San Francisco, which had never seen Leo Durocher manage, did not know quite what to do with the famous Lip. On Opening Day when he was introduced to the crowd Leo took two steps forward from the line of Chicago Cubs and doffed his cap, and the people applauded him. This is contrary to what one is supposed to do on sighting Durocher.
But three days later his Cubs met the Dodgers in Los Angeles, a town that has seen a lot of Leo, and when he made his first appearance on the field, this time in the middle of the game (he went out to the mound to talk to his pitcher), Leo got what he has come to expect. Brother, did he get it. He was barely out of the dugout when it began, and the crowd brought their boos up from the toes. When he made a second appearance later in the game, they booed him again. It was fun. Leo was back.
Durocher was funny, sad, charming and lousy during his first week back as a baseball manager. The day before the season opened he had fun with Willie Mays in Candlestick Park:
Leo: You had one of those great springs, Willie.
April 24, 1966
Willie (modestly): Not too bad, Leo, not too bad.
Leo: Don't give me that. You hit .383 and you had nine home runs.
Willie: Man, I don't even know that. I didn't see no figures. How do you know everything, Leo?
Leo: Willie, this is me you're talking to. Don't know what kind of figures you had—no way. You keep 'em written on the inside of your shoes.
On Opening Day Leo smiled and let photographers take countless pictures, handled the TV and radio interviews gracefully and slowly walked back into the clubhouse to rest before the game began. It was an impressive performance by the new Leo.
The old Leo reemerged later in the day. Hal Lanier of the Giants hit a line drive that smacked Bill Faul, a Cub relief pitcher, in the rear end. Faul retrieved the ball and threw Lanier out, but the next batter, Len Gabrielson, got a home run. Mays was next up, and Faul's first pitch was a fast ball in the neighborhood of Mays's head. Knockdown pitches are an unpleasant but accepted part of baseball, but not, in the curious ethic of the game, when the score is 7-1, which it was at the time. An angry Mays took three steps toward the mound before stopping, and when the next pitch also leaned Willie back there was irate language from the Giant bench.
After the game Durocher was short-tempered and cranky. Anger fed anger, and he snarled and chided and had just finished one lecture on people putting words into his mouth when one of his listeners loaded a question the wrong way: "I guess when you were quoted earlier this spring telling Willie to stay loose at the plate, you meant it, eh, Leo?"
Durocher began his answer with, "Quoted where?" and then his voice became like a pounding drum. "Where? Tell me who. Show me where. Bring the———in here that says he quoted me on that. Show me him."
Abashed, his questioner replied, "I just said it facetiously." But there was no stopping Leo now.
"Facetious, my butt!" he roared. "You're a———liar."
Seldom has a team losing on Opening Day by a score of 9-1 gotten the press coverage that Leo's tirade got for the Cubs in San Francisco's newspapers.
And then, of course, the next day Leo was pleasant again—not happy, but pleasant, although he did not look well and had to watch his Cubs get whipped 4-0. After the game Durocher put on a beige turtleneck shirt, a handsome orange sweater, black slacks and loafers with gold-colored buckles. He stood in front of a mirror combing what remains of his hair and said. "I'm sick. I've got a bad virus or the flu or something. I sat in the dugout tonight with everything I could find wrapped around me. I'm even afraid to take a shower here because when I go outside the cold will make me worse. I'm going to go back to the hotel and sit in the tub for a long, long time." He winked and said, "I think I'll even take on a little whiskey."
Before the third game with the Giants a new new Leo was manifested. A philosophical one. He delivered a small, gentle speech to his players. "Look, fellows," he said. "We lost two games. It's not the end of the world, not the end of your lives. Let's have some fun playing this game. Go out and swing the bats and don't tighten up. Have a little fun."
The Cubbies walked out the door and onto the field and pounded out four hits in the first inning—two of them homers by George Altman and Ron Santo. Finally Leo was in a ball game that was close and in which he could make some moves. In the seventh, with the Cubs leading 5-4, Relief Pitcher Bill Hands, who had been working well, allowed a base hit and then hit a batter.
When Hands threw a bad pitch to the next hitter, Leo was pacing the dugout. As the second pitch landed in the catcher's mitt for ball two, he snapped his fingers to Coach Whitey Lockman and said, "Now!" and Lockman hopped out of the dugout and relieved Hands. Ted Abernathy, the new reliever, threw three straight strikes and the Cubs went on to win 9-4. Leo's move had paid off. He was happy, and the team was happy. As the manager left Candlestick to prepare for the trip to Los Angeles and the Dodgers, someone said, "Have a nice weekend in L.A." Durocher said, "Oh, do I ever want to have a nice weekend in L.A. Just a little twoer out of threer."
In Los Angeles, on the same night that the Lakers were playing the St. Louis Hawks in the seventh game of the National Basketball Association's Western Division championships and after a day in which the temperature had reached 99° in Los Angeles, 28,600 people showed up at Dodger Stadium. Leo had had an early dinner with Cub Coaches Lockman and Verlon Walker at his magnificent home in the Trousdale Estates section of Beverly Hills. He had watched a brush fire spread over 50 acres in Franklin Canyon two miles away and was fascinated to see airplanes helping to light the fire. He watched one plane disappear into the smoke and held his hands over his face for fear the pilot had crashed (he had not). And he had a gag he wanted to work with Don Drysdale.
Earlier in the spring Leo had said, "They gave me a 1,300-pound Brahma bull in Long Beach called Leo the Lip, and I gave it to Drysdale because he has a ranch in Hidden Hills. He entered the bull in a rodeo, and in a rodeo when a bull throws a rider you get paid. I got a check in the mail from the rodeo. It said, 'One buck-off, $5.' I got to see if Drysdale will take $2.50 in cash, because I want to have the check framed."
But, concerned about his first game against Los Angeles and in a hurry to get to Dodger Stadium early, Leo forgot about the check. He seemed completely recovered from his illness. He began autographing two dozen balls, writing his name meticulously across each ball. "We used to have a trainer named Doc Woods on the Yankees," he said. "He could write 'Babe Ruth' so that even Babe couldn't tell whether he had done it or Doc had. We used to get six balls and have Babe autograph three and Doc three and we'd mix 'em around and ask Babe which he signed and Babe couldn't tell you." He began putting on his uniform with the 2 on its back. "It's the only number I have ever had in baseball. Got it when I first joined the Yankees and I have always kept it wherever I go."
There were several packages of Wrigley's Spearmint gum on Durocher's desk. There were also two Cub caps. Inside the one he would wear that night was a blocker. "Somebody gave that to me years ago," he said, "and I always put it in my caps to make them hold their shape. You like to look good when you're in the majors."
He went up the ramp and out onto the field, the cap firm, the spikes shined. Maybe he was 60 years old—and, sure, he had been around baseball for a long, long time, from Ruth's Yankees to the Gashouse Cardinals, to Brooklyn and to New York, from Happy Chandler to coach to radio-TV. But this night was special. Los Angeles is Leo's home town now, and he loves it. But he doesn't love the Dodgers, at least not all of them. Buzzie Bavasi said this winter that baseball had passed Leo by, and Leo wanted to prove something to the Dodgers.
On the field Leo appeared nervous as a huge clump of reporters hounded him. But he did not get himself involved in any explosive exchanges. Once the game began you could see Durocher going all out for it. Glenn Beckert singled and then started edging away from first base. Drysdale threw over to first and over again and over again. It doesn't happen to the Dodgers very often in Dodger Stadium, but Durocher had Beckert stealing and the Dodgers knew it. He broke for second base and he made it, but an instant later Drysdale whirled and threw back to second and picked Beckert off.
In the second inning the Cubs scored twice on a single, a balk, a hit batter, a single and two fly balls, the second a short one to center. Leo was beating the Dodgers at their own game. He paced up and down as things went along smoothly, but in the last of the seventh the Cubs butchered back-to-back pitcher-to-second-to-first double plays. The Dodgers picked up a run there. Then, in the next inning, Wes Parker hit a double an inch fair down the left-field line and was bunted to third. Relief Pitcher Abernathy walked a man and Jim Lefebvre drove a home run into the right-field seats. Durocher had a paper cup of water in his hand when the ball started its flight. He squeezed the cup till the water jumped out and then slammed it down and kicked his spikes into the floor.
Afterwards, the door to the Cubs' clubhouse stayed locked for a long time. When it was opened, the players were all sitting there absolutely still. Leo had said something. Lots of something.
But words don't help much when a team can't "execute"—ask Casey Stengel. In the second game of the Dodger series the Cubs looked fine when they scored on a Durocher-called hit-and-run play to go ahead 2-1, but later errors cost them the game 4-2. Leo clapped his hands and paced up and down in an effort to get them going again. But the big middle three of his batting order was able to hit the ball out of the infield only once in 11 tries. Beckert, his second baseman, pulled a Durocher play when he sat on Maury Wills after Maury had stolen second and was planning to zoom on to third. Unfortunately, the old mental and physical errors were still there, and even Beckert tried his best to bat out of turn.
On Sunday, the last day of his terribly trying first week, Durocher was calm, less ebullient, less angry, more at home with his plight. Beckert had obviously caught his eye as something strong to stand on in a morass of ineptitude, and in pregame practice he spent a long time out around second base, working with the young player. During the game he sat stolidly in the dugout, alone (his friends of the Sinatra-Martin-Bishop clan were supposed to be there but apparently they elected to stay in Las Vegas). The Cubs lost 5-0, making it five defeats in the first six starts for Leo. But when, after the last out, they slowly filed from the dugout down the tunnel to the clubhouse, Durocher was in the lead, striding along firmly, the No. 2 on his back showing his troops the way.