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Like Huggins before them, Weil and Howlin' Dan Howley grew oddly fond of Durocher. "He ran around town a lot and was always dressed fit to kill—that's how he got the name ' Sharpie'—but he was a popular player," Weil says. "He had to be. Inside those chalk lines nobody worked harder than Leo Durocher. After a while I started taking him around with me as a speaker. He was fast on his feet behind a platform too. He'd tell a lot of stories about his days with the Yankees, and they'd go over big."
Even the few players who had no use for Durocher knew his value. Larry Benton, one of the better Red pitchers, who disliked Leo from the start, said, "I still want him behind me. He saves me two runs a game. He goes after double play balls no one else would even try for." In 1930 Durocher played both short and second for Cincinnati; he hit .243 and fielded .963. The next season he took over at short from Horace Ford, and with Tony Cuccinello he tied the league double-play record of 151 for a keystone combination, although his hitting sloughed off to .227. It fell another 10 points the following year. By then Durocher had got himself into trouble again.
He had met a good-looking 19-year-old show girl named Ruby Hartley, who had been going out with a son of Weil's partner, to whom she had become engaged. After some family intervention, the engagement was broken and a breach of promise suit was settled. Leo and Ruby had a quick romance and, in 1932, were married. The marriage soon fell apart. Not too long after Ruby gave birth to a daughter, it broke up completely. Leo's debts were meanwhile on the rise again.
Sidney Weil had done all he could as long as he could, but by this time he was having his own financial woes. When the depression began catching up with him—it had hit the Reds too, and the team finished last in 1931 and 1932—Durocher became expendable. Weil now says that if he had had enough money to make the gamble, he would have appointed Leo his manager, even though Durocher was only 28. But when Branch Rickey, seeking a shortstop to replace the injured Charlie Gelbert, who had been hurt in a hunting accident, came to him Weil reluctantly had to listen. Having failed to land Dick Bartell, peppery shortstop of the Phillies, with whom Durocher had just had a nasty spiking fight, Rickey was in desperate need of help, and he was making a seemingly astonishing offer.
"At first I told him I'd talk about anyone but Leo," Weil recalls, "but then he insisted I hear him out. And when he offered me Pitchers Paul Derringer and Allyn Stout plus veteran Infielder Sparky Adams, I had to think about it. I was especially high on Derringer—he later was the big man in two pennant drives for the Reds. Branch wanted a shortstop so badly that he was offering me $150,000 worth of ballplayers for a $30,000 man. I had to say yes." Weil ultimately threw in two unimportant players, and Durocher was on his way again. He hated to go. In fact, at first he refused. Weil, he insisted, had become another father to him, his third—after his own and Huggins—and Rickey was nothing but a slave driver. Persuasion and baseball law prevailed, however, and Leo went west sadly.
SOMEONE TO PROTECT HIM
Sidney Weil still speaks of Durocher with fondness and with a touch of nostalgia as well. "He needs someone to protect him." he says. "He's lucky that he's always had—someone."
Durocher also speaks warmly of Weil. "Sidney was a real wonderful man," he says. "He took good care of me. I was constantly in some sort of trouble, and he did everything he could for me, always."
What Durocher may not know is that Weil, some years later, also as a result of the long friendship with Rickey, was to help save his job as manager of Brooklyn, at least for a time. Even without knowing that, it is one of the paradoxes of Leo Ernest Durocher that he is both generous and thoughtless, that he both remembers and forgets. He can remember, for example, as his Hollywood guests have discovered, exactly what each of them drinks, down to the most special whiskey or even the most particular brand of tea for abstainers. It's been said of him, further, that his loyalty is unsurpassed, that "once a friend, always a friend."
"You might see Leo every day for five weeks and then never hear from him for five months," says Harry Lewine, his New York pal. "O.K. If you want to be his friend, you have to be patient. What do his friends get in return? He'll go to hell for you, that's the kind of guy he is."