- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Durocher smoked a cigarette and stared out the door at players walking down the hall. It is a peculiar feeling to be alone in a small room with a man who was a celebrity before most people in the United States ever heard of Hitler. Durocher played shortstop for the New York Yankees briefly in 1925 and returned three years later as a regular on the team that had Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and the rest. He used to ride to Yankee Stadium in Babe Ruth's Packard limousine. He played for Frankie Frisch on the famous Gas House Gang in St. Louis with Pepper Martin and the Dean brothers when Bonnie and Clyde were still banging around on dusty Texas roads. He was the manager of the Brooklyn Dodger team that accepted the first black man, Jackie Robinson, into the big leagues, but did not get to manage Robinson in his first year, 1947, because he was banned from baseball that season for allegedly associating with gangsters and other low types. That same year he got the Catholic Youth Organization against him, in part for marrying Laraine Day, a Mormon and a movie actress. After the ban the Catholic Youth Organization agreed to quit boycotting Ebbets Field. The year after the Korean war started, Bobby Thomson hit his famous home run to win the pennant for the New York Giants, managed by Durocher. Durocher's 1954 Giants won the World Series in four straight from Cleveland, with Spencer Tracy acting as Leo's lucky piece. Then Durocher became a television executive, a job in which he could trade on his friendship with the stars.
In other words, Leo Durocher is more of an American institution than Colonel Sanders. Before this country ever heard of Kennedy, Nixon, Gable, Disney, Earhart, DiMaggio, Presley, Flash Gordon or Dr. Spock, people knew about Leo Durocher.
"Why should I talk to a magazine guy?" Durocher said, dragging on a cigarette in his office. He speaks deliberately and forcefully, the way he walks, and is inclined to repeat a phrase or a whole sentence—"Why should I talk to a magazine guy, why should I talk to a magazine guy?"—so that you expect him to retrace his steps when he is walking someplace; going twice to the elevator, for example, instead of getting on just once.
"I don't talk to magazine guys. Why should I tell you anything about my life? It'll all be in the book I'm writing. Irving Lazar is my agent for the book. Best there is. Got $150,000 in front. Not too bad, is it? Not too bad, is it? So how could anybody hope to write something if I didn't tell you, which I won't, about what happened between me and Mr. Rickey, or me and Horace Stoneham, or me and Larry MacPhail, or me and Mr. Weil from Cincinnati? They ain't gonna tell you, and neither am I.
"Of course, a writer could make up stuff about me, but he better be careful or I'll drop the weight on him," Durocher said. "A lot of times I get blamed for things I got no control over. Like when Stoneham didn't speak to me for a year. We won the Series in '54, and they gave me a big stag dinner at Hillcrest Country Club. The dais was as long as this clubhouse, and there was $5 million worth of talent up there. You name 'em. George Jessel was M.C., I could start there. Sinatra, Dean Martin, Hope, Burns, Danny Kaye, Danny Thomas. Name all the big stars in Hollywood, they were there. They ribbed me pretty good. Ribbed me pretty good. Now you and I both know Horace Stoneham takes a drink here and there, mostly there. So Danny Kaye got up with his shirttail out and said something to make it sound like Horace. Christ, I didn't know Danny was gonna do that. But Horace wouldn't speak to me afterward. How could I stop Danny Kaye? He's one of my closest friends.
"I've known Francis Sinatra since he was a kid working at the Rustic Cabin in Jersey. Him and Jackie Gleason got a sandwich, cup of coffee and $2 a night. Francis is one of my very closest friends. Very closest. This park could be filled with 60,000 people and I could have done something you and I and everybody else knows is wrong, and Francis would walk up beside me and say, 'He's right.' Loyalty, that's what makes a friend...not some guy who'll pat you on the back when you're on top."
Durocher lives in the off-season in Palm Springs, just off Frank Sinatra Drive, with his wife Lynn and her three children. They have a lot of art around the house, including a Chagall. One evening last winter Durocher played cards with Sinatra at Tamarisk after a golf game, and then got into his electric cart to drive home in the desert's sudden dark. "I know where every palm tree on the course is," Durocher said back in his office in the Astrodome. He stood up and began stripping off his uniform. He is in exceptional condition for a man his age. Durocher is 5'10" and keeps his weight at around 170 by going on an occasional diet in which he eats nothing but steak. "I know where every palm tree on the course is. So, wham, I run head on into a big one and break three ribs."
Durocher laughed and mentioned that he and Sinatra are often faced with violence when either of them goes to a restaurant or a nightclub. Sinatra travels with bodyguards. If he can, Durocher uses his mouth and sometimes his friends for protection. "There's always some guy following me into the men's room and saying, 'You're Leo Durocher, you pop off all the time, you think you're a big shot.' I talk real polite and nice and just try to get out. I don't want no beef with anybody. Two years ago in Palm Springs I had dinner at Sinatra's and went over to Jilly's later to meet Francis and the boys. Half a dozen of my players were in there—Santo and Pepitone and some others—so I sat down with Hank Aguirre. It was real crowded and some stranger, a big guy, hit me a shot for no reason. Well, Chuck Connors, he's a close personal friend of mine, he come right over that table without touching it and got the guy by the neck and bent him over the bar and said, 'That's Leo Durocher you hit, you'll be lucky to get out of here alive.' So the guy run off, and I didn't do anything. But if there'd been a newspaperman there, they'd have reported Durocher is in a brawl again."
Durocher walked toward the shower. From his neck swung a gold chain with a gold St. Christopher's medal on it. On the back side of the medal it said NO PENICILLIN.