Hugh Casey: The Triumphs and Tragedies of a Brooklyn Dodger, by renowned historian Lyle Spatz, examines the life and career — from his birth in Atlanta to his suicide in that same city 37-years later — of one of the most colorful members of the iconic Brooklyn Dodgers. Let’s see what happened when Baseball Almanac took it off our research library shelf, and gave it to our book expert, Shaq, a die hard fan of dem Bums…
RICK “SHAQ” GOLDSTEIN SAYS
Georgian-born Hugh Casey pitched in the big leagues for nine years. And like many players of that time… three years in the middle of his career was lost to serving in the military during World War II. Seven of those years were as the very spine of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Though starting his career off as a starting pitcher… his rubber arm was also used in relief in the early going… and in some doubleheaders… and innumerable day to day back-to-back games… would do both in the same doubleheader … and in sequential days. He never once complained about being used often… and with little rest. In fact… like a dog looking to their owner for a treat… his “somewhat-cherubic” face… would be looking towards the manager… without being asked… almost begging to be put in the game.
Casey was famous… some may say infamous… for never showing emotion on his face… no matter how tight the jam he was inserted into. He quickly became mainly a relief pitcher… in fact that term… doesn’t do justice to what he not only became… but what he wound up defining. And that was a “fireman”… from the bullpen… in fact he was one of the first very few… relievers that became… decades before the term was even coined… a **CLOSER**!
He was not only playing in the era… where your playing truly did your talking… i.e. … players… coaches…. and managers… didn’t just spout weak little threats with absolutely no belief in following them up… but bean ball wars… spikes flying high… punches being thrown… melees… on the field… in the dugouts… in the tunnels… in fact… many brawls weren’t stopped by umpires… they were stopped by cops… and many times that didn’t work too easily… and these extra-curricular events… were almost a weekly occurrence. And no pitcher was more fearless in protecting his part of the plate… or a teammate’s back… or following… without question… the manager’s orders in throwing at an opponent’s head… elbows… knees… and anything in between… than did Hugh Casey. Add to that… that his spiritual leader… his manager of mayhem during the height of his career… was none other than “LEO-THE-LIP-DUROCHER”!
In the late 1930’s and 1940’s the Brooklyn “Bums”… completed a metamorphous from a losing team… to a feared winning team. It started with Leo “The Lip” as a player-manager…( and then just a manager)… and the king of the bullpen was Hugh Casey. The Dodgers won their first pennant in twenty-one years in 1941… tied for the Pennant in 1946 with one of their main sparring partner combatants… the St. Louis Cardinals… and lost the first regular season playoff in baseball history to the Card’s in 1946… and the “Bums” won the pennant again in 1947. Right in the middle of both Brooklyn versus New York Yankee World Series… in fact in the very *HEART*… of both those series… was the man with one of the biggest hearts in the game… Hugh Casey!
In the 1941 World Series, Casey will be remembered as long as there is a fall classic… in game 4 the Bums were leading 4-3 with 2 outs in the ninth inning… Casey threw what was the third strike to Tommy Henrich… that should have been the third and final out and tied the series at two games apiece… but the ball got past catcher Mickey Owen… and the Yankees came back and won. Whether it was a slick curve… or a Casey “spitter”… can be discussed for eternity… that doesn’t matter. In the 1947 World Series which the Yanks won in seven games… Casey pitched in six games… won two of them… had an ERA of 0.87… and appeared in the last five games in a row.
During Hugh’s career… the reporters… managers… and ownership… were constantly on Casey about his weight. They even had clauses in his contract with bonuses tied to weight… some also thought he drank too much… but when the games counted… Casey was who everyone relied on… and he always … stoically… yet enthusiastically took the ball and headed to the mound. He became one of the most revered players in Brooklyn history. He was everywhere in Brooklyn… even appearing in bowling tournaments after he just completed a game. He owned a bar and restaurant right near Ebbets Field. His teammates thought the world of him. Former teammate Kirby Higbe would later describe the aura that surrounded Casey when he came into a game:
“WHEN OLD HUGHIE WALKED IN FROM THE BULLPEN, IT WOULD LOOK LIKE HE WAS WALKING UPHILL. LEO WOULD SAY SOMETHING, LIKE, “CASE, THE TYING AND WINNING RUNS ARE ON BASE WITH ONE OUT, SO YOU HAVE TO GET THEM OUT.”
OLD ROOMIE WOULD SAY, “I CAN SEE SKIPPER. I BEEN HERE ALL DAY TOO.” AND HE WOULD NEVER CHANGE HIS EXPRESSION. IN THOSE TIGHT SITUATIONS HE NEVER SHOWED AYTHING EXCEPT THAT HE WAS GOING TO GIVE IT EVERYTHING HE HAD. HE ALWAYS DID.”
In 1951… after his big league days were over… Casey was devastated by a paternity suit… that he swore his innocence to… he also had a tax lien put on him… and his business was failing… On July 3rd in a hotel room in Atlanta… Casey… an avid hunter and outdoorsman… at the age of thirty-seven-years-old… put a shotgun to his neck and pulled the trigger. His last call was to his estranged wife… his wife said “He was just as calm about it as if he was about to walk out on the ball field and pitch a game.” Casey said (regarding the paternity suit) “I swear with a dying oath that I am innocent.”
In 1968 in answering a sportswriter’s question regarding great relief pitchers… Leo “The Lip” Durocher… then managing the Cubs… said the following:
“CASEY WAS A DIFFERENT TYPE,” HE CHUCKLED. “HE WAS MEAN AND ORNERY THE FIRST PITCH WOULD BE RIGHT HERE.” LEO SAID, WHILE MOVING HIS HAND UNDER HIS CHIN.” AND IF YOU SAID SOMETHING THE NEXT ONE WOULD BE HERE.” POINTING BEHIND HIS HEAD. THEN HE’D BREAK A CURVE OVER THE PLATE.”
It was a different place in time in Brooklyn… and in baseball… in those days. And if you want to get a feel for it… this is a fine book to do it.
Reviewer: Rick “Shaq” Goldstein