|Played forNew York Yankees (1925, 1928-29), Cincinnati Reds (1930-33), St. Louis Cardinals (1933-37), Brooklyn Dodgers (1938-41, 1943, 1945)
Managed Brooklyn Dodgers (1939-46, 1948), New York Giants (1948-55), Chicago Cubs (1966-72), Houston Astros (1972-73)
All Star 1936, 1938, 1940
Leo Durocher grew up in a seedy tenement in West Springfield, Massachusetts .... As a teenager, Durocher worked in a battery factory in Springfield, and to supplement his income, he hustled pool at Smith's Billiard Academy. He became the house player, and he rarely lost. He also developed an unsavory reputation, hanging out with low-level mob guys, card sharks, hustlers, and gamblers.
When Durocher signed with Hartford in 1925, Paddy O'Connor was the manager. O'Connor warned Durocher about the friends he hung out with, but Durocher refused to give them up, and in fact he kept his old pool hall buddies throughout most of his baseball career .... [S]oon after Durocher arrived to play for the team, the other players began finding money missing from their wallets. O'Connor suspected Durocher, and to catch him, he marked a $5 bill, put it in his wallet, left the wallet in his pants pocket in his locker, and waited to see who swiped it. When the bill disappeared, O'Connor trailed Durocher to the Heublein Hotel, where Durocher sat down for supper. After eating, Durocher paid the bill -- with the marked money. He had been caught red-headed.
The other players wanted Durocher suspended from the team immediately. They wanted him blackballed from baseball, and if they had gotten their way, it is possible Durocher's baseball career would have ended right then. But O'Connor, who saw an opportunity to win a pennant with Durocher at shortstop, told the players, "We have a chance to win. I promise you that if you let him stay, I'll get rid of him at the end of the season." Hartford did win a pennant, and true to his word, O'Connor sold Durocher -- to the New York Yankees.
Durocher played two games for the Yankees in 1925, and though a poor hitter, was a quick, agile shortstop, and he made the Yankees to stay in 1928. Nevertheless he irritated the Yankee veterans by wearing flashy clothes and strutting around in them. Some of the other players began calling him "Fifth Avenue" ....
There was also a ruthless streak in him that made the other players distrust him. They felt if Durocher wanted something, he would find a way to get it, regardless of the morality or the feeling of others. Whatever he was doing, he had to win or succeed, which was the same thing as winning. he displayed this heavyhandedness in his relationships with women. When he was living in California, he dated several of the most famous and glamorous movie stars. While married to movie star Laraine Day, Leo was not shy about admitting to a writer friend of his that he was romancing another blond[e] bombshell ....
On the field he showed the same singularity of purpose and the same disregard for public opinion. Vince Lombardi never said "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing." What Lombardi really said was, "Trying to win isn't everything. It's the only thing." Lombardi was a humanist. He wasn't the ruthless wining uber alles fanatic he was cracked up to be. But Durocher was. The only thing that mattered to him was victory. And it was this fanatic drive combined with his insufferable arrogance that the Yankee vets felt was unbecoming in a teammate.
....In an era when a rookie was seen and rarely heard, Durocher showed deference to no one, including the game's greatest stars. In one game against the Detroit Tigers, Ty Cobb rounded second, and as he stood poised waiting to make his next move, Durocher gave him a hip. Cobb, who may have been the fiercest, toughest competitor ever to play the game, threatened that he would "get" Durocher .... Durocher then screamed, "You're an old man. The game has passed you by. You ought to get out."
On other teams Leo would have been respected for his [ferocity], but on the staid, conservative Yankees, [he] was seen as a thug. Even Babe Ruth, who liked almost everyone, hated Durocher .... Durocher showed little respect for the great home run hitter, calling the Babe "that baboon," often deriding his intelligence ....
Making no more than $5,000, Durocher lived way above his meager salary, and his reputation as a deadbeat grew when he began writing bad checks to several shopkeepers near Yankee Stadium ....
Durocher's sole ally on the Yankees was the manager, Miller Huggins .... [I]t was Huggins who recognized Durocher's all-encompassing passion for winning and who encouraged his combativeness, his shrewdness, and his willingness to take chances. Huggins loved when Durocher taunted the opposing players ....
....When, in late September , Huggins died, whatever chances Durocher had of staying on with the Yankees died with him .... Although Durocher was arguably the best-fielding shortstop in the league, the new manager, Bob Shawkey, put him on waivers. And not one of the other American League teams picked him up. He went to Cincinnati.
When he arrived in the Queen City, Reds manager Big Dan Howley told Durocher, "If you start popping off around here and getting yourself into jams, I'll hit you in the head first with the bat and then I will put 'Peoria' across the front of your shirt and make it stick. You've got a chance to become a great ballplayer -- or to wind up the minors in a hurry. Take your choice."
Durocher didn't change his habits. He continued to postdate checks and neglect to make them good. He was even called on the carpet before Commissioner Landis. He also got in trouble when he dated a young girl who became pregnant and forced him to marry her. A couple months later she recanted, said it was not his baby, and the marriage was annulled.
But management in Cincinnati loved him. A baseball player can get away with anything, including murder, if he is excelling on the field, and Durocher played superb shortstop for Cincinnati for three years and part of a fourth, until St. Louis Cardinal shortstop Charley Gelbert shot off a piece of his foot in a hunting accident. At that time Cincinnati was desperate for a starting pitcher, and so Cincinnati sent Durocher to the Cardinals in exchange for the Cardinals' star pitcher, Paul Derringer.
Durocher arrived in St. Louis deep in debt. The president of the Cardinals, Branch Rickey, made Durocher a personal project .... Rickey was ... innovative in his attempt to build Durocher's self-confidence. He got him a job coaching tha baseball team of the U.S. Naval Academy in the off-season, a job Durocher enjoyed and from which he derived great satisfaction ....
That fall, with Durocher at shortstop, the Cardinals won the pennant. Durocher put his stamp on the team with his aggressiveness and drive, and in fact, it was he who labeled the team the Gas House Gang.
Durocher and pitcher Dizzy Dean had been sitting in the dugout talking about the pennant race, and Dean, who was contemptuous of the American League, said, "I don't know whether we can win in this league, but if I wuz in that other league, we sure would win."
Durocher replied, "They wouldn't let us in the other league. They would say that we are a lot of gas house ballplayers."
Reporter Frank Graham, who was eavesdropping in the dugout, quoted Durocher in his column, and so the Gas House Gang was born.
By the end of the 1937 season, Leo had decided he could manage the Cardinals better than player/manager Frankie Frisch, and he said it loud and often enough that Frisch, who was as abrasive and strong-willed as Durocher, told Branch Rickey there wasn't room on the team for both of them. Frustrated over Durocher's continued irresponsibility, Rickey traded Durocher for four players to his friend [Lee] MacPhail in Brooklyn.
Bums: An Oral History of the Brooklyn Dodgers
If some Durocher baseball relationships were stormy, the one with MacPhail was a hurricane. Trouble arose almost immediately in 1938 after MacPhail signed [Babe] Ruth as a coach and batting practice attraction, and the retired slugger got it into his head that he was being groomed as Burleigh Grimes's successor as Brooklyn manager. Throughout the season the equally ambitious Durocher taunted both Grimes and Ruth about their baseball smarts, while MacPhail waited until he had his usual drinks in him before ranting that he would never turn the club over to an umpire-baiter such as his loud-mouthed shortstop. But it was indeed Durocher who was named to the helm for 1939, with Grimes being paid off, Ruth quitting in disgust, and MacPhail not remembering his previous declarations. As playing manager, Durocher brought enough electricity to the team to restore Ebbets Field fans as a 26th player. In one typical instance of the new enthusiasm, fans took up a collection to pay a $25 fine that he had incurred for slugging Giants first baseman Zeke Bonura. The intention (called off only with the 11th-hour intervention of National League President Ford Frick) was to change the money into pennies, then throw the coins onto the field and have league officials crawl around the retrieve them.
By Durocher's estimate he was fired by MacPhail a dozen times during their five-year stay together in Brooklyn -- usually after the executive had uncorked a bottle. In the event, however, it was MacPhail who quit the Dodgers first, resigning aftert he 1942 season .... In his place came Rickey, who kept Durocher on the job despite severe strains. In 1943, for instance, the pilot provoked a team revolt over an unwarranted suspension of pitcher Bobo Newsom and subsequent lies to the press about the incident. In 1945 he maintained Rickey's support despite criminal charges of having teamed up with an Ebbets Field guard for beating up a heckling fan under the stands. More generally, there was the puritanical owner's distaste for Durocher's card playing, pool shooting, and womanizing .... What emerged clearly only in 1947 was that Rickey had turned a blind eye to his pilot's doings because of an overriding belief that he was the dugout boss best equipped for carrying out his plan for integrating baseball -- a confidence more than borne out during spring training that year when Durocher stopped cold a protest by Dodgers players against playing with Jackie Robinson ....
But not even the frictions caused by racial integration were Durocher's biggest problem in 1947. Less than a week before the opening of the season, he was suspended for a year by Commissioner Happy Chandler for what was termed an "accumulation of unpleasant incidents ... detrimental to baseball." The problems stemmed from three areas. The problems [included] ... Durocher's association with George Raft and professional gamblers close to the actor [and] ... Durocher's romance with actress Laraine Day, who was still legally married to someone else. The Raft and Day controversies became daily fodder for newspaper columnists ....
Durocher did not react to the suspension well, especially after his one-year replacement Burt Shotton steered the Robinson Dodgers to a pennant .... With the Robinson experiment successfully launched, Rickey began nudging [Durocher] out the door in June. The pilot refused to take the hint, however, until he managed the NL All-Star team -- a right given to him by Shotton's pennant win the previous year. When Rickey told him Horace Stoneham was looking for a manager, Durocher made the most controversial leap between the Dodgers and Giants since Wilbert Robertson had gone in the opposite direction 30 years before. The pilot he was replacing in the Polo Grounds -- Mel Ott -- had been the target of the most famous of Durocherisms in 1946. As recorded by sportswriter Frank Graham, the exact quote was: "Do you know a nicer guy than Mel Ott? Or any of the Giants? Why they're the nicest guys in the world. And where are they? In last place!" The observation was subsequently telescoped into the maxim that "nice guys finish last."
As with the Dodgers, with whom he had won a pennant in 1941, Durocher needed three years with the Giants to field what he boasted of as "his kind" of team. The last importance piece of his 1951 winners was Willie Mays .... The 1951 campaign ended with Bobby Thompson's playoff home run against the Dodgers, climaxing the most dramatic comeback to a pennant in baseball history.
Durocher had more success with the Giants -- in 1954, when he captured his only World Series as a manager in a four-game sweep of the favored Indians. Otherwise, his seven years at the Polo Grounds were characterized by the most acrimonious chapter in the Dodgers-Giant rivalry, with field fights regularly following [Jackie] Robinson's taunts of Durocher's sex life ... [and] righthander Sal Maglie's shaving of Brooklyn chins. He resigned his post near the end of the 1955 season amid increasing conflicts with owner Stoneham.
Durocher went to work for NBC as a sportscaster for a few years [and] ... got his next managerial chance with the Cubs in 1966, ending owner Phil Wrigley's College of Coaches experiment .... By 1971 Durocher had so alienated his players with personal attacks, dugout hectoring, and what many viewed as antiquated tactics ... that relations between the sides were at best an armed truce .... While all this was going on, a gaggle of Chicago Republicans, with the help of the daily Tribune, sought to get at a Democratic-appointed investigator-brother of Durocher's third wife by inventing links between him and a local mobster. This brought Commissioner Bowie Kuhn running -- and then running away again when Mrs. Durocher made it clear that she would sue him if he played the Tribune's games by suspending her husband. But although also supported through his travails by Cubs owner Wrigley, Durocher finally stepped down in July 1972.
Durocher's last dugout stint was just as dreary. With merely a month to go in the 1972 schedule and the Astros having a genuine shot at the Western Division title, owner Roy Hofheinz fired Harry Walker for someone he described as "able to whip the horse down the final stretch." Durocher did the whipping as expected, but the Houston players, resentful of Walker's ouster, barely managed a .500 record and finished 10-1/2 games behind the Reds. The following year player contempt for his methods was so obvious that, together with an intestinal ailment, it prompted him to resign before the season was over. As one of Durocher's last loyalists, Wrigley asked him back as pilot in 1975, but he held out for a general managership with Maury Wills coming along as the pilot and was turned down.
Durocher's overall record for 24 years of managing was 2008-1709 (.540), with three pennants and one world championship ....
Donald Dewey & Nicholas Acocella
The New Biographical History of Baseball
"I liked Leo. I think he was well liked by the players, if not as popular as his wife, Laraine Day -- she had a daily radio show and the players were happy to be her guests. I thought Leo was a great manager who was always a few innings ahead of everybody. He used to coach third base, which was a common practice of managers back then. He wanted to be in the game and to pester the umpires a little more than he could do from the dugout. Leo was a superstitious man, and when he'd go out to the coaching box each inning, he'd always jump over a water bucket in the dugout. One day the Pirates were having a hell of an inning against us. He was in the dugout and he looked down and saw that the water bucket was gone. He went crazy looking for it. But earlier Eddie Stanky had kicked it over and it hadn't been replaced. Leo raised all kinds of hell. Our trainer, Doc Bowman, found a bucket and filled it with ice and water and put it in front of Leo. That calmed him down, and when the inning was over, he jumped over the bucket and ran to the coach's box."
We Played the Game