Baseball loves fans, and fans love baseball, but only the most ardent fans may appreciate "Casey Stengel" -- tonight at 8 on Channel 26 -- the final presentation of this season's Hallmark Hall of Fame.
It's not that Charles Durning, who protrays Stengel in the one-man show, is ineffective. He isn't. His Stengelese (Stengel's colorful misuse of the English language) is natural and humorous. His acting, like his performances in "Queen of the Stardust Ballroom" (as the lover) and "Starting Over" (Burt Reynolds' brother) is believable and accomplished.
And it's not that Casey Stengel was a boring man. He wasn't. Perhaps the greatest baseball manager of all times, Stengel led the New York Yankees to a record five consecutive World Series championships, and 10 American League pennants, with a flair and wit not found in the dugout since.
What it is is hard core. For 60 minutes, Durning roams from one baseball story to another and remembrance to remembrance. A slide show with pictures of Yankees greats pop in and out, and the audience, no doubt comprised of baseball fanatics applauds annoyingly at every line
Stengel was funny though. He punctuates his banter with phrases like "It don't shock me none" and "I would have spoken here sooner than it is." Of one of his former players he says, "He was a great hitter till he got to the plate," and of his own legacy, "There comes a time in every man's life and I've had plenty of them," and "Umpires have always been my bane of this existence."
Stengel recalls the time when he was signing autographs and wrote "so good in school" and then looked up and handed the paper to a 78-year-old man, or the time that pitcher Tug McGraw pleaded with Stengel to leave him in the game. "I can get this guy out," McGraw said. "I got him out the last time." "Yeah," Stengel replied, "but that was in this inning."
But Stengel was not Rodney Dangerfield, and you wish that the father-in-son writing team of Sidney and David Carroll could have given Durning more ammunition.
Usually in one-man shows, directors strive for innovative ways to shoot the subject and make the walking and talking head more appealing. In this case, director Nick Havinga has strived, but he found only two ways: in front and above. Durning has a likable enough face (although it's not as crusty as Stengel's was), but you get bored watching the same angle.
For those who care that the Mets finished 60 games out of first place under Stengel, and that Billy Martin and Mickey Mantle fought in the Yankee dugout all the time, the hour is hardly without interest, but as Stengel once said, "if you haven't got the horses you don't win the race."