How a Runaway Taxi Saved Casey Stengel’s Job
The MLB legend was about to lose his job when fate struck, and so did an automobile
Before he became the legendary skipper of the New York Yankees, winning 10 pennants and seven World Series, Casey Stengel was a pretty good outfielder for 14 big league seasons and a second division manager for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Braves. So uninspiring was his leadership of the Braves, that in 1943 he missed more than a quarter of the season after being run down by a wayward taxi, leading one local journalist to quip, “The man who did the most for baseball in Boston in 1943 was the motorist who ran Stengel down two days before the opening game and kept him away from the Braves for two months.”
Stengel hit a combined .284 with 60 home runs and 535 RBIs for six different teams between 1912 and 1925. He was a character, but got along well with players, helping him become a manager once he was no longer able to make a living with his bat and glove. He was first hired by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1934, but after three straight years finishing fifth or worse it was time for him to find a new job. That opportunity came in 1938 with the Boston Bees/Braves. Although bereft of stars other than outfielder Wally Berger, he steered the team to a 77–75 fifth-place finish in his first season with them. Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there.
Four consecutive finishes (1939–1942) in seventh place led to Stengel’s employment being in a major doubt. An unfortunate intervention in the form of being hit by a car temporarily stayed his termination.
Just prior to the start of the 1943 season Stengel was attempting to cross a street near the team hotel in rainy Boston when he was struck by a taxi. The driver, Thomas Hastings, was kind enough to take the injured man to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, where he initially was placed in the maternity ward due to a shortage of available beds. A diagnosis of a badly broken leg and ensuing staph infection led to a six-week hospitalization for the maligned skipper. The injury was so bad that amputation was considered for a time. Ultimately, it did heal, but left him with a limp for the rest of his life.
During the 46 games Stengel missed, Bob Coleman stepped in and admirably led the team to a 21–25 record. Many had fun at the injured manager’s plight, sending him cards and gifts at the hospital that were addressed to “Casey Stengel: Psych Ward.”
For his part, Stengel was his typical offbeat self while recovering. Just before leaving the hospital, he told reporters:
“I guess the boys played over their heads early in the season just to give me something to sing about on my hospital cot… If we have those close and extra-inning games when the team comes home, you’ll see me in there swinging at the umpires with my crutches and my right-leg cast.”
Upon Stengel’s return to the bench, he managed the team to a 47–60 record the rest of the way. While the sixth-place finish was an improvement on previous years, that and the sympathy from the injury was not enough to endear him in Beantown. Seeing the writing on the wall, Stengel resigned from his position on January 27, 1944 and went home to California to reassess his options. The Braves hired his replacement — Bob Coleman, who lasted through the All-Star Game of the 1945 season.
It wouldn’t be until 1949 that Stengel landed another major league managing gig. However, this new job was with the Yankees and propelled him into immortality. Although an errant taxi and unadoring Boston fans nearly curtailed his career, he pushed through it and ended up a baseball managing legend.