Leo Durocher

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Léo Durocher
Leo Durocher.png
Shortstop / Manager
Born: (1905-07-27)July 27, 1905
West Springfield, Massachusetts
Died: October 7, 1991(1991-10-07) (aged 86)
Palm Springs, California
Batted: RightThrew: Right
MLB debut
October 2, 1925 for the New York Yankees
Last MLB appearance
April 18, 1945 for the Brooklyn Dodgers
Career statistics
Batting average.247
Home runs24
Runs batted in567
Games managed3,717
Win–Loss record2,008–1,709
Winning %.540
Teams

As player

As manager

Career highlights and awards
Induction1994
Election MethodVeteran's Committee
 
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Léo Durocher
Leo Durocher.png
Shortstop / Manager
Born: (1905-07-27)July 27, 1905
West Springfield, Massachusetts
Died: October 7, 1991(1991-10-07) (aged 86)
Palm Springs, California
Batted: RightThrew: Right
MLB debut
October 2, 1925 for the New York Yankees
Last MLB appearance
April 18, 1945 for the Brooklyn Dodgers
Career statistics
Batting average.247
Home runs24
Runs batted in567
Games managed3,717
Win–Loss record2,008–1,709
Winning %.540
Teams

As player

As manager

Career highlights and awards
Induction1994
Election MethodVeteran's Committee

Leo Ernest Durocher (July 27, 1905 – October 7, 1991), nicknamed Leo the Lip, was an American infielder and manager in Major League Baseball. Upon his retirement, he ranked fifth all-time among managers with 2,009 career victories, second only to John McGraw in National League history. Durocher still ranks tenth in career wins by a manager. A controversial and outspoken character, Durocher's career was dogged by clashes with authority, umpires (his 95 career ejections as a manager trailed only McGraw when he retired, and still rank fourth on the all-time list), and the press.

Durocher was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994.

Early life[edit]

Leo Durocher was born in West Springfield, Massachusetts on July 27, 1905, the youngest of four sons born to French Canadian parents. He was educated locally and became a prominent semi-professional athlete, with several employers competing to have him play on their company teams.[1]

After being scouted by the New York Yankees, he broke into professional baseball with their Hartford team of the Eastern League in 1925. He was called up to the Yankees and played in two games. Durocher spent two more seasons in the minors, playing for Atlanta of the Southern Association in 1926 and St. Paul of the American Association in 1927.[2]

Playing career[edit]

Durocher 1933 Goudey baseball card.

He rejoined the Yankees in 1928. A regular, if unspectacular, player, Babe Ruth nicknamed him "The All-American Out."[3] Durocher was a favorite of Yankee manager Miller Huggins, who saw in him the seeds of a great manager—the competitiveness, the passion, the ego, the facility for remembering situations. Durocher's outspokenness did not endear him to Yankee ownership, however, and his habit of passing bad checks to finance his expensive tastes in clothes and nightlife annoyed Yankee general manager Ed Barrow.

Durocher helped the team win their second consecutive World Series title in 1928. He demanded a raise and he was sold to the Cincinnati Reds in 1930.

Durocher spent the remainder of his professional career in the National League. After three years with the Cincinnati Reds, he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in mid-1933. Upon joining the Cardinals he was assigned uniform number 2,[4] which he wore for the rest of his career, as player, coach and manager. That team, whose famous nickname "Gashouse Gang" was supposedly inspired by Leo, were a far more appropriate match for him; in St. Louis, Durocher's characteristics as a fiery player and vicious bench jockey were given full rein. Durocher remained with the Cardinals through the 1937 season, captaining the team and winning the 1934 World Series (their third title in nine years) before being traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Primarily a shortstop, Durocher played through 1945, though his last year as a regular was 1939; after that year he never played more than 42 games in a season. He was known as a solid fielder but a poor hitter. In 5,350 career at bats, he batted .247, hit 24 home runs and had 567 runs batted in. He was named to the NL's All-Star team three times, once with St. Louis and twice with the Dodgers. In 1938 he made history of a sort by making the final out in Johnny Vander Meer's second consecutive no-hitter.[5]

Managing[edit]

After the 1938 season—Durocher's first year as Brooklyn's starting shortstop—he was appointed player-manager by the Dodgers' new president and general manager, Larry MacPhail. The two were a successful and combustible combination. MacPhail spared no expense in purchasing and trading for useful players (and sometimes outright stars), such as Dolph Camilli, Billy Herman and Kirby Higbe. He also purchased shortstop Pee Wee Reese from the Boston Red Sox, who impressed Durocher enough that he gave up his spot as the regular shortstop so Reese could get a chance to play. Other major purchases by MacPhail included another young star, Pete Reiser, when he was ruled a free agent from the Cardinals' farm system; and found stalwarts such as American League veterans Dixie Walker and Whitlow Wyatt off the waiver wire.

In his first season as player-manager, Durocher came into his own. The most enduring image of Durocher is of him standing toe-to-toe with an umpire, vehemently arguing his case until his inevitable ejection from the game. Durocher's fiery temper and willingness to scrap came to epitomize the position for which he was to become most famous. As manager he valued these same traits in his players. His philosophy was best expressed in the phrase for which he is best remembered: "Nice guys finish last." Durocher liked to say of Eddie Stanky, the sparkplug on his 1951 pennant-winning Giants team,

"He can't hit, he can't field, he can't run. All he can do is beat you."

Durocher was also notorious for ordering his pitchers to hit batters. Whenever he wanted a batter hit, he would yell, "Stick it in his ear!"

In 1939 the Dodgers were coming off six straight losing seasons, but Durocher led a quick turnaround. In 1941, his third season as manager, he led the Dodgers to a 100–54 record and the National League pennant, their first in 21 years. In the 1941 World Series the Dodgers lost to the Yankees in five games. They bettered their record in 1942, winning 104 games but just missing out on winning a second consecutive pennant.

Despite all the success of his first three years, Durocher and general manager Larry MacPhail had a tempestuous relationship. MacPhail was a notorious drinker, and he was as hot-tempered as his manager. He often would fire Durocher in the midst of a night of drinking. The following morning, however, MacPhail inevitably would hire Durocher back. Finally, at the end of the 1942 season MacPhail's time with the Dodgers came to an end when he resigned to rejoin the United States Army. His replacement, former Cardinal boss Branch Rickey, retained Durocher as skipper. Durocher managed the Dodgers continuously until 1946, and he led Brooklyn to the first postseason NL playoff series in history, where they lost to the Cardinals, two games to none.

Durocher also clashed regularly with Commissioner Albert "Happy" Chandler. Chandler, who had been named to the post in 1945, warned Durocher away from his friends, many of whom were gamblers, bookmakers or had mob connections, and who had a free rein at Ebbets Field. Durocher was particularly close with actor George Raft, with whom he shared a Los Angeles house, and he admitted to a nodding acquaintance with Bugsy Siegel.

Durocher, who encouraged and participated in card schools within the clubhouse, was something of a pool shark himself and a friend to many pool hustlers. He also followed horse racing closely. Matters came to a head when Durocher's affair with married actress Laraine Day became public knowledge, drawing criticism from Brooklyn's influential Catholic Youth Organization. The two later eloped and married in Mexico in 1947. In the 1950s, Day hosted a radio program called Day with the Giants, and later authored a book by the same title describing the life of a manager's wife.

Nice guys finish last[edit]

Further information: Nice guy

The saying "nice guys finish last" is a condensation by journalists of a quotation by Durocher[6]—he did not originally say this form himself, though it has often been attributed to him, and he did appropriate it as his own. The original quotation was “The nice guys are all over there, in seventh place.” (July 6, 1946),[7][8] about the 1946 New York Giants—seventh place was next to last place in the National League. This was shortly afterwards rendered as “‘Nice Guys’ Wind Up in Last Place, Scoffs Lippy”,[9] thence its present form.[8] Durocher is also credited with popularizing the metaphorical use of the phrase "capture lightning in a bottle" in a baseball context—it had previously been used to literally refer to Benjamin Franklin's kite experiment.

Durocher recounts his recollection and interpretation in his autobiography, Nice Guys Finish Last (1975). The actual quotations (recollected 29 years after the fact) are incorrect, as they are contradicted by the contemporary records (see references above), but show Durocher's philosophy, as epitomized in this maxim of his.

the Giants, led by Mel Ott, began to come out of their dugout to take their warm-up. Without missing a beat, I said, “Take a look at that Number Four there. A nicer guy never drew breath than that man there.” I called off his players’ names as they came marching up the steps behind him, “Walker Cooper, Mize, Marshall, Kerr, Gordon, Thomson. Take a look at them. All nice guys. They’ll finish last. Nice guys. Finish last.” I said, “They lose a ball game, they go home, they have a nice dinner, they put their heads down on the pillow and go to sleep. Poor Mel Ott, he can’t sleep at night. He wants to win, he’s got a job to do for the owner of the ball club. But that doesn’t concern the players, they’re all getting good money.” I said, “you surround yourself with this type of player, they’re real nice guys, sure—‘Howarya, Howarya’ and you’re going to finish down in the cellar with them. Because they think they’re giving you one hundred percent on the ball field and they’re not. Give me some scratching, diving, hungry ballplayers who come to kill you. Now, Stanky’s the nicest gentleman who ever drew breath, but when the bell rings you’re his mortal enemy. That’s the kind of a guy I want playing for me.” That was the context. To explain why Eddie Stanky was so valuable to me by comparing him to a group of far more talented players who were—in fact—in last place. Frankie Graham did write it up that way. In that respect, Graham was the most remarkable reporter I ever met. He would sit there and never take a note, and then you’d pick up the paper and find yourself quoted word for word. But the other writers who picked it up ran two sentences together to make it sound as if I were saying that you couldn’t be a decent person and succeed.

Suspension[edit]

During spring training 1947, Durocher became involved in an unseemly feud with the new Yankee owner, Larry MacPhail. The Yankee boss had hired away two coaches from Durocher's 1946 staff (Chuck Dressen and Red Corriden) during the off-season, causing friction. Then matters got worse.

In person, Durocher and MacPhail exchanged a series of accusations and counter-accusations, with each suggesting the other invited gamblers into their clubhouses. In the press, a ghostwritten article appeared under Durocher's name in the Brooklyn Eagle, seeking to stir the rivalry between their respective clubs and accusing baseball of a double standard for Chandler's warning him against his associations but not MacPhail or other baseball executives.

Durocher in July 1948.

Chandler was pressured by MacPhail, a close friend who was pivotal in having him appointed Commissioner, but the commissioner also discovered Durocher and Raft might have run a rigged crap game that took an active ballplayer for a large sum of money. (The player's identity was never confirmed officially, but a former Detroit Tiger pitcher, Elden Auker, wrote in his 2002 memoir that it was a then-current Tiger pitcher, Dizzy Trout.) Chandler suspended Durocher for the 1947 season for "association with known gamblers".

Before being suspended, however, Durocher played a noteworthy role in erasing baseball's color line. In the spring of 1947, he let it be known that he would not tolerate the dissent of those players on the team who opposed Jackie Robinson's joining the club, saying:

"I do not care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a fuckin' zebra. I'm the manager of this team, and I say he plays. What's more, I say he can make us all rich. And if any of you cannot use the money, I will see that you are all traded."

He greatly admired Robinson for his hustle and aggression, calling him "a Durocher with talent."

While Durocher sat out his suspension, the Dodgers went on to win the NL pennant under an interim skipper, scout Burt Shotton. They then went on to lose the 1947 World Series to MacPhail's Yankees in seven games.

Move to New York Giants[edit]

Durocher with the Giants in 1948.

Durocher returned for the 1948 season, but his outspoken personality and poor results on the field again caused friction with Rickey, and on July 16 Durocher, Rickey and New York Giants owner Horace Stoneham negotiated a deal whereby Durocher was let out of his Brooklyn contract to take over the Dodgers' cross-town rivals. He enjoyed perhaps his greatest success with the Giants, and possibly a measure of sweet revenge against the Dodgers, as the Giants won the 1951 NL pennant in a playoff against Brooklyn, ultimately triumphing on Bobby Thomson's historic game-winning "Shot 'Heard 'Round The World" home run.

Later with the Giants in 1954, Durocher won his only World Series championship as a manager by sweeping the heavily favored Cleveland Indians, who posted the highest American League winning percentage of all time (111–43) during the regular season.

After leaving the Giants following the 1955 season, Durocher worked at NBC, where he was a color commentator on the Major League Baseball on NBC and host of The NBC Comedy Hour and Jackpot Bowling. He later served as a coach for the Dodgers, by then relocated to Los Angeles, California, from 1961 to 1964.

During this period, Durocher, who had made his screen debut in the 1943 Red Skelton comedy Whistling in Brooklyn, played himself in several television shows. In an April 10, 1963 airing of The Beverly Hillbillies, Durocher plays golf with Jed Clampett (Buddy Ebsen) and Jethro Bodine (Max Baer, Jr.), and he tries to sign Jethro to a baseball contract after discovering Jethro has a strong pitching arm. In a memorable episode of The Munsters, entitled "Herman the Rookie" on April 8, 1965, Durocher believes Herman (Fred Gwynne) is the next Mickey Mantle when he sees the towering Munster hit long home runs. Football great Elroy Hirsch also appeared with Durocher. Three years earlier, he also appeared as himself in an episode of Mr. Ed, when the talking horse gave batting tips to the Los Angeles Dodgers, helping them win the pennant.[10] Durocher also appeared on television in the early 1970s on the syndicated What's My Line? as a mystery guest.

Chicago Cubs[edit]

Durocher returned to the managerial ranks in 1966 with the Chicago Cubs. In several previous seasons, the Cubs had tried an experiment called the "College of Coaches", in which they were led by a "head coach" rather than a manager. However, at his first press conference, Durocher formally announced an end to the experiment by saying:

At the same press conference, Durocher declared, "I am not the manager of an eighth place team." He was right; the Cubs finished tenth in his first season, becoming the first team to finish behind the previously hapless New York Mets. In 1967, however, the Cubs started strongly and had only their second winning season since 1946. The team steadily improved, but in 1969, Durocher suffered one of his most remembered failures. The Cubs started the season on a tear, and led the newly created National League East for 105 days. By mid-August they had a seemingly insurmountable 8½-game cushion, and they appeared to be a shoo-in for their first postseason appearance in 25 years. However, they floundered down the stretch, and finished eight games behind the "Miracle Mets" (who were 9½ games back in mid-August).

In a mid-July series against the Mets, the Cubs were beaten in the first two games at Shea Stadium,[12] but finally managed to salvage the third game, after which Durocher was asked if those were the real Cubs.

'"No," Durocher answered, "those are the real Mets."

While with the Cubs, Durocher encountered a difficult dilemma in regard to aging superstar Ernie Banks. While Banks' bad knees made him a liability, his legendary status made benching him impossible. Durocher also nearly came to blows with Cubs star Ron Santo during an infamous clubhouse near-riot. The problems were symbolic of Durocher's difficulty in managing the new breed of wealthier, more outspoken players who had come up during his long career. He was fired midway through the 1972 season, later stating that his greatest regret in baseball was not being able to win a pennant for longtime Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley.

Houston Astros and beyond[edit]

Durocher managed the Houston Astros for the final 31 games of the 1972 season and the entire 1973 season before retiring. He made a brief comeback in 1976 in the Japanese Pacific League with the Taiheiyo Club Lions, but he retired due to illness before the beginning of the season.

Retirement[edit]

Durocher finished his managerial career with a 2008–1709 record for a .540 winning percentage. He posted a winning record with each of the four teams he led, and was the first manager to win 500 games with three different clubs.

Durocher, with Ed Linn, wrote a memoir titled Nice Guys Finish Last, a book that was recently re-published by the University of Chicago Press.

Leo Durocher died in 1991 in Palm Springs, California at the age of 86, and is buried in Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles.[13] He was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994.

Personal life[edit]

Durocher was married four times. He was married to Ruby Harley from 1930 to 1934. He was married to St. Louis socialite Grace Dozier from 1934 to 1943. In 1948 he married actress Laraine Day, and they divorced in 1960. His fourth wife was Lynne Walker Goldblatt, to whom he was married from 1969 to 1980.[14][15]

With Ruby Harley, Durocher had a daughter named Barbara.[16]

With Day he had two adopted children, daughter Melinda Michele (1944-2012)[17] and son Chris (born 1945).[18][19]

In popular culture[edit]

In the 2013 film 42, Durocher is played by Christopher Meloni.

See also[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "French-Canadian Americans – History, New france, SETTLEMENTS OUTSIDE QUÉBEC". Everyculture.com. Retrieved December 3, 2013. 
  2. ^ H. W. Wilson Company, Current Biography Yearbook, 1968, page 266
  3. ^ Joe Niese, Burleigh Grimes: Baseball's Last Legal Spitballer, 2013, page 189
  4. ^ "Leo Durocher Baseball Stats, facts, biography, images and video.". The Baseball Page. Retrieved December 3, 2013. 
  5. ^ Banks, Kerry (2010). "Baseball’s Top 100: The Game’s Greatest Records". Vancouver, BC: Greystone Books. p. 55. ISBN 978-1-55365-507-7. 
  6. ^ Robinson, Ray (April 4, 1993). "A Bad Guy Who Finished First". The New York Times. 
  7. ^ N.Y. Journal American, 1946 July 7
  8. ^ a b The Yale Book of Quotations, Fred R. Shapiro, Yale University Press, 2006, p. 221
  9. ^ Sporting News, 1946 July 17
  10. ^ "Mister Ed: Season 4, Episode 1 : Leo Durocher Meets Mister Ed". IMDb.com. Retrieved December 3, 2013. 
  11. ^ Munzel, Edgar. "Bruins Give 3-Year Pact to Durocher." The Sporting News, 1965-11-06.
  12. ^ "The 1969 Chicago Cubs Game Log". Retrosheet.org. Retrieved December 3, 2013. 
  13. ^ Leo "The Lip" Durocher at Find a Grave
  14. ^ Associated Press, Sarasota Journal, Leo Marries Fourth Time, June 6, 1969
  15. ^ Oxford University Press, American National Biography: Dubuque-Fishbein, 1999, page 158
  16. ^ Doug Feldmann, Dizzy and the Gas House Gang: The 1934 St. Louis Cardinals and Depression-Era Baseball, 2000, page 51
  17. ^ Coeur d'Alene Press, Obituary, Melinda Michele Thompson-Durocher, May 30, 2012
  18. ^ LIFE Magazine, Lippy's Loaded, April 2, 1951, page 45
  19. ^ Tim McCarver, Tim McCarver's Diamond Gems, 2008

External links[edit]