American baseball player
Leo ("The Lip") Durocher will be forever identified with the phrase "nice guys finish last," which was the title of his autobiography and is in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. Durocher is also famous for having said he would trip his own mother if she were rounding third base and he could prevent her from scoring a run. New York Times sportswriter Arthur Daley once called Durocher "the most hated man in baseball." He was known for his combative nature on the field and was constantly getting into arguments and fistfights with umpires, opposing players, and fans. Durocher was an outstanding shortstop with the St. Louis Cardinals and Brooklyn Dodgers (among other teams) and the manager of four National League teams. He ranks seventh among baseball managers in career wins, with 2,009.
Leo Ernest Durocher was born on July 25, 1905 in West Springfield, Massachusetts, the son of George Durocher, a railroad worker. Durocher stopped attending school regularly when he was around age twelve and spent a lot of time as a youth hanging out in local pool halls, becoming a consummate pool player and local pool hall hustler. Durocher claimed in his autobiography, Nice Guys Finish Last, that he forfeited a college scholarship because of an incident in which he punched a high school teacher. His biographer, Gerald Eskenazi, states, however, that "it is unlikely he even attended high school, and if he did, it wasn't for long."
Durocher played baseball and football for amateur teams in West Springfield and later played for a baseball team sponsored by the Wico Electric Company, where he worked as a mechanic in his teens. Durocher's father was employed intermittently and the family eked out a living, with Durocher's mother, Clara, taking in boarders and earning money by stitching baseballs for Spalding, a manufacturer of baseballs in the nearby town of Chicopee.
Durocher began his professional baseball career as a shortstop with the Hartford Senators in the Eastern League. His defensive play attracted the attention of the New York Yankees, who purchased Durocher's contract in 1925. Durocher spent two years playing for minor league teams in Atlanta and St. Paul and was promoted to the Yankees roster in 1928. Durocher was a favorite of Yankee manager Miller Huggins, but was unpopular with his teammates and with Yankee general manager Ed Barrow for a variety of reasons, including his foul mouth, his expensive clothes, his nightlife, and his penchant for running up debts and writing bad checks. After Huggins's untimely death in 1929, Durocher was sold to a second division National League club, the Cincinnati Reds, for the waiver price and a player to be named later. Durocher stated in his autobiography that a dispute with Barrow over salary caused the Yankees to get rid of him. The final straw came when Durocher stormed out of Barrow's office after cursing at him. He spent the rest of his playing career in the National League and compiled a lifetime batting average of .247. He was an outstanding defensive player but a weak hitter.
Captain of Gashouse Gang
In 1933, the Reds traded Durocher to the St. Louis Cardinals, who were in need of a shortstop to team up with second baseman Frankie Frisch after an offseason injury to the team's regular shortstop, Charley Gelbert. Durocher solidified the Cardinals' infield. He was captain of the 1934 Cardinals team immortalized as the "Gashouse Gang," which was known for its rough and ready play and antics on and off the field (the Gashouse Gang appellation has been credited to Durocher), and starred in the 1934 World Series against the Detroit Tigers, which the Cardinals won in seven games.
The general manager of the Cardinals at the time, Branch Rickey , was quoted at a later date as saying of Durocher (who later managed under Rickey in Brooklyn) that he had "an infinite capacity for making a bad situation worse." While with the Cardinals, Durocher had already proven the truth of this observation. In 1934, Durocher was involved in contentious divorce proceedings with his first wife, Ruby Marie Hartley, that involved charges of infidelity on both sides and abuse by Durocher. In the same year, he married a glamorous fashion designer, Grace Dozier (whom he divorced in 1943). In April 1935, he was the cause of a dispute that erupted with St. Louis area trade unions which voted to boycott Cardinals games because Durocher had taken actions that seemed to be antiunion in an incident that began when Durocher's wife crossed a picket line. Sportsman's Park, the Cardinals' stadium, was subsequently picketed in a protest action by the unions.
In May 1936, during a game against the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field, Durocher got into a shouting match with Dodgers manager Casey Stengel . Stengel and Durocher met under the stands and engaged in a brief fight. Durocher also had a falling out with his playermanager and second base partner, Frankie Frisch, who may have feared that Durocher was after his job as manager. Frisch ultimately demanded of management that Durocher be traded, saying it's "either him or me." The Cardinals accommodated Frisch by trading Durocher in 1937 to the Dodgers for four players.
Durocher was named player-manager of the Dodgers, a hapless perennial second division team, at the end of the 1938 season, replacing Burleigh Grimes, who, suspecting that he would be fired, suggested to Durocher that he apply for the job. Durocher managed the Dodgers to a third place finish in 1939, to second in 1940, to a pennant in 1941 (the team's first in twenty-one years), and to a strong second place finish in 1942 (when the Dodgers won 104 games). In 1941, Durocher handed the starting shortstop job to Pee Wee Reese and from that point on made infrequent appearances as a player. The Dodgers were a lackluster team during the war years, when their stock of players was depleted, but in 1946, Durocher managed them to a tie for first place, losing to the Cardinals in a three-game playoff.
Durocher's tenure with the Dodgers was marked by a seemingly never-ending series of feuds. During the 1938 season (his first with the Dodgers), for example, Durocher got into a clubhouse fight with Babe Ruth , who was serving for a season as a Dodger coach. The incident appears to have involved Durocher insulting the intelligence of Ruth, who was hoping to become the Dodgers' manager. (The job instead went to Durocher a few months later.) In July 1943, Durocher made a remark critical of a Dodger player, Bobo Newsom, to a reporter that almost caused a revolt by disgruntled Dodger players and led to Newsom being traded to the St. Louis Browns. Durocher was constantly feuding with Dodger management, notably the team's flamboyant and tempestuous general manager, Larry MacPhail, who "fired" and "rehired" Durocher, it was said, hundreds of times because of disagreements between the two. In 1943, Durocher was quoted in the Daily Worker as saying that there were "about a million" blacks who could play in the major leagues if it were not for baseball's unwritten policy barring black players. The remark got Durocher into hot water with baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who issued a statement denying (falsely) that any such policy existed.
The 1947 season was a watershed one for both Durocher and the Dodgers. It was the year that Jackie Robinson , the first black player in the modern major leagues, was called up to the Brooklyn club. As former Dodger broadcaster Red Barber has noted in his book 1947: When All Hell Broke Loose in Baseball, the Dodgers' general manager, Branch Rickey, knew that he could count on Durocher's support in calling up Robinson. "Rickey knew Durocher would fight for Robinson," Barber wrote. "… The rest of the league would be against the black man. Leo relished such a fight."
During spring training in 1947, the Dodgers were playing an exhibition series in Panama. Durocher was alerted to a petition that had been drawn up by a group of Dodger players who were opposed to the call-up of Robinson and who, refusing to play with Robinson because of his race, indicated they would rather be traded. Durocher said he would play an elephant "if he can do the job" and that anyone who did not want play with Robinson could take off his uniform and leave the team, putting an end to the uprising. "This fellow is a great ballplayer," Durocher added. "He's going to win pennants for us. He's going to put money in your pockets and money in mine."
|Bklyn: Brooklyn Dodgers; Cin: Cincinnati Reds; NY-A: New York Yankees; StL-N: St. Louis Cardinals. Managed, but did not play, in 1942 and 1944 seasons.|
Suspended from Baseball
The year 1947 was also notable because on April 9 (the day before Robinson's promotion to the Dodgers), it was announced, six days before the start of the baseball season, that Durocher had been suspended from baseball for one year by baseball commissioner Albert B. (Happy) Chandler for an "accumulation of unpleasant incidents in which he has been involved which the commissioner construes as detrimental to baseball." Chandler's action was greeted with shock and disbelief by Durocher and Dodger fans. The Times 's Arthur Daley wrote: "Leo Durocher is like the man who is hailed into a traffic court for passing through a red light and then is sentenced to the electric chair. In this instance, the penalty does not fit the crime and is much too severe."
Triumphant Return to Baseball
Durocher was reinstated as manager by the Dodgers (who won the pennant in 1947 under a replacement manager, Burt Shotton) in 1948 after serving his suspension, but in midseason he obtained his release from Brooklyn and became manager of the Dodgers' archrivals, the New York Giants, in a move that stunned New York baseball fans, who could not conceive of Durocher managing the Giants, with whom he and the Dodgers were continually feuding. Durocher replaced the popular Mel Ott, whose team had occasioned Durocher's "nice guys finish last" remark to a sportswriter, Frank Graham.
The Giants steadily improved under Durocher, from fifth place finishes in 1948 and 1949 (Durocher's first full year with the team) to third place in 1950. In 1951, Durocher insisted that the Giants call up rookie sensation Willie Mays from their Minneapolis farm club. Durocher was a virtual godfather to Mays, who started slowly and became despondent. Durocher kept Mays in the lineup and treated him like a son, nurturing Mays to greatness. The Giants battled the Dodgers for the pennant all season, and in an amazing stretch run during which they won thirty-seven of their last forty-four games, tied the Dodgers for the pennant. They won the pennant in the third and final playoff game on Bobby Thomson's ninth-inning game-winning homer off the Dodgers' Ralph Branca. It is one of the most famous moments in sports history. Years later, it was revealed that Durocher's Giants had been stealing signs for the last three months of the season and using a relay system including an electronic device connected to the bullpen to give batters advance knowledge of what type of pitch was coming. In 1954, the Giants under Durocher won the National League pennant and swept a favored Cleveland Indians team in the World Series, with Mays as the star.
Despite his success as a manager, Durocher's years with the Giants were by no means placid. In April 1949, he was suspended "indefinitely" by baseball commissioner Chandler (who feared a race riot) for hitting and kicking a 22-year-old Puerto Rican fan at the Polo Grounds. The Giants front office made strenuous efforts to discredit the victim's version of events and support Durocher's. Chandler rescinded the suspension after four days because of "insufficient" evidence. In June 1949, Durocher was suspended for five days and fined by the National League for bumping an umpire and using abusive language. In 1952, he was suspended and fined three times for run-ins with umpires and for a beanball incident involving a Giants pitcher.
Leaves Baseball Temporarily
Disagreements with the team's owner, Horace Stoneham, led Durocher to resign as Giants manager at the end of the 1955 season. He spent several years as a color announcer for NBC's Game of the Week and also appeared in episodes of television series such as Mister Ed and The Beverly Hillbillies. (In the 1940s, he had often appeared on radio with the likes of Jack Benny and Milton Berle.) Durocher was divorced from Laraine Day in 1960. He had attained celebrity status and was known as a charming and dapper man off the field. He was proud of his friendships with entertainers such as Danny Kaye and Frank Sinatra.
Durocher was back in baseball as third base coach with the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1961 to 1964. He often questioned the moves of Dodger manager Walter Alston, sometimes publicly, leading to controversy.
|1905||Born July 25 in West Springfield, Massachusetts|
|1925||Signed by Hartford of Eastern League|
|1925||New York Yankees purchase Durocher's contract and is called up by Yankees at end of season. Gets into two games and bats once|
|1926||Optioned to Atlanta in Southern League|
|1927||Promoted to St. Paul of American Association|
|1928-29||Plays shortstop and second base for Yankees|
|1930||Sold to Cincinnati Reds for waiver price|
|1933||Traded to St. Louis Cardinals|
|1937||Traded to Brooklyn Dodgers|
|1938||Named Dodgers player-manager|
|1947||Marries motion picture actress Laraine Day|
|1947||Is suspended by baseball commissioner Chandler for entire season for "an accumulation of unpleasant incidents" (which are not specified) considered detrimental to baseball|
|1948||Returns as manager of Dodgers|
|1948||Obtains release from Brooklyn and replaces Mel Ott as manager of New York Giants|
|1955||Resigns as manager of Giants|
|1956-60||Works as announcer for NBC's "Game of the Week"|
|1961-64||Third base coach for Los Angeles Dodgers|
|1966||Named manager of Chicago Cubs|
|1972||Steps down as Cubs manager|
|1972||Named manager of Houston Astros|
|1973||Quits as Astros manager at end of season|
|1991||Dies October 7 in Palm Springs, California|
Durocher was hired by Chicago Cubs owner Phil Wrigley in 1966 to manage the Cubs, who had been a second division team for over twenty years. After finishing tenth in Durocher's first season as manager, the Cubs finished third for two straight seasons in 1967 and 1968. In 1969, Durocher married his fourth wife, Lynn Walker Goldblatt, a Chicago media personality from whom he was divorced in 1981.
The 1969 Cubs team was in first place in the National League for most of the season and was expected to win the pennant, but the team came apart down the stretch and collapsed, finishing second to the New York Mets. The Cubs' collapse led to bitter criticism being directed at Durocher because of his handling of the team and other matters (such as his leaving the team for two days in midseason to visit one of his stepsons at summer camp). While near the end of his tenure as Cubs manager, Durocher was said to have lost control of the team, with some players being in open revolt against him. He found himself increasingly out of touch and at odds with a newer, younger generation of ballplayers, many of whom resented Durocher's autocratic managerial style.
In August 1972, Durocher replaced Harry Walker as manager of the Houston Astros. It was only the second time that someone had managed two National League teams in a season. The first time was in 1948, when Durocher had managed the Dodgers and the Giants. Durocher quit as Astros manager at the end of the 1973 season, begging off for health reasons.
Durocher was bitter about not being elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame during his lifetime and told his friends not to accept a posthumous induction into the Hall on his behalf. Nevertheless, he was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1993, two years after his death in Palm Springs, California, and the induction was not refused.
Leo Durocher's notoriety, celebrity, and Hollywood connections made him into a larger than life figure, a sort of renegade pop culture icon. He was also one of the first sports figures to become a prominent radio and TV personality and a media figure in his own right. But Durocher is known primarily for the traits he embodied and the "rules" he played by: a take-no-prisoners, winat-any-cost ethos that has molded athletes from Ty Cobb to Pete Rose (two of Durocher's favorite sayings were "I come to kill you" and "stick it in his ear") and an adversarial stance toward authority figures. Durocher was known for his fiery nature and brilliant strategic moves, and always seemed to be embroiled in controversy with the front office.
It should also be noted that Durocher was ahead of his time in being an "equal opportunity employer" who was without prejudice when it came to winning ball-games. He deserves credit and a footnote in sports history for the supporting role he played in facilitating Jackie Robinson's acceptance by his teammates and entrance into major league baseball.
Awards and Accomplishments
|Durocher ranks seventh among Major League managers in career wins, with 2,009.|
|1936, 1938, 1940||National League All Star team|
|1939||Sporting News Manager of the Year|
|1941||Manages Dodgers to first pennant in 21 years|
|1946||Manages Dodgers to tie for first place in National League. Dodgers are beaten by St. Louis Cardinals in three-game playoff|
|1951||Bobby Thomson's "shot heard round the world" off Ralph Branca sends Giants, managed by Durocher, to World Series. Giants lose to Yankees in six games. Durocher is named Sporting News Manager of the Year|
|1954||Leads Giants to pennant. Giants sweep World Series against Cleveland Indians. Named Sporting News Manager of the Year|
|1994||Inducted into National Baseball Hall of Fame|
SELECTED WRITINGS BY DUROCHER:
(With Ed Linn) Nice Guys Finish Last, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1975.
Barber, Red. 1947: When All Hell Broke Loose in Baseball. New York: Chelsea House, 1991.
Bouton, Jim with Neil Offen. I Managed Good, But Boy Did They Play Bad. Chicago: Playboy Press, 1973.
Chandler, Albert B. with Vance H. Trimble. Heroes, Plain Folks, and Skunks: The Life and Times of Happy Chandler. Chicago: Bonus Books, 1989.
Claerbaut, David. Durocher's Cubs: The Greatest Team That Didn't Win. Dallas: Taylor, 2000.
Cohen, Stanley. Dodgers! The First One-Hundred Years. New York: Carol Publishing Group, 1990.
Dewey, Donald, and Nicholas Acocella. Encyclopedia of Major League Baseball Teams. New York: Harper-Collins, 1993.
Eskenazi, Gerald. The Lip: A Biography of Leo Durocher. New York: William Morrow, 1993.
Frommer, Harvey. Baseball's Greatest Managers. New York: Chelsea House, 1991.
Gold, Eddie, and Art Ahrens. The New Era Cubs, 1941-1985. Chicago: Bonus Books, 1985.
Holmes, Tommy. The Dodgers. New York: Macmillan, 1975.
Kahn, Roger. The Era, 1947-1957: When the Yankees, the Giants, and the Dodgers Ruled the World. New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1993.
Kelley, Brent. The Case For: Those Overlooked by the Baseball Hall of Fame. Jefferson, N.C., McFarland, 1992.
Keyes, Ralph. "Nice Guys Finish Seventh": False Phrases, Spurious Sayings and Familiar Misquotations. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.
Koppett, Leonard. The Man in the Dugout: Baseball's Top Managers and How They Got That Way. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000.
Powers, Jimmy. Baseball Personalities. New York: Rudolph Field, 1949.
Prince, Carl E. Brooklyn's Dodgers: The Bums, the Borough, and the Best of Baseball, 1947-1957. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Anderson, Dave. "Leo the Lip Was Baseball in New York."New York Times (October 9, 1991): B11.
Prager, Joshua Harris. "Giants' 1951 Comeback, the Sport's Greatest, Wasn't All It Seemed."Wall Street Journal (January 31, 2001): A1, A14.
Rogers, Thomas. "Leo Durocher, Fiery Ex-Manager, Dies at 86."New York Times (October 8, 1991): D25.
"Baseball Library.com: Leo Durocher." http://www.pubdim.net/baseballlibrary/ballplayers/D/Durocher_Leo.stm (November 29, 2002).
"The BASEBALL page.com: Leo Durocher." http://www.thebaseballpage.com/past/pp/durocherleo/default.htm (November 29, 2002).
"National Baseball Hall of Fame: Leo Durocher." http://www.baseballhalloffame.org/hofers_and_honorees/hofer_bios/durocher_leo.htm (November 29, 2002).
Sketch by Roger W. Smith