The pitcher, lumbering over to cover first base, slipped and fell flat and lay on his stomach for a moment until he was lifted, almost literally, by a loud, raucous voice.
"Put a fork in him, Gil," the little man hollered. "He's all done."
The first baseman laughed, and the pitcher scrambled to his feet. Leo Durocher, his bald pate a bright red from two days under the hot Florida sun, hit another ball into the infield. Charlie Neal, moving with the special grace which marks his play, scooped it up, then threw it wide of first base.
"What the hell was that?" Durocher roared incredulously. "What the hell was that?" He walked a couple of steps toward Neal. "All right, Gertrude," he called in a high fluty voice. "Try it again. Are you ready, Alice?" Neal laughed and fielded the next ball cleanly, throwing it easily and accurately to first.
Durocher worked with the players in the Los Angeles Dodgers training camp at Vero Beach for three hours. Now a coach with the Dodgers, the onetime "best manager in the game" worked hard and relentlessly, kidding the players and yelling at them. He looked happy, and he looked extraordinarily fit for a man of 55.
Later, in the players' lounge, he entertained a circle of young players with stories of Dizzy Dean and Frank Frisch and the other baseball heroes who were his friends. The youngsters listened silently for the most part, and Leo talked steadily, perched on the edge of a table, getting up once to demonstrate Stan Musial's pigeon-toed batting stance, again to show Dean's sweeping pitching motion.
One youngster asked him who was the greatest player he had ever seen. Durocher, who used to say "Willie Mays" instantly, didn't hesitate now. "Joe DiMaggio," he said. "Willie Mays is the best in the business today, but you got to remember DiMaggio would hit you .330, .340 every year, sock 40 home runs, play center field better than anybody else, and he had that great arm."
When the group finally broke up Leo said, "It's a pleasure working with these kids. I never saw a club with so much talent on it, and I was a major league manager 17 years. From '39 to '55—that's 17 years, isn't it? We got no humpty-dumpties on this club, no tomato pickers, no plumbers. These kids got talent."
Before he signed with the Dodgers this winter, Durocher had been out of baseball for five years. He resigned as manager of the New York Giants at the end of the 1955 season to take a job with NBC.
Leo and Frank