- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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After Leo left, I went in to talk things over with Mr. O'Malley, and that cheapskate suggested we start Leo at $25,000 a year, the highest salary ever paid a major league coach. I told Walter it would bend the budget out of shape to start Leo so high, and Walter said that it wouldn't bend the budget at all, because Leo would bring in practically as much money as we were giving him.
As usual, Walter's prediction worked out almost to the penny, at least in Leo's first years with the Dodgers. I mean, it was one of those deals that benefited everybody. In his four years with the club, Leo collected well over $100,000, counting World Series checks, and that's a lot of money for a coach. He also got reinstated in the baseball pension plan and lined up for a nice pension. But, on the other hand, Leo really worked. He'd come into my office day after day with fat checks for season tickets, or for whole blocs of World Series tickets, sold to all those friends of his. A coach like that is money in the bank. And when he's also pulling a full load down on the ball field, you've got a good thing going.
Of course, Leo being Leo, I had to have an absolutely clear-cut understanding with him about what his job meant and what it didn't mean. It didn't mean that there was a whisper of a chance that he would ever take over the manager's job from Walter Alston. I even went so far as to warn Leo that I would have to fire him if the newspapers ever did any widespread speculating that Leo was waiting in the wings for Walt's job. I said, "I don't care if the stories are denied by you up one side and down the other, and I don't care if the writers are lying or not. If word gets out that you're in line for Walter's job, I'm going to have to let you go."
Well, Leo is nobody's idiot, and he understood right from the beginning the nature of our arrangement. Hell, Leo had been around long enough to know that no ball club can succeed if it has a coach waiting around conspicuously to pounce on the manager's job. Nobody wanted our ball club split into a Durocher half and an Alston half, least of all Leo himself.
I only wish I had been able to make all this clear to the press. Is there anybody around now who really thinks that Leo was hired as Walter's eventual replacement? And yet we had to fight that propaganda in a thousand different ways when Leo was coaching for Walter. Some columnist would write that Leo was taking over next Tuesday and Walter would be fired, and I'd come out with a blast that if Walter was fired I'd leave right along with him. Some baseball figure 2,000 miles away would tip off the home-town press that this had been Walter's last year and Leo would take over at the beginning of the next season, and I would have to do something fancy like phoning Walter by conference call and rehiring him in front of the press. When Bob Kennedy was head coach of the Cubs he was quoted one time in a newspaper: "I'll tell you one thing. If the Dodgers lose to Houston Saturday, Leo Durocher is the manager Sunday!" I read that story and exploded, and I must have been quoted in every sports section in the country in some of the harshest prose ever printed. I said that Kennedy was a fine guy to talk about anybody taking over the job of manager. I said he had become head coach of the Cubs by stabbing nine fellow coaches in the back. I said Kennedy's got enough problems of his own without taking on any of ours. On Saturday I said, "I guess everybody has noticed that we lost to Houston today. That means if Durocher isn't manager of the Dodgers tomorrow, Kennedy is a liar. Will you print that, please?" They printed that. Funny thing about it, I didn't mean those things I said about Bob Kennedy. But it was typical of the extremes I had to go to to keep fighting that brush fire about Leo taking over. I had to accuse somebody I really liked of stabbing his fellow coaches in the back! And if you think I didn't really like and admire Bob Kennedy, then maybe you didn't know that soon afterward I hired him to manage our Albuquerque club. He's a coach for the Atlanta Braves now, and they're lucky to have him.
But I don't mean to say that Leo's four years with the Dodger coaching staff were any international peace conference. Having Leo working for you is like using dynamite to build a road. If you handle everything just right, you get a lot of work done. But if you make a mistake, blooey! Leo is one of the most outspoken of men; he simply can't keep his mouth shut. Like the time at Vero Beach when he blurts out to Mrs. O'Malley that Walter isn't giving her enough spending money. To Leo, that was a perfectly acceptable remark, and he meant it in a spirit of helpfulness. Walter laughed when he heard it, but he didn't laugh so loud the time Leo was kibitzing him in a gin game and Leo kept saying, "Go down! Go down!" and then said in a loud stage whisper, "He's got to be the stupidest gin player I ever saw!" So Walter goes down with six, gets undercut and then finds out that his next draw would have been gin. By that time Leo had disappeared, and very wisely.
Now and then Leo would pop off like this on the ball field. A typical time was in Pittsburgh, when Ron Fairly missed a hit-and-run sign and killed a Dodger rally. Leo comes fuming back to the bench and says in that loud voice of his, "Somebody ought to take that guy's money!" and a few more choice remarks.
Walter Alston took all he could, and then he told Leo, "Who're you talking about, taking his money? I'm the only one that can take his money, and I don't need any advice from you. You take care of the coaching, and I'll take care of the managing!" Walter closed his little speech by reminding Leo that three times during the game he had had to whistle at Leo in the third-base coaching box to get him to take the signs.
That incident was made to look like the Battle of Bull Run in the papers, but nobody seemed to notice that when Walter got kicked out of a ball game the very next day he turned to Durocher and said, "You take over, Leo." He could just as easily have asked Pete Reiser or Greg Mulleavy or Joe Becker to take over, but Walter doesn't play that way.
The biggest blowoff with Leo came at the end of the 1962 season, when everybody was feeling down in the mouth over the way we lost the playoff to the Giants after taking a 4-2 lead into the last inning of the deciding game. Somebody had scheduled a victory dinner in Los Angeles after the last playoff game, and you can imagine the happy crowd that showed up. Aside from the fact that everybody got stoned, no two stories about that joyous evening are the same. I can only tell you that I blew my cork the next day when I was told that Leo had taken the occasion to say, "We would have won the pennant if I had been managing the club."