- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Any fair assessment of Leo Ernest Durocher since his name first appeared in a major league box score exactly three decades ago perforce shows that his trials and tribulations have bothered and bewildered the baseball world at least as much as his dynamic successes have bewitched it. Certainly no man in the game has inspired as much controversy and debate; no one has been more admired and feared and hated, often simultaneously. His story in many respects is typically American, to be told in predominant blacks and whites. The only gray in Durocher is in the beginning gray of his thinning hair.
When he was suspended for the whole year of 1947, a year that the Dodgers won the National League pennant under his substitute, Burt Shotton, there were many who thought it marked the end rather than an interruption of Durocher's turbulent career. Today, as the confident leader of the World's Champion New York Giants, a tempered but still tempestuous figure, the consensus, both of his friends and of his remaining enemies, is that the suspension was the best thing that ever happened to him. His supporters say it gave him pause, taught him humility and made him a wiser and more worldly man as well as manager. His detractors say it at least took him down several pegs and made it possible to tolerate him.
To the degree that he was ready for some comeuppance, either argument is sound. But that he was subjected to an exceedingly harsh punishment for the wrong substantive reasons was also the case. The story of the suspension and its aftermath has been told repeatedly, but the one point on which all parties concerned agree is that "the true story" has not yet been told. Since by "the true story" each man means his own, the chances are that no complete, unprejudiced account will ever come out. None separately, and not all the versions together, are pleasant.
THE BASIC FACTS
Certain facts and conclusions, however, stand out more clearly now than they did eight years ago. They may be summarized as follows:
1) Durocher was banned mainly because his personal life, which had increasingly become public property, aroused the distaste and then the active opposition of the church into which he was born; eventually both official and unofficial pressure were successfully brought to bear against him.
2) On the basis of the specific charges, Commissioner Albert (Happy) Chandler ordered the suspension hastily and, it's generally felt, unfairly. The suspicion has grown that he acted, in part at least, because the pressure happened to coincide with his own desire, fed by some advisers, to prove himself the strong equal as commissioner of his predecessor, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis. This is something Chandler never came close to proving.
3) In the rather tragic comedy of errors that precipitated the case, the overzealous villain of the piece was Larry MacPhail, Durocher's former boss at Brooklyn, who had by then returned from the wars and had obtained a one-third interest in the New York Yankees. MacPhail later regretted some of his blustery actions, but the damage was then done.
4) While the suspension of Durocher personally shocked and hurt Branch Rickey, since it was a slap at him too, it took him off a dangerous spot in Brooklyn at a ticklish time. It also created a bitter enmity between himself and MacPhail, which has not and won't be healed, and strained the rather odd father-son relationship between Rickey and Durocher.
The drama began with the sudden shift, soon after the end of the 1946 season, of Charley Dressen, the Brooklyn coach, to the Yankees. Whether or not, under baseball law, MacPhail actually "tampered" with Dressen, is still debatable; but rumors immediately began to fly that Dressen, hired in a similar job in New York, was an advance guard and that Durocher would also move to the Yanks, as manager. MacPhail now says he "would have liked to have Leo" but that he did nothing about it because of his own "past connections with Brooklyn and with Rickey," who had been chiefly responsible for MacPhail's success in baseball. Durocher is on record as stating that MacPhail made him a firm offer and telephoned him three times at George Raft's house in California, where he used to live in the offseason, to pursue it, but that he refused to consider it because of loyalty to Rickey. There was also a story that Dan Topping, co-owner of the Yanks, made a pitch at Durocher at a luncheon meeting at the New York Athletic Club, and that two of Rickey's co-owners in Brooklyn were not at all averse to having Leo go.