casey's long, illustrious career. A truly three-dimensional portrait came to life of this amazing man, whose career spanned from Christy Mathewson and Babe Ruth to Mickey Mantle and Tom Seaver. The span of Casey's career could certainly lead to a rousing game of "Six Degrees of Casey Stengel!" But why another book about Casey? Well, MLB Network began a series of specials, entitled "Prime 9" not long after debuting, and in 2009 an episode entitled "Baseball's Greatest Characters" named Casey their number one Greatest Character. The seed was planted- writing the definitive book about Stengel; the thought of finding new information about Stengel was the challenge, but no moreso then writing books that deftly and succinctly covered the entire history of baseball's greatest team ("Pinstripe Empire") or crafting a biography about the late, great Thurman Munson ("Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain") many years after helping Munson write his autobiography. I am happy to report- for all three books, but in particular with "Casey" - challenge was accepted, and challenge was MORE than delivered upon with amazing success!!!
The beauty of reading a book written by Marty Appel is that, while engaged, you hear the "voice" of the subject shining through at all times, perhaps the best thing you can say about a biographer. Appel's words not only bring Casey and an incredible cast of characters to life, but they allow you to experience events as if they were happening in front of you, without judgement, without agendas, devoid of anything other than the subject and his circumstances. Appel has crafted a work of biographical art, adding new information to a man of whom there's been no shortage of books and articles written about over the years, some 42 years after his passing. This shouldn't surprise anyone who has read any of Appel's past works, especially his recent books "Munson" and "Pinstripe Empire." It's ironic that one of my very favorite authors specializes in Yankee's history, of course, having been named the youngest PR Director in baseball history when iconic Yankee's owner George Steinbrenner appointed him to the position in 1973. Ironic, because I was raised and remain a raving fan of the NY Mets (some would say "raving mad"), which in itself should tell you just how great of an author Appel truly is. In fact, I have purchased a number of copies of "Pinstripe Empire" for fellow Mets' fan friends, and to a person they raved about this incredible portrait of a truly reviled (and often hated) city rival. I've now purchased an equal number of copies of "Casey Stengel: Baseball's Greatest Character" for the same people, and I can't wait to hear how much they've enjoyed this incredible book.
Judge for yourself- by all means, wrhether you're a fan of the Yankees, Mets, any baseball team, sports in general or just a fan of great biographies, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. The life of Casey Stengel was, and always will be - amazin' amazin' amazin' amazin' amazin' amazin' amazin'!!!! Thank you, Marty Appel, for showing everyone why...and thank you for making Casey’s life relevant again for the many new fans who only have seen him, if at all, as the same clown I thought he was upon my first glance!
Brutally honest, John peels back layers rarely, if ever, disclosed by athletes, from his high school days as a phenom, to wading through being drafted by the Giants; from tearing up the minors (on and OFF the field) to finally making it to the bigs; and, most importantly, reaching what you always dreamed about and what it was actually like to accomplish it.
All the things we look for in a great novel are here- a hero, his love (loves), the family offering support, the mentors guiding our hero through various landmines, the "evil" that lurks behind various minor league towns, making it big, losing his way, redemption, great loss, trust gone wrong, redemption and, ultimately, allowing all of us to feel it as it happened.
John's vivid recall, combined with the seasoned hand of veteran author Dave Jordan make "Fastball John" the worthy 2016 successor to "Ball Four." AND- for me- having followed John's career with the Giants (the team of my father's childhood) and the California Angels (my 2nd favorite team of all time), it was great to learn why this fastballer's career took the paths it did- so thank you, John, for sharing your amazing life with us, warts and all!!!
Last and not least, if you had to do it all again, would you learn to throw a devastating change-up from the get-go??