The risk taker. Difficult. unsupportable. In many respects deeply flawed with a taste for the spotlight, fine clothing and the better things in life to a degree that was uncommon. An intensity and passion that was almost frightening. But also a warmth, a generosity and a defining vision that took people as they were, regardless of appearances. Really, when it comes down to is, a defining figure of post WWII America who transitioned from segregated baseball of the thirties to acceptance and affinity of “the other” ; a full realization that African American influence was prevalent in every nook and cranny of American life no matter how badly the GOP wants a distilled version of bleached white bread. Call it Leo Durocher’s exoticism, ethnic jumpiness, but it defines our relationship with others. After all, for Durocher what was the difference between the gamblers, bookies and criminal types wandering freely around Ebbets Field in Brooklyn and dirty dealings undertaken in the corridors of legitimate power?
Some diverse descriptions of Durocher: …Durocher fought with umpires, fans, judges, writers and players, collected a gaggle of dubious gambling companions and got himself suspended for the 1947 season by Commissioner A. B. (Happy) Chandler, “as a result of the accumulation of unpleasant incidents detrimental to baseball.” At the time, Durocher was manager of the Dodgers, where he helped clear the way for the entrance of Jackie Robinson and the end to baseball’s infamous color barrier.
…”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.” And Durocher liked to say of Eddie Stanky, the sparkplug on his 1951 pennant-winning Giants team,…”He can’t hit, he can’t field, he can’t run—all he can do is beat you.”
The general theory of Durocher makes sense. ” Nice Guys finish last.” It works. And is generally true. It makes one examine then the idea of morality in that “niceness” is not a natural quality, its a created, manufactured and marketed idea. To Durocher “nice” is not something intrinsic to an individual’s nature. Nice is a complementary to innocence. And innocence, like a Rockwell cover is contrived, washed and soaked with sentimentality and dripping with kitsch. Its a fantasy world and ultimately a nightmare. An act of disavowal as part of a partial release valve of repression. To Durocher, the nice guy is probably more violent and destructive than his bad boys and gashouse gangs.
An excerpt from Durocher’s autobiography which is more philosophy text and complex Aesop’s Fables than baseball book. In fact, its far more profound than Slavoj Zizek, Guy Debord, Nietzsche, etc. In the 1920′s German jewish thinker Walter Benjamin wrote an essay called “The Storyteller” which referred to that lost art passing into the dustbin in an age of information and mass transmission. Durocher is th traditional storyteller; the recounting of events in the form of a lived experience with wide ranging implications.
Durocher: And, boy, he took the bats right out of their hands. He took the bats out of their hands and, brother, their assholes tightened so that you couldn’t drive a needle up there. In the pressure of a pennant race you can really tighten them up, and the tighter they got the more conservative he became.
And every day he held a meeting, which is the worst thing you can do when a team is going very bad or very good. If they’re going good, who needs a meeting? “Just keep going, fellows,” that’s all the meeting you need. If they’re going bad, you can only look for the opportune moment to relax them.
Whenever I held a meeting on a team that was that tight it would be to say, “Come on, for chrissake, you’re playing like a lot of two-dollar whores. Swing the bat if you hit the ball ten feet in the air. If I didn’t know you fellows and I wasn’t seeing it, I wouldn’t believe this. I know you’re a good ball club, what the hell are you doing? Come on, let’s slash and rip at ’em. And no curfew tonight. Go out and get drunk. I don’t care what you do. Just show up at the park in time for tomorrow’s game.” Read More:http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/173887.html a
More importantly, if we discard “niceness” we are left with the more ambiguous idea of good.Where lies goodness and human worth? Durocher destroyed the common belief, that if team players got along well they would perform better than clubs with difficult and conflictual relationships. Durocher would say they would succumb to the escapism of comfort while overcoming ostensible antagonisms by getting to the heart of differences bound by a common desire to win would be worth the effort. That conflict and strife was a natural and recurring condition providing the necessary tension to create a winning narrative in the same sense that artists need a tension that will underlie their creativity.
Durocher: That’s what I meant. I know this will come as a shock to a lot of people but I have dined in the homes of the rich and the mighty and I have never once kicked dirt on my hostess. Put me on the ball field, and I’m a different man. If you’re in professional sports, buddy, and you don’t care whether you win or lose, you are going to finish last. Because that’s where those guys finish, they finish last. Last.
I never did anything I didn’t try to beat you at. If I pitch pennies I want to beat you. If I’m spitting at a crack in the sidewalk I want to beat you. I would make the loser’s trip to the opposing dressing room to congratulate the other manager because that was the proper thing to do. But I’m honest enough to say that I didn’t like it. You think I liked it when I had to go to see Mr. Stengel and say, “Congratulations, Casey, you played great?” I’d have liked to stick a knife in his chest and twist it inside him. Read More:http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/173887.html
…How badly do I want to win?
During my early years as a manager, some guy got up at a banquet after I had spoken and kept asking me that same question. Nothing I said seemed to satisfy him until, finally, the perfect illustration flashed into my mind. “If I were playing third base and my mother was rounding third with the run that was going to beat us,” I told him, “I would trip her. Oh, I’d pick her up and I’d brush her off, and then I’d say, ‘Sorry, Mom.’ But nobody beats me!” ( ibid.)