My disenchantment with Leo Durocher began long before the spring of 1947, when I suspended him from baseball for a year. I could have made it for life. I said at the time that I did it to "keep him from killing somebody." I meant exactly that. In many ways Leo Durocher, then manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, had been a discredit to baseball. He had performed the misdeeds of 10 men. But if you had read the New York papers, you would have thought I had dropped the guillotine on Albert Schweitzer. Poor Leo.
Well, I know Leo Durocher. He is a slick-dressing, glib-tongued swashbuckler who never went into a place looking as though he owned it. He didn't give a damn who owned it. In retrospect I'm not sure that suspension didn't save him. I think he's been a better boy since.
I had no trouble making up my mind to suspend Durocher. Frequently in politics I had made tougher decisions. There was, for instance, the time when I refused as governor of Kentucky to commute a death sentence. Ten minutes before the condemned man went to his death he wrote me a letter saying, "I appreciate the clost"—he spelled it that way, I'll never forget it!—"consideration you gave my case. I don't want you to be too deeply concerned about me. I've made my peace with God. I'm guilty. I killed them fellows without cause. I wished I hadn't, but I killed them. I don't want you to feel sadly, because you are only carrying out your duty. It wasn't your fault, it was mine."
Now, do you think for one moment that after something like that, I would have lost any sleep over the likes of Leo Durocher?
I knew Leo had a hair-trigger temper. He was on the defensive all the time—against the fans, the umpires, everybody. The first time Leo ran afoul of me was when he was accused of beating up a fan under the stands in Brooklyn and breaking his jaw. This young fellow had called him names all day, but a ballplayer or manager has to get used to verbal abuse, and the story Durocher told did not inspire confidence. He admitted that he chased the fellow, but said the man hurt himself falling on wet cement. There was a trial and he was acquitted. He paid the boy off—$6,750—not to continue the case in civil court.
A close shave, but it didn't end there. Leo's trespasses began to repeat themselves. He was constantly in a row with one umpire or another, he was prone to use his fists more than a man ought to and his marital affairs were well publicized. Some time before I suspended him I gave him the names of undesirable people he should never again be seen with—Memphis Engelberg, Connie Immerman, Bernie Siegel, Joe Adonis and others, including George Raft.
Raft came to see me about "this Durocher thing." I liked him, but I saw no reason to argue with him. I said, "George, do you have a contract in baseball?"
He said "No."
I said, "Then, George, go away, please. If Durocher plays cards for money and gambles, I have to be concerned with him but not with you. So please, just go away."
He said, "But I got a bum rap."