National Press Club

Dickson discusses Durocher at Club Book Rap

March 27, 2017 | By Jonathan D. Salant | jds15@aol.com

Other than an umpire's call against his team, if there was one thing Leo Durocher detested was the spotlight shining on anyone other than him.

In a Book Rap on Wednesday to talk about his latest tome, "Leo Durocher: Baseball's Prodigal Son," veteran baseball author and Club member Paul Dickson said Durocher's drive to hog the spotlight led to feuds with such luminaries as Jackie Robinson, Babe Ruth and Ernie Banks. He called the Hall of Fame manager "probably the most interesting character and most controversial character in baseball."

Indeed, Dickson suggested, one reason for the Chicago Cubs' historic collapse in 1969, when the New York Mets overcame an 8 1/2-game deficit in the standings to win the division championship, was that he had lost the clubhouse because of his battles with Banks and his refusal to respond to his players' needs, such as giving them a much-needed day off once in a while.

"He did these things that subverted the team," Dickson said. "His treatment of Banks was enough to demoralize the team."

He even got into it with Cubs third baseman Ron Santo after the future Hall of Fame infielder revealed in 1971 that he had diabetes as he tried to call attention to the disease on "Ron Santo Day" at Wrigley Field. Dickson said that was another instance of Durocher resenting attention being focused on anyone else but him.

Known as "The Lip" for his arguments with umpires, players and the executives in the front office, Dickson said Durocher learned those skills when he first joined a minor league team in St. Paul, Minn. The manager pushed Durocher to get into fights, and he did. Dickson said the rule against arguing balls and strikes, which usually leads to a quick umpire ejection, was put into place because of Durocher, Dickson said.

Durocher, who was an outstanding defensive shortstop, a three-time all-star and a a member of two pennant-winning teams, made it to the Hall of Fame because of his prowess as a manager, winning 2,008 games in 24 years for the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, Cubs and Houston Astros. His teams included the 1951 Giants, who won the National League pennant thanks to Bobby Thomson's home run off Ralph Branca in the ninth inning of the third playoff game.

While he championed integration long before Robinson joined the Dodgers, Durocher missed that historic season of 1947 because he was suspended for consorting with gamblers and an "accumulation of unpleasant incidents," according to Commissioner Happy Chandler.

Durocher returned in 1948 and began his feud with Robinson, who went home to his wife and children after games rather than carousing, gambling and chasing women like his manager did. During the season, Durocher shocked the baseball world when he went over to manage the arch-rival Giants, which Dickson likened to "General Sherman taking over the Confederate army."

The Springfield, Mass., native told his own life's story in his autobiography, "Nice Guys Finish Last," a quote Durocher allegedly said in referring to the Giants that he later would manage. Dickson said Durocher made up a lot of those stories.

Even the name of the autobiography is a paraphrase of what Durocher actually said. According to a column written by Frank Graham in the now-defunct New York Journal-American, Durocher, then the Dodgers' manager, pointed to the Giants' dugout and commented, “The nice guys are all over there, in seventh place.”