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Leo Durocher
April 14, 1975
In which Durocher becomes the manager of the Dodgers, battles for and with his explosive boss and wins a famous pennant race
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April 14, 1975

Tales Of Leo And Larry

In which Durocher becomes the manager of the Dodgers, battles for and with his explosive boss and wins a famous pennant race

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In order to become a big-league manager you have to be in the right place at the right time. That's Rule 1. There were 130 million people in the country in late 1938, and there were 16 jobs for managers. To look at it another way, there were 16 men in the country who were in a position to hire me for one of those jobs. The main thing I had going for me was that it was the era of the playing manager. In the National League, a playing manager had won the pennant for seven straight years. In the American League, only the Washington Senators under the boy manager, Joe Cronin, and the Detroit Tigers under Mickey Cochrane (twice) had been able to break the dominance of Joe McCarthy's Yankees. To make the timing even better, Gabby Hartnett had taken over the Cubs from Charlie Grimm with 10 weeks left in 1938 and had brought the team on to win the pennant, just as Grimm himself had done in 1932 when he had taken over from Rogers Hornsby.

Everything runs in cycles, though, and by the end of World War II the playing manager had somehow fallen into disrepute. The new wisdom was that playing and managing was simply too much for any one man to handle.

Ridiculous. I loved being a playing manager. It was easier than managing from the bench. I was into everything; my wheels were spinning all the time. The two things a manager does when his team is on the field are move players and decide when to take the pitcher out. It's much easier to move a player when you're right in the middle of it, and you also have a far better sense of when your pitcher is beginning to lose it. When you're on the bench you have to call to the catcher to look over. When I was playing shortstop, he was looking right at me. If I left my glove open, I wanted a certain pitch. Direct communication. Sometimes I'd just make a fist. What that meant was: you call it, buddy, go on. You're catching, you know him better than I do, you're my captain, you run the show, I've got all the faith in the world in you. When the team is at bat you're in the dugout anyway. Except when you're on base, leading the club by example. Is that so bad?

I get a kick out of reading how difficult it is going to be for Frank Robinson to manage the Cleveland Indians and also serve as designated hitter. Since when has swinging a bat every half hour or so become so taxing on the brain? My bet is that Frank's presence in the lineup will give the club a shot in the arm. The Cleveland situation was made for Frank Robinson, and Frank Robinson was made for it. A good baseball city, hungry for a winner. A city with a large black population. There's no way they're not going to turn out to root Frank on, and if he begins to develop a winner, boy, that big Municipal Stadium on Lake Erie is going to be jumping again. And that's where the presence of a playing manager will really begin to help. That isn't a script they're acting out there, you know. It's 50 men whose lives are on the line every day. Do you think a game-winning home run by Frank Robinson isn't going to have more drama than a game-winning home run by anybody else? The players will react to the drama, the fans will react to them, the players will react to the fans, and it will just build and build. Just as it did in Brooklyn.

I always said that when it came to naming the first black manager, Rule 1 would still apply. It was going to be the man who was in the right place at the right time. Robinson was hired because Phil Seghi was the man at Cleveland who had the power to do the hiring. As simple as that. Seghi had been the head of the Cincinnati farm system when Frank Robinson came up and he had seen Frank grow from a wild kid to a confident clubhouse leader. You never know what kind of manager anybody is going to make, but you'd have to be crazy to bet against him.

For the same reason I thought for sure that Maury Wills was going to make the breakthrough in San Diego last year. Because Buzzie Bavasi, the club president, was there to give the job to him. Buzzie had been the general manager in Los Angeles through Maury's years as field captain and clubhouse leader of the Dodgers. He couldn't help but know that Maury has everything it takes to make a good manager. I don't know what happened.

The man who could make me manager of the Dodgers was their president, Leland Stanford MacPhail. MacPhail was a wild man. A big, beefy redhead. Like Branch Rickey, he was a man of great imagination. Unlike Rickey, he was a man of physical action. To give you an idea, as the Armistice ending World War I was about to be signed, he and a group of fellow U.S. officers went into Holland to try to kidnap the Kaiser. They did not succeed—and the Armistice probably averted an international incident and saved them from a court-martial.

MacPhail did things, and when you do things, other things, unexpected things, are always happening around you. As general manager of the Cincinnati Reds, he had persuaded the league to allow him to install lights and play seven night games, an innovation which the Old Guard viewed as a threat to the very fabric of baseball and quite probably as an end to our way of life.

The St. Louis Cardinals were the sixth team on the list of night games, but we were the Gas House Gang, the defending champions, and so MacPhail had set up special excursion trains and buses to Cincinnati from the entire Ohio Valley. That was a mistake. With the trains and buses arriving late, the people in the back of the grandstand rushed down and filled the empty seats. When the buses hit the stadium just before the game started, the fans stormed the gates.

As the game was about to get under way, half a dozen guys who apparently had never been in a major league park before sat down right behind second base, opened their beer bottles and prepared to watch the game. While the police were clearing them out of there, almost everybody else came pouring over the barriers.

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