Baseball is the sport of summer, meant to be played on green grass and hot sand, with glaring sun threatening to boil the retinas from your eyes.
It’s a game to help schoolboys forget about school for a few months and to help grown men bond with their sons late into the still-light nights of June, July, August.
You cannot remove the heat from baseball anymore than you can remove the “Big” from “Big Unit” Randy Johnson.
But baseball is also a game for the ages … and a game for the seasons. In fact, baseball — with actual, live practices and games — covers every season of every year.
And that means there are plenty of cold days at the ballpark, in October during the playoffs and World Series, but most especially in February, March, and April, as spring tries to brush back winter.
So our 2019 Spring Training Baseball Card Challenge could not possibly be complete without a tip of the cap to those frigid early contests, which is why today — Day 5 — focuses on a baseball card that looks cold.
As with most of the days in this challenge, this particular theme gives us plenty of fodder to work with, and you can usually get a “feel” for the cold of a particular shot based on what the player is wearing, or maybe where he’s wearing it.
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Both of those apply resoundingly to my ultimate choice — the 1965 Topps Casey Stengel card.
There sits The Old Perfessor in his New York Mets warm-up jacket, not in the dugout but somewhere in the middle of foul territory, down one of the base lines. Out there where the wind can blow and suck the warmth right out of a man’s body and soul.
And behind him, old Shea Stadium looms dark and cavernous like an abandoned mine. A cold abandoned mine.
As befits his reputation, Stengel looks to be in mid-sentence, his arms flapping in said frigid air. It’s almost as if he’s explaining the history of cold-weather baseball to the photographer.
“In my day …,” you can almost hear Stengel saying.
And he had plenty of “my days” from which to draw, which means plenty of cold days. For goodness sake, dude played in the Major Leagues from 1912 through 1925 and then made his way into the managerial ranks with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1934.
From there it was on to the Boston Bees and Boston Braves before landing the gig that would make Casey a household name. As manager of the New York Yankees from 1949 through 1960, Stengel guided his crew to ten World Series appearances and seven championships.
Not a warm-weather city in the bunch, and plenty of October baseball to keep his blood on ice.
Then, at age 71 in 1962, Stengel took the reins of the expansion New York Mets and suffered right along with the team and the local faithful as the (not) Amazin’s racked up historic loss totals.
No Octobers for the Mets under Casey, but plenty of cold spring games, and plenty of cold vibes as the defeats mounted.
By the time Stengel’s 1965 Topps card made its way into collectors’ hands, his career was pretty much on ice, too. After 95 games that summer, and after posting a 31-64 record, 75-year-old Casey Stengel was dispatched to baseball’s dustbin for the last time.
He would be elected to the Hall of Fame as a manager in 1966, but as far as actually managing? Stengel’s luck had finally run cold.
Check out the entire series of 2019 Spring Training Challenge posts here.