Leo Durocher

Durocher had many adjectives applied to him during his colorful career, both kind and unkind. He was a brash, abrasive, hustling, light-hitting, slick-fielding, umpire-baiting bench jockey who was in baseball for nearly five decades as a player, manager, coach, and commentator.

Durocher spent his first full major league season with the 1928 World Champion Yankees, and became New York’s starting shortstop in 1929. He moved on to the Reds in 1930, and the Cardinals in 1933, becoming captain of the “Gashouse Gang” in 1934. His last season as a first-stringer came with the 1939 Dodgers. Never much of a hitter, he topped .260 only five times in 17 years, with a high of .286 in 1936. He became an All-Star mostly on the strength of his glovework; a flashy, acrobatic SS, he led the NL in fielding in ’36 and 1938.

Durocher went on to a long, distinguished, and tumultuous career as a manager. He was player-manager of the Dodgers in 1939-41, 1943, and 1945, though he played only a few games in the latter three years. He guided the Dodgers to the NL pennant in 1941, and to second-place finishes in 1940, 1942, and 1946. Perhaps his finest moment as Dodger manager came in spring training of 1947 when he personally quashed a rebellion by players who were protesting the presence of Jackie Robinson.

Durocher’s tenure in Brooklyn was marked by – among other things – feuds with GM Branch Rickey, who could not always tolerate Durocher’s antics and managing style. Durocher lived life in the fast lane. He was a pro at the card table, and favored the horse track. Stories emerged that he was friendly with such characters as Bugsy Siegel. In 1945, he was indicted for assaulting a fan under the stands. His problems reached a peak in 1947, when he was suspended for the season for reputed association with gamblers. The Dodgers won the pennant with Burt Shotton at the helm instead.

Durocher returned in 1948, gave rookie Roy Campanella the catching job, and moved young Gil Hodges to first base. But the Dodgers fell to last place on July 7. Eight days later, Rickey fired Durocher and rehired Shotton, as the rival Giants fired their manager, Mel Ott, and hired Durocher. Durocher guided the Giants to a pennant in 1951, overtaking the Dodgers in a spectacular race and defeating them in the subsequent playoff, thanks to Bobby Thomson. In 1954, Durocher led New York to his only WS victory. After the 1955 season, he became a TV commentator.

Durocher returned to manage the Cubs from 1966 until late in 1972, and the Astros through 1973, finishing second several times. Toward the end, his players were aware that he was becoming senile; some were with Durocher for weeks before the manager knew who they were. He retired among the all-times leaders in games managed (3740), wins (2010), and losses (1710). His life story was told in his autobiography, Nice Guys Finish Last, co-written with Ed Linn. The phrase (or something to that effect) was one that had been attributed to Durocher in ’47, referring to Ott, whose Giants had been losing.