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Leo Durocher belonged in Cooperstown before he died
Leo Durocher, who died on Oct. 7 at the age of 86, was once described as "a man of many facets, all turned on." Durocher was a gambler, a pool shark, a card player, a clotheshorse (he loved expensive suits), a ballplayer, a manager, a broadcaster, a sometime actor, a friend of the famous and, at all times, a talker. He had a loud, brassy voice and used it incessantly.
Leo the Lip, as he was called, talked so much that people tended to forget his baseball virtues. He was a superb shortstop, a shrewd if weak-hitting batter and a brilliant leader. Only five managers in major league history won more games than Durocher's 2,008.
Durocher, a French-Canadian from Springfield, Mass., broke into the majors with the Yankees in 1925. Babe Ruth didn't like Durocher—a lot of people didn't like Leo—and the story went around that he had stolen the Babe's watch, a fable without foundation. The Yankees let him go to the Cincinnati Reds for the waiver price. A few years later Branch Rickey, then running the Cardinals, traded a fine pitcher, Paul Derringer, for Durocher, and he made Rickey look good by becoming the spark of the fiery Gashouse Gang Cardinals, who won the World Series in 1934.
When Durocher became player-manager of the moribund Brooklyn Dodgers in 1939, he had no managing experience, but the job fit him like a glove. In 1941 the Dodgers won their first pennant in 21 years. However, the pugnacious Durocher antagonized baseball's executives by fighting with fans, arguing with umpires and consorting off the field with alleged gamblers. The culmination came in 1947 when baseball commissioner A.B. (Happy) Chandler suspended him for a year, a harsh and unjustifiable sentence.
His transfer as manager from Brooklyn to the hated New York Giants in July 1948 stunned fans of both teams and, for that matter, Durocher. Undaunted, he pushed the complacent Giants owners into trading longtime stars for the aggressive players he wanted, and in 1951 his rebuilt Giants beat Brooklyn for the pennant on Bobby Thomson's famous home run. In the 1954 World Series, Durocher's Giants swept the heavily favored Cleveland Indians.
He left the Giants in 1955, did some broad-casting, served as a coach with the Los Angeles Dodgers and in 1966 returned to managing with the Chicago Cubs, who hadn't finished higher than fifth for 20 years. Durocher brought them home second or third for five straight seasons. Later he managed the Houston Astros before retiring for good in '73.
Durocher was both damned and praised. Some players hated him: others said Durocher was the best manager they had ever seen. Vain, opinionated, self-serving, obscene in language and bullying in behavior, he was nonetheless a formidable, unforgettable force for more than 40 years. That he was not named to the Hall of Fame long before his death is a disgrace.
They use fowl language at the Yellville Turkey Trot