Durocher flipped through the remaining cards in the pile. "You dummy, you never pick up a bad hand, do you?" he said. "You fall right into every card. Pure dummy luck. Two more cards and I get what I'm waiting on, and wham!"
Ferguson Jenkins, the Chicago Cub pitcher, said in his book that if Durocher drops you from the card game and stops calling you dummy, he has dropped you for good. Jenkins said Durocher would play cards for months with some guy and one day ignore him from then on. He said part of the trouble Durocher had with the Cubs came from those card games.
As Durocher tells it, playing cards had nothing to do with his troubles with the Cubs. He quit as manager in the middle of last season because the team wasn't doing as well as he thought it should. As usual, Durocher had a tempestuous time of it during his six and a half years in Chicago. To begin with, the Cubs had finished eighth the year before Leo came in, and he immediately made his famous statement: "This is not an eighth-place ball club." So the Cubs finished 10th the first season under Durocher.
But the Cubs were never lower than third again while he was there. That sounds like a pretty good record, but Durocher still got on the wrong side of most of the Chicago press and many of the players. The way some of the Chicago press and TV people talk about Durocher even today, you might think he had singlehandedly fouled Lake Michigan. In 1969 the Cubs blew a 9�-game lead in August and September and wound up in second place, eight games behind the Mets. The press hit Durocher hard about that. In 1971 there was an incident in the clubhouse when Durocher tore off his uniform and told the team he was quitting, supposedly while Santo (according to Jenkins) was being restrained from punching him. The next year, in July, Durocher finally did go to Phil Wrigley and resign.
Then Leo was in bed one night in his 11-room penthouse apartment in Chicago, and the phone rang. Durocher had figured he was through with baseball. He had planned a trip around the world with his wife, and they'd just finished their shots. But he says he could sense that this phone call might change everything. On the line was Spec Richardson, general manager of the Astros.
Spec asked if Leo would like a job. "You've already got a manager," Durocher replied. Spec said no, Harry Walker had just been fired, and could Leo take over the club the next night. After a few more phone calls, including one from Durocher to Phil Wrigley, Durocher agreed to be in Houston in uniform the next day. He hung up at last and looked at Lynn. " Honolulu... Tokyo... Seoul... Bangkok... Singapore... Rome... London... Paris... HOUSTON?" she said.
"Sure. I was surprised when I heard Leo had got the job," Grady Hatton said. He was sitting in the dugout watching the players take batting practice an hour before a game. Hatton is no ordinary coach. He was the Astro manager for two and a half years and later was a vice-president and special scout for the organization. Hatton and Spec Richardson are frequent companions of Judge Roy Hofheinz, the owner, who is now in a wheelchair after a stroke.
"I knew Harry Walker was going," Hatton said. "I'd been in meetings about it. But I never heard Leo's name come up. I thought the trend would be toward a younger manager. I was on a scouting assignment when I heard about Leo. Last October Leo asked me if I'd get back in uniform and help him. I had to resign as vice-president, but the judge says I can come back."
Preston Gomez, also a former big-league manager, runs the team on the field from the third-base coaching box. Hatton stays beside Durocher in the dugout. "I sit right beside Leo. I handle the paper work, the changes in the lineup, keep up with the bullpen. Leo is at an age when he may not think of all those things. When the club's at home, I work with the hitters and the infielders. The coaches go to the Dome at 3:30 in the afternoon to work with players. Leo's not there then, so we tell him what we've done."
For a giddy period earlier in the summer, the Astros climbed into first place. They did it by winning 14 of 17 games while Durocher was in the hospital with an infected colon (Leo says it was the celebrated Dr. Michael DeBakey who cured him). "The players went on a rampage," Hatton said. "We could hardly do anything wrong. In one game we had so many injuries that we had to let the pitcher, Jim Ray, hit in a crucial situation. We told him to strike out if he could, anything but hit into a double play. He said that was the first time he'd ever had both teams pulling against him at once. So wouldn't you know it, he got a base hit and won the game."