Few major league managers were more skilled at platooning than the New York Yankees’ great Casey Stengel.
The Hall of Fame manager was famous for striving to play left-handed hitters only against right-handed pitchers and vice versa. His players loathed it. There’s a passage in David Halberstam’s book on the 1949 Yankees and Red Sox, Summer of ’49. Halberstam wrote of the shared duties between Hank Bauer and Gene Woodling, noting:
In the outfield Stengel platooned Bauer and Woodling, close friends. Both were constantly at war with the manager because each wanted to play every day. Bauer smashed water coolers when Stengel pulled him for a pinch hitter. Woodling on occasion muttered darkly that you had to wear a cross on a chain to play regularly, an allusion to the idea that Stengel favored Catholics. Woodling, a marvelous natural hitter, was sure that if he played more often he would hit even better. He called Stengel “that crooked-legged old bastard.”
Stengel made his mark as a funny, if quirky manager, always good for rambling nonsensical quotes in a language sportswriters called Stengelese. There may be some who say Stengel’s chief achievement was happening to manage a well-assembled Yankee team that would have won with anyone at the helm. But just how talented Stengel was at juggling his players to get the maximum offensive production is, to this day, under appreciated.
Halberstam wrote of how in the ’49 season, Woodling and Bauer collectively batted .271 with 15 home runs and 99 RBI, in effect providing New York, “in an injury-filled season, a composite all-star outfielder.” It goes deeper than that. Just look at how Stengel interchanged his first basemen from 1949-1955 to achieve staggering results. During those years, the Yankees won five consecutive World Series titles and one American League pennant.
1949—Billy Johnson, Jack Phillips, Tommy Henrich, and Dick Kryhoski
34 HRs, 178 RBIs
1950—Johnny Hopp, Johnny Mize, Joe Collins and Henrich
40 HRS, 142 RBIs
1951—Hopp, Mize, Collins
21 HRs, 101 RBIs
1952—Hopp, Mize, Collins and Irv Noren
22 HRs, 90 RBIs
1953—Mize, Collins, Gus Triandos and Don Bollweg
28 HRs, 101 RBIs
1954—Collins, Eddie Robinson and Bill Skowron
22 HRs, 114 RBIs
1955—Collins, Robinson and Skowron
41 HRs, 148 RBIs
Average for the seven year period: 30 HRs and 125 RBIs. That kind of run production is the envy of every manager in baseball.