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?