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A. B. (Happy) Chandler
May 03, 1971
Durocher's suspension triggered Chandler's downfall. The owners didn't mind losing Leo—but they didn't want a strong commissioner
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May 03, 1971

Gunned Down By The Heavies

Durocher's suspension triggered Chandler's downfall. The owners didn't mind losing Leo—but they didn't want a strong commissioner

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To Leo's credit, he never came crying to me. A year after his suspension, when the Dodgers dedicated their spring training site at Vero Beach, Fla., Rickey tried with indifferent success to get us to make up. He took me to where Leo was standing at the batting cage and we shook hands. I said, "Good luck, Leo," and he said, "Thank you, commissioner." And that was it. He was back and it was over.

We never met again until 2½ years ago, when we just happened together in the corridor of a San Francisco hotel. And it was the same sort of scintillating conversation: "Hello, commissioner." "Hello, Leo." And we shook hands. Later some newspapermen teased Durocher about his performance. They said, "You're always talking about what you're going to do to Chandler. You all but hugged him." I'm told Leo replied, "My first impulse when we shook hands was to take my free hand and hit him."

I don't think he meant that, of course, but I have some very loyal friends in Kentucky, and one of them is a husky fellow named Frank Hare, a construction boss in Lexington. He was with me at the time, and he later read what Durocher said. He sat down immediately and wrote Durocher, saying, "Mr. Durocher, my name is Frank Hare, and I live at such and such an address, and I was standing in the lobby behind Governor Chandler when you shook hands with him in San Francisco. I noticed you're quoted as regretting you didn't take your free hand and hit Governor Chandler. If you so desire, I will arrange to have that scene set up again at whatever time and place you choose, because if you are so inclined, I would take great pleasure in knocking your head off."

We never heard any more from Leo.

The tragic, funny thing about the Durocher suspension was that in the end it probably served to weaken my position as commissioner of baseball rather than strengthen it—at least in terms of the owners' support. Not that they minded being rid of Leo for a year. They never complained about that. But they didn't want a strong commissioner. I found that out. So you might say that in the end Leo won and I lost, because he's still in baseball; I'm not.

I have always believed that the game of baseball deserves—demands—to be kept as free as possible of questionable influence or association. Shortly after I entered office I issued an advisory against attendance at racetracks. I didn't want my players to risk the appearance of evil. I said this even though I came from a racehorse state and enjoyed going to the races myself. But I didn't go while I was commissioner. My wife and daughter Mimi went out to Churchill Downs one Saturday and had their picture taken there, and somebody said, "What about this?" And I said, "Which club do they play for?"

If baseball is a game of the people, then you should listen to what the people say. Fred Saigh owned the St. Louis Cardinals, and when he got control of the club he swelled up with importance, trying to act like the big personalities he was now associating with. Saigh was the kind of fellow who was either at your feet or at your throat.

He once wanted to schedule a Sunday night game to make up a rained-out date with Brooklyn. I told him if he tried that, the people would rise up against him. The major leagues had long ago reached an accommodation with the churches for dividing up their Sundays: no day games until after church was out, no night games to interfere with church functions. I told Saigh if he got the church people on him they might get mad and make him quit playing on Sunday altogether. Reluctantly, he decided not to play.

In the 1946 World Series the Cardinals' manager, a fellow named Eddie Dyer, used a very vulgar expression as a preamble to an argument with an umpire. Some ladies in a box seat next to mine heard it. One of them turned to me and said, "Commissioner, can't you do anything about that?"

I said, "Not right now, but I can assure you it won't pass unnoticed."

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