Leo Durocher

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The saying "nice guys finish last" is a condensation by journalists of a quotation by Durocher [10] —he did not originally say this himself, though it has often been attributed to him, and he did appropriate it as his own. The original quotation was "The nice guys are all over there, in seventh place" (July 6, 1946) [11] [12] about the 1946 New York Giants—seventh place was next to last place in the National League. This was shortly afterwards rendered as "'Nice Guys' Wind Up in Last Place, Scoffs Lippy", [13] thence its present form. [12]

In his autobiography, Nice Guys Finish Last (1975), Durocher quoted himself incorrectly, 29 years afterward, as his sayings were contradicted by the contemporary records (see references above), although they show his philosophy, as epitomized in this maxim:

The Giants, led by Mel Ott, began to come out of their dugout to take their warm-up. Without missing a beat, I said, "Take a look at that Number Four there. A nicer guy never drew breath than that man there." I called off his players' names as they came marching up the steps behind him, "Walker Cooper, Mize, Marshall, Kerr, Gordon, Thomson. Take a look at them. All nice guys. They'll finish last. Nice guys. Finish last." I said, "They lose a ball game, they go home, they have a nice dinner, they put their heads down on the pillow and go to sleep. Poor Mel Ott, he can't sleep at night. He wants to win; he's got a job to do for the owner of the ball club. But that doesn't concern the players, they're all getting good money." I said, "you surround yourself with this type of player, they're real nice guys, sure—'Howarya, Howarya' and you're going to finish down in the cellar with them. Because they think they're giving you one hundred percent on the ball field and they're not. Give me some scratching, diving, hungry ballplayers who come to kill you. Now, Stanky's the nicest gentleman who ever drew breath, but when the bell rings you're his mortal enemy. That's the kind of a guy I want playing for me." That was the context. To explain why Eddie Stanky was so valuable to me by comparing him to a group of far more talented players who were—in fact—in last place. Frankie Graham did write it up that way. In that respect, Graham was the most remarkable reporter I ever met. He would sit there and never take a note, and then you'd pick up the paper and find yourself quoted word for word. But the other writers who picked it up ran two sentences together to make it sound as if I were saying that you couldn't be a decent person and succeed.

Durocher is also credited with popularizing the metaphorical use of the phrase "capture lightning in a bottle" in a baseball context—it had previously been used to literally refer to Benjamin Franklin's kite experiment.


During spring training 1947, Durocher became involved in a very unpleasant feud with Larry MacPhail, who had become a new co-owner of the Yankees. The Yankee boss had hired away two coaches from Durocher's 1946 staff (Chuck Dressen and Red Corriden) during the off-season, causing friction. Then, matters got worse.

In person, Durocher and MacPhail exchanged a series of accusations and counter-accusations, with each suggesting the other invited gamblers into their clubhouses. In the press, a ghostwritten article appeared under Durocher's name in the Brooklyn Eagle , seeking to stir the rivalry between their respective clubs and accusing baseball of a double standard for Chandler's warning him against his associations but not MacPhail or other baseball executives.

Durocher in the dressing room of Delorimier Stadium in Montreal in July 1946. Baseball. Durocher BAnQ P48S1P12826.jpg
Durocher in the dressing room of Delorimier Stadium in Montreal in July 1946.

Chandler was pressured by MacPhail, a close friend who was pivotal in having him appointed commissioner, but the commissioner also discovered Durocher and Raft might have run a rigged craps game that swindled an active ballplayer of a large sum of money. (The player's identity was never confirmed officially, but a former Detroit Tiger pitcher, Elden Auker, wrote in his 2002 memoir that it was a then-current Tiger pitcher, Dizzy Trout.) Chandler suspended Durocher for the 1947 season for "association with known gamblers". [14]

Before being suspended, however, Durocher played a noteworthy role in erasing baseball's color line. In the spring of 1947, he let it be known that he would not tolerate the dissent of those players on the team who opposed Jackie Robinson's joining the club, saying:

I do not care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a fuckin' zebra. I'm the manager of this team, and I say he plays. What's more, I say he can make us all rich. And if any of you cannot use the money, I will see that you are all traded.

He greatly admired Robinson for his hustle and aggression, calling him "a Durocher with talent."

While Durocher sat out his suspension, the Dodgers went on to win the National League pennant under an interim skipper, scout Burt Shotton. They then went on to lose the 1947 World Series to MacPhail's Yankees in seven games.

Move to New York Giants (1948–1955)

Durocher with the Giants in 1948. Leo Durocher 1948.png
Durocher with the Giants in 1948.

Durocher returned for the 1948 season, but his outspoken personality and a 35-37 start again caused friction with Rickey, and on July 16 Durocher, Rickey and New York Giants owner Horace Stoneham negotiated a deal whereby Durocher was let out of his Brooklyn contract to take over the Dodgers' cross-town rivals. He enjoyed perhaps his greatest success with the Giants, and possibly a measure of sweet revenge against the Dodgers, as the Giants won the 1951 NL pennant in a playoff against Brooklyn, ultimately triumphing on Bobby Thomson's historic game-winning "Shot 'Heard 'Round The World" home run.

Later with the Giants in 1954, Durocher won his only World Series championship as a manager by sweeping the heavily favored Cleveland Indians, who posted the highest American League winning percentage of all time (111–43) during the regular season.

Alvin Dark, who played under Durocher during this period, admired his manager. He thought that Durocher's strength was letting veterans play according to their strengths, then supporting them. An aggressive manager, he either succeeded in getting the best out of players or getting nothing out of them, depending on how they responded. "If you stood up for Leo publicly, he'd go to the wall for you. He'd take the blame for every mistake you made, and expose himself to the criticism." [15]

After leaving the Giants following the 1955 season, Durocher became an executive at NBC. [16] He was a color commentator on the Major League Baseball on NBC and host of The NBC Comedy Hour and Jackpot Bowling . He later served as a coach for the Dodgers, by then relocated to Los Angeles, from 1961 to 1964.

During this period, Durocher, who had made his screen debut in the 1943 Red Skelton comedy Whistling in Brooklyn , played himself in many television shows. Durocher appeared on the CBS game show What's My Line? twice as a mystery guest (January 28, 1951 and May 31, 1953), the latter when his wife Day was a guest panelist. In an April 10, 1963 airing of The Beverly Hillbillies , Durocher plays golf with Jed Clampett (Buddy Ebsen) and Jethro Bodine (Max Baer, Jr.) and tries to sign Jethro to a baseball contract after discovering Jethro has a strong pitching arm. In 1964, he appeared as himself in an episode of Mr. Ed , when the talking horse gave batting tips to the Los Angeles Dodgers, helping them win the pennant. In an episode of The Munsters titled "Herman the Rookie," on April 8, 1965, Durocher believes Herman (Fred Gwynne) is the next Mickey Mantle when he sees the towering Munster hit long home runs. Football great Elroy Hirsch also appears with Durocher.

Chicago Cubs (1966–1972)

Durocher returned to the managerial ranks in 1966 with the Chicago Cubs. In several previous seasons, the Cubs had tried an experiment called the "College of Coaches", in which they were led by a "head coach" rather than a manager. However, at his first press conference, Durocher formally announced an end to the experiment by saying:

If no announcement has been made about what my title is, I'm making it here and now. I'm the manager. I'm not a head coach. I'm the manager. [17]

At the same press conference, Durocher declared, "I am not the manager of an eighth-place team." He was right; the Cubs finished tenth in his first season, becoming the first team to finish behind the previously hapless New York Mets. In 1967, however, the Cubs started strongly and had only their second winning season since 1946. The team steadily improved, but in 1969, Durocher suffered one of his most remembered failures. The Cubs started the season on a tear and led the newly created National League East for 105 days. By mid-August they had a seemingly insurmountable nine-game cushion, and they appeared to be a shoo-in for their first postseason appearance in 25 years. However, they floundered down the stretch, losing 25 of their last 40 games, and finished eight games behind the "Miracle Mets".

In a mid-July series against the Mets, the Cubs were beaten in the first two games at Shea Stadium, [18] but finally managed to salvage the third game, after which Durocher was asked if those were the real Cubs.

'"No", Durocher answered, "those are the real Mets."[ citation needed ]

Part of Durocher's problem was that, while the Cubs were playing well in 1969, he began starting their best pitchers on two or three days' rest. While this led to immediate success, it exhausted the pitchers in the long run, resulting in poorer performance later in the season. [19]

While with the Cubs, Durocher encountered a difficult dilemma in regard to aging superstar Ernie Banks. While Banks' bad knees made him a liability, his legendary status made benching him impossible. Durocher also nearly came to blows with Cubs star Ron Santo during an infamous clubhouse near-riot. The problems were symbolic of Durocher's difficulty in managing the new breed of wealthier, more outspoken players who had come up during his long career. With a mediocre record of 46–44, Durocher was fired midway through the 1972 season, later stating that his greatest regret in baseball was not being able to win a pennant for longtime Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley.

Later career (1972–73, 1976)

Durocher managed the Houston Astros for the final 31 games of the 1972 season (posting a 16–15 record in that span), replacing Harry Walker while being tapped by general manager Spec Richardson in the belief that he could lead the Astros to a pennant. [20] He would manage just one full season (1973), posting an 82–80 record despite dealing with intestinal problems (Preston Gomez stepped in to manage a portion of the season in his absence) as the Astros finished a middling fourth as Durocher drew the ire of multiple people that ranged from players such as Larry Dierker to Marvin Miller. [21] On October 1, he resigned as manager, despite requests from Richardson to stay another year (Gomez was named his successor). Durocher stated upon his retirement, “Baseball has been 45 years of a wonderful life. But I have got a lot of things to do now. I'm going out to Palm Springs and I'm going to tee it up and play a lot of golf.” [22]

He made a brief comeback in 1976 in the Japanese Pacific League with the Taiheiyo Club Lions, but he retired due to illness (hepatitis) before the beginning of the season. [23] Supposedly, the Lions made special jerseys based on American football jerseys to honor Durocher joining the team, but were retired halfway through the season due to their designs being ridiculed, and due to Durocher, as mentioned, not joining the team. [24]

Dark thought that Durocher's managerial style changed in the 1960s and 1970s. Instead of making moves regardless of how others felt about them, he began to make what Dark called "safe" decisions. Dark thought that openly negative comments by Cubs players during the 1969 season "really hurt Leo", and that by managing games more safely, he stopped using the style that had once been successful for him. [19]


Durocher finished his managerial career with a 2,008–1,709 record for a .540 winning percentage. He posted a winning record with each of the four teams he led, and was the first manager to win 500 games with three different clubs.

Durocher, with Ed Linn, wrote a memoir titled Nice Guys Finish Last, a book that was recently re-published by the University of Chicago Press.

Leo Durocher died in 1991 in Palm Springs, California, at the age of 86, and is buried in Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles. He was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994, wearing a Brooklyn Dodgers cap. His third wife Laraine Day accepted the honor of speaking on his behalf for the ceremony. [25]

Managerial record

Leo Durocher
Leo Durocher.png
Durocher in 1948
Shortstop / Manager
Born:(1905-07-27)July 27, 1905
West Springfield, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died: October 7, 1991(1991-10-07) (aged 86)
Palm Springs, California, U.S.
Batted: Right
Threw: Right
MLB debut
October 2, 1925, for the New York Yankees
Last MLB appearance
April 18, 1945, for the Brooklyn Dodgers
TeamFromToRegular season recordPost–season recordRef.
WLWin %WLWin %
Brooklyn Dodgers 19391946703528.57114.200 [26]
Brooklyn Dodgers194819483537.486 [26]
New York Giants 19481955637523.54964.600 [26]
Chicago Cubs 19661972535526.504 [26]
Houston Astros 197219739895.508 [26]

Personal life

Durocher was married four times. He was married to Ruby Hartley from 1930 to 1934. He was married to St. Louis socialite Grace Dozier from 1934 to 1943. In 1947 he married actress Laraine Day, and they divorced in 1960. His fourth wife was Lynne Walker Goldblatt, to whom he was married from 1969 to 1980. [27] [28]

In 1943, Durocher was deemed ineligible for service in World War II due to a punctured eardrum. [29]

With Ruby Hartley, Durocher had a daughter named Barbara (born 1931). [30]

He adopted two children with Day, daughter Melinda Michele (1944–2012) [31] and son Chris (born 1945). [32] [33] Willie Mays used to babysit Chris on Giants' roadtrips—the two would room together and go see movies as well. [34]

Durocher had real comedic talent, and portrayed himself on episodes of The Munsters , The Joey Bishop Show , Mister Ed , The Beverly Hillbillies , Screen Directors Playhouse , and other shows. [35]

In the 2013 film 42 about Jackie Robinson, Durocher is played by Christopher Meloni. [36]

See also


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Preceded by
Lead color commentator, Major League Baseball on NBC
Succeeded by