“The Old Perfessor,” A Master at Line Up Juggling

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.

2 Replies to ““The Old Perfessor,” A Master at Line Up Juggling”

  1. What we almost never hear discussed is his lineup construction, which seemed to almost always have the first two hitters having some of the lowest on base percentages imaginable. This is one of the main reasons that Mantle, usually batting third or fourth seldom reached a hundred rbi. His odd batting orders probably cost the team two to three wins a season.
    Just imagine how much improved they would have been having someone like the low average, ever walking Eddie Yost at the top of the lineup, getting on base around three hundred times a year?

  2. Since one cannot prove a negative, no one can say with any authority that, had Stengel used a different approach to two-platooning his players, results would have been different. All I know with certainty is that this former Brooklyn Dodger fan was invariably devastated by the results of the players “the old Perfessor” used, platooning or not, during the Fall Classic.
    I very much recall the batting talents of Gene Woodling (#14, the number Bill “Moose” Skrowron inherited), and that unusual stance he brought to home plate: wound up like a pretzel. But Gene’s religious identification methods are slightly misinformed: “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.”
    Of course Gene meant “crucifix,” not “cross,” I’m sure.

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