In Memory Of Cruiser
This article is dedicated to the memory of my beloved dog, Cruiser. I had to have her put to sleep on May 10 a year ago, a week after her 17th. birthday. I loved that little animal so much, and I’ll miss her for the rest of my life. Cruiser was the subject of my feature article of May 20 last year. I had more e-mail responses to that article than any I have ever written on my website; those e-mails meant a lot to me and still do.
Thank You, Ontida
To my beautiful step-daughter, Ontida, thank you very much for the magnificent painting you recently did of Cruiser and me, from a small photo no less. I love it! You’re an incredible artist, and I'm very pleased you'll be studying art in college, and making a career of art. You will be very successful as it is your gift.
Story of the Week
There have been some great managers in MLB. But I’ve maintained more than once on my website that Leo Durocher was the best manager I’ve ever seen. If I owned a team, it would be Leo Durocher who would manage it. And if I were a player, I’d want to play for the guy more than any other manager I can think of.
As a player, Leo was known as a light-hitting, slick-fielding infielder who managed to play for 20 years that included two World Series. It was as a manager, however, that Durocher truly left an indelible mark on the game. Over a span of 34 years and four teams from 1939 to 1973, Leo managed a total of 22 seasons with a passion for winning perhaps unequaled in baseball history. He was, conservatively stated, a competitive SOB, a characteristic to which I can readily relate. Baseball’s umpires certainly would have agreed with me.
Leo Durocher is well remembered for several things. He coined the phrase “Nice guys finish last,” and when in competition, he made sure that the opposition knew it. He recognized and cultivated the immense raw talents of young Willie Mays; Willie has given Leo due credit for same down through the years. He managed the New York Giants in 1951 to their miracle pennant-winning comeback against the Brooklyn Dodgers. And he managed that same Giants team to their 1954 World Series win over the Cleveland Indians in four straight games.
On September 11, 1973, Durocher guided the Houston Astros to a 4-2 win, earning him victory number 2,000 in his managerial career. Leo became only the fifth manager in history to reach that milestone. He closed his managerial career with a total of 2,008 wins.
Upon retirement from baseball, Durocher named an all-time starting team made up of players he had managed:
C: Roy Campanella, Brooklyn Dodgers
1B: Ernie Banks, Chicago Cubs
2B: Jackie Robinson, Brooklyn Dodgers
3B: Ron Santo, Chicago Cubs
SS: Pee Wee Reese, Brooklyn Dodgers
LF: Billy Williams, Chicago Cubs
CF: Willie Mays, New York Giants
RF: Jimmy Wynn, Houston Astros
It should be noted that Durocher absolutely loved Eddie Stanky. Stanky had been his second baseman in Brooklyn, and became his second baseman in New York. He said of Stanky, “He can’t hit for average, he can’t hit for power, he can’t run, he can’t field, and he can’t throw, but if I had eight of him, I’d win the pennant.” And Durocher and Jackie Robinson, both known for their unyielding competitive nature, had a running battle for years after Leo left the Dodgers for the cross-town Giants. Yet Durocher once stated that he could not possibly name Stanky ahead of Robinson on this list. Knowing how he felt about Eddie Stanky, that is a testimonial to Durocher’s objectivity as well as his common sense.
Durocher also had an ongoing feud with Casey Stengel. In May of 1936, as the story goes, the two met beneath the stands of Ebbets Field to solve their ongoing differences. Durocher emerged with a cut lip, and Stengel with a black eye. They both emerged with continued respect and utter dislike for each other; that episode changed nothing.
Leo was a great in-game strategist; when Leo lost, it wasn’t because he was out-managed. And he was a great teacher. Another great strength of Durocher was his love of his players; he expected results, but his players knew that he was a player’s manager. Durocher backed his players to the limit, and they loved him for it. There were times when Leo refused to be disciplined by team management, which often landed him in trouble. He was definitely his own man.
Leo Durocher passed away in 1991. He richly deserved his nomination to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994; I would add “finally” to that statement.
For great reading, buy his biography, “Nice Guys Finish Last.” It was a best-seller. The book, printed in 1975, covers his entire career, his marriage to beautiful film star, Laraine Day, his relationships with the Hollywood crowd and pal Frank Sinatra, and his great quotes, the latter being enough reason alone to buy the book.
Last Week’s Trivia
The N.F.L. New York Giants have played their home games in three states. They are New York (The Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium), Connecticut (The Yale Bowl), and, of course, New Jersey (Giants Stadium). The Yale Bowl in New Haven slowed down the e-mails this week.
Trivia Question of the Week
What single sports event attracts more in-person spectators than any other sports event every year? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.