Forging Genius

DMZ · November 30, 2005 at 12:44 pm · Filed Under General baseball 

Forging Genius (affiliate link) is the story of how Casey Stengel grew into being a great manager. Steve Goldman writes the Pinstriped Bible column and blog for the Yes Network’s website, and also writes for Baseball Prospectus.

It’s an enjoyable read, and I recommend it. Goldman’s done an outstanding job researching and writing the book, and it’s entertaining and enlightening. There are funny Stengel anecdotes, but what really comes across is how smart Stengel was beyond that sense of humor, and how even when he was losings and losing badly he was picking up things that might serve him later.

In particular, what fascinated me was the presentation of the different team-construction dilemmas Stengel faced, and how he tried to make good teams out of random parts. He used platoons, he moved guys from position to position if he saw a way to make more of their talents, and he scraped for any advantage he could find. The book convincingly argues that Stengel was one of the more innovative and flexible managers in baseball history, a student of John McGraw who was willing to consider anything if it made sense and might help his team.

And the funny stuff is laugh-out-loud good, and much of it I hadn’t read before. The are bizarre characters you’ve probably never heard of (French Bordagary) and incidents that aren’t well-known (Stengel as team president accepting his own resignation as manager so he could go run another team). And throughout, Stengel’s own sense of humor about himself and his situation makes even the horrible seasons amusing. This is made funnier by Goldman’s light touch with the writing — there are jokes and editorial comments, but they’re quick and generally he’s entirely content to let the story tell itself, only intervening to do the required nudging and explanation.

To the bad, briefly: it does drag sometimes, and the organization falls apart in some chapters (“where is this going and why is it here?”). It seems to end too soon, though to be fair, it’s “Forging Genius” and not “Forging Genius and Subsequent Adventures of that So-Forged Genius”. But when I finished I thought “annnddd? aaaaaandd?”

And to nitpick, there’s an error in the McGraw stuff but I only know that because I spent the last year doing research into, among other things, McGraw and that particular thing (Goldman cites a commonly-circulated story that made it into print and since has been repeated about McGraw’s teams was originally differently authored and so on).

What I liked best about it, though, is that it got me thinking about other things: where do you fit Stengel with a guy like Whitey Herzog? Is position swapping as easy today as it was in his time? Are there lessons to be learned about how to manage a team through adversity we can learn?


6 Responses to “Forging Genius”

  1. Jeff Nye on November 30th, 2005 1:09 pm

    Just FYI, I get a server error trying to follow that link.

    And in the headline, genius is spelled wrong 🙂

    The book sounds interesting though!

  2. John D. on November 30th, 2005 1:33 pm

    I was a Yankee fan during the Stengel years. I saw the 1952 WS (on television), and think that Stengel’s genius showed in his not making a certain move until the 7th game.
    His bringing in BOB KUZAVA to face DUKE SNIDER with one out, then retiring him and the next seven Dodgers to end the game has been widely noted, but it hasn’t been noted that STENGEL saved one of his relievers the entire series, so that in crunch time, the Dodgers would be seeing someonee they’d never seen before.

  3. James T on November 30th, 2005 5:04 pm

    I’d also recommend this book. I knew bits and pieces of the story that Goldman tells but only a fraction of his story before he became manager of the yankees.

  4. njenkin on November 30th, 2005 8:35 pm

    I will be interested to see how this book compares to “Stengel: His Life and Times” by Robert Creamer.

    The anecdotes mentioned above are included in that book as it recounts Stengel’s entire baseball career from his time as a KC schoolboy to his final stint with the Mets.

    It also includes an amazing transcript of an interview with Casey, then in his 80’s, discussing the 1960 World Series.

    Anyway, looks like I have another book to add to the Xmas list.

  5. Ray Oyler Fan Club on November 30th, 2005 11:48 pm

    I read Creamer’s book also…many years ago, lol. it’s still sitting on my bookshelft, right betwen Ted Williams’ autobiography, and a Ty Cobb biography.

    this book is long overdue. when Casey was hired by the Yankees, many folks out there didn’t understand it at all. he was considered as just a clown by many…but old Case showed ’em all.

    thanks for the book tip…I can’t wait to get my little hands on it!

  6. Jonah Keri on December 1st, 2005 9:16 am

    I also very highly recommend this book. There really are very few writers out there at the moment who have a style that resembles Goldman’s. Stengel’s a great backdrop for that sharp, witty style.

    Slightly OT, but I’d also highly recommend “The Last Coach” by Allen Barra, an excellent biography of Bear Bryant that’s also very well written and also very funny in spots. I’m not an Alabama fan or anything, but I liked it a lot.