I began with “The Last Boy”, the new biography of Mickey Mantle, a story of sin and redemption and living with pain as much as it is about baseball. I quickly go to Jim Boutin’s classic “Ball Four” which I never read back in the late 60s. My only reaction today is--what was all the fuss about? Boutin was ostracized for this? It’s pretty tame stuff, an indication of just how much our society has changed in 40 years.
This weekend I delved into the past again and thoroughly enjoyed Leo Durocher’s (de-ro-shay for Francophiles) lengthy autobiography written in 1975, “Nice Guys Finish Last”.
How could I have missed such a treasure trove of books all my life?
The Durocher book is fantastic, and again not just the baseballs sections. Turn to any page, and you’re likely to learn a lesson about life.
The thing I remember most about Leo The Lip—silly me—was a guest appearance on The Munsters when he tried to get Herman to pitch for whatever team he was managing at the time.
It was probably the Dodgers because as I recall, The Munsters was in the early 60s, and by that time, Leo had left the Brooklyn Dodgers (1941 pennant) and New York Giants (1951 pennant, 1954 World Series) and was coaching for Walter Alston’s LA Dodgers (Leo would go on to manage the Cubs, including 1969 when they caved and the Mets won it all, and Houston).
What a life!
What a book!
As I taped my TV show this afternoon, the thought came to me that baseball (and sports in general) is the ultimate anti-liberal pursuit, a great exercise in social Darwinism which I have long endorsed. We judge people purely on their abilities; we don’t try to pamper the less able and make everybody equal.
In our democracy, all men are created with equal opportunities, but if you think we’re all equal in abilities, just think how good you would have been at connecting with a Bob Feller fastball. Probably not very good—not that there’s anything wrong with that. Is there? In baseball, there sure is!
Durocher acknowledged his uncanny ability to take a troublesome situation and make it far more troublesome. In fact, he made a career and a life out of it.
Does that remind you of anyone on the political scene today, other than me perhaps?
The summer of baseball is going to be a great summer.
For another take on Durocher’s suspension for the 1947 season, thanks to former Kentucky Senator and hack Commissioner Happy Chandler, Red Barber’s “1947—When All Hell Broke Loose In Baseball” is equally outstanding. It was not only the year Chandler banned Leo, but the year Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier...not to mention perhaps the greatest World Series ever...the Al Gionfrido catch (which I've often listened to Mel Barber call on an old LP...no, I'm not that old to remember it...maybe you do?).
Both Durocher and Barber write with a conversational style that really draws you in. At least, they drew me in, maybe even more than The Munsters. I seem to also remember Leo trying to recruit Jethro from the Beverly Hillbillies. Or is my mind playing tricks on me in my old age?