Few men possess
more intuitive and scientific knowledge of baseball than Leo Durocher, manager
of the World's Champion New York Giants. One man who does, Branch Rickey,
modestly says, "I don't think there's anyone in America who understands
baseball as well as Leo." Rickey should know—Durocher worked for him for
nine years, first in St. Louis and then in Brooklyn. Having once eased Durocher
out as manager of the Dodgers, Rickey's revamped estimate is doubly meaningful.
Not long ago, while he was watching some of his own Pittsburgh teen-agers cut
their coltish capers at the Pirates' training camp in Fort Myers, Florida, the
question was put to him, "Would you want Durocher, would you hire him, as
manager at Pittsburgh today?"
Rickey pulled his
massive catcher's hand over his jaw and smiled through his broad-knuckled
fingers. "In the first place, it's a tampering question," he correctly
replied. Then he proceeded to answer it.
didn't have a job, I'd be awfully glad to have him come and see me," he
said at length. "I'm speaking theoretically, mind you. He's the type of man
any owner who wants to win a pennant would find desirable."
further, Rickey warmed up to what has always been one of his favorite subjects.
"Leo handles players beautifully," he said. "He's quick and
impulsive. No administrative handmaiden working closely with him needs to act
on his own impulse right away. Wait a while, maybe he'll change his mind. He's
flexible, he's aware." Rickey smiled, as if he had just witnessed a neatly
executed double play. "I could work beautifully with him," he
continued. "Marvelous aptitudes. Cards, billiards, anything he does. I've
seen him a few times playing pool. Of course, I'm not a connoisseur in that
The voice dropped
off and then resumed. "As long as there's ever a chance to win he'll give
it all he's got. He would not be a scholarly student of ethics. He mightn't
have high marks in gaining his objective. He's like a turkey in a tobacco patch
that sees the worm and knocks down 20 stalks to get it.... I can live with the
fellow. I enjoy him. He's so human and so likeable in so many ways. You get to
have a real affection for him and, by heaven, I do. Mrs. Rickey likes him. I
don't know anybody who doesn't."
has been called the best offensive field manager since John McGraw, Rickey was
asked for his comparison of the two men. " McGraw was a tyrant," he
replied, after some further reflection. "A perfectionist, a pedagogue. He
didn't care if a young player didn't know what was right or wrong in the
beginning. They acquired skills, and McGraw required them to learn something
and then do it. When he told a man to steal, for example, that meant he wanted
and expected a player to do just what he was told, to break, run, slide, use
his eyes, his arms, his feet, everything. McGraw could impart a skill by words.
He was more nearly a profound baseball man and a good mind than anyone I ever
doesn't have too much time for those minor incidents of play. He's not much a
respecter of personalities, and he won't change his tactics to please a
personality, or compromise his judgment. A man is either good or bad. He takes
them as he finds them. But he has great courage, and at the same time, in many
ways, he handles youngsters better than McGraw. He stirs them up, kids them
along, and he's more patient with a boy, accordingly, than John was."
between McGraw and Durocher is apt because, more nearly than anyone else
managing in the big leagues today—and he's been managing the longest
consecutively—Durocher bridges the gap between the old and the new. He was a
player himself, and one of the roughest and scrappiest, in the days when
players, generally, were a different breed. Now he's a manager in the new era.
Durocher himself is the first man to realize the difference.
LIKE A PANTHER"
a big change in the players, in their attitudes and in the circumstances under
which they play," he says. "When I broke in you fought like a panther
to stay on the club, and if you did something wrong you'd get hell up one side
of the diamond and down the other. Men like Mr. McGraw were rough and tough and
they could be sarcastic as hell, too. You'd walk over to your locker one day
and find a pink slip—boom! you're optioned out. No one called you into a front
office and put an arm around you and said what a nice guy you were but won't
you please go down for a little more seasoning. You'd just catch the next bus
and, if you were lucky, maybe you'd get another chance next spring, but there
were plenty of others working for a shot too. A kid didn't figure then, as he
might now, that he could make more money working in a factory and playing
semipro ball on the side. You've got to treat 'em differently today. They're
higher-type boys, to begin with. Almost all have gone through high school and a
lot went to college. You can't just shout at them or order 'em around. You have
to nudge them, make 'em feel at home. When Huggins on the Yanks told me to go
up there and hit in practice, I had to fight my way to the batting cage. Ruth
and the rest, they'd just shove me aside. Nobody laid me out a carpet. Today
you invite a boy to take his turn and there's three coaches besides myself to
see that he gets it. The bonus boys figure in this too. The owners will tell
you, 'We've got $80,000 invested in this kid. Take it easy with him.' So you
take it easy. The players expect it. They'll no longer take what's dished out
to them and go right on playing."