Leo Durocher is in the Hall of Fame for his managing, which has been well-documented through the years. But today’s episode of Leading Off with True Blue LA looks back at Durocher’s playing days, which overlapped a little with his time at the helm of the Dodgers.
Durocher made three All-Star teams in his career, including starting at shortstop in 1938 for Brooklyn, the first Dodgers player to start in an All-Star Game. Durocher was 1-for-3 with a run scored in the game, but just seeing that line score does not to justice to his hit nor how he scored.
After a Frank McCormick single to open the seventh inning, I’ll let Baseball Almanac take it from here:
“Leo Durocher, the next batter, was ordered to sacrifice. He followed the order as third baseman Jimmie Foxx charged in. Playing the ball, Foxx made the scoop and threw the ball into right field. Joe DiMaggio, in right in deference to Earl Averill, raced in, picked up the ball and fired it home. The throw was too high and sailed over catcher Bill Dickey’s head, allowing McCormick to score. Meanwhile, Durocher never stopped running until he reached home.”
Durocher was credited with a single on the play.
As someone who famously said, “Nice guys finish last,” and whose nickname was “The Lip,” it’s no surprise that Durocher was also combative as a player. So much so that he got into arguments as a rookie with a pair of his Yankees teammates in 1928, fellas by the name of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
Durocher’s cantankerous style played better on the Gashouse Gang Cardinals, with whom he won a World Series in 1934. He was considered a defensive wizard, or at least good enough to overcome his brashness and lack of hitting. Among major league players with at least 5,000 plate appearances, Durocher’s 66 OPS+ is the seventh-worst in MLB history.
Yet he played for 17 seasons, including a dozen years (1928-1939) as a regular.
He came to the Dodgers in 1938 as a player, and made that aforementioned All-Star appearance, and was again named an All-Star in 1940, even though he didn’t play much that season. Durocher was named manager in 1939, while he was still playing, which coincided with them adding talent and becoming good. After six straight losing seasons, the Dodgers in 1939 began a stretch of only three losing seasons in the next 28 years.
After playing regularly in 1939, Durocher only played sparingly after that. He played 62 games in 1940, but only 26 total games in parts of his final three intermittent playing seasons.
- Durocher’s SABR bio, written by Jeffrey Marlett
- Durocher recognizing Pee Wee Reese’s talent early, from Andrew Martin on Medium in 2021
- 1938 MLB All-Star Game box score
Episode link (time: 18:02)