Meet one of baseball’s most famous and infamous personalities

“Leo Durocher — Baseball’s Prodigal Son” by Paul Dickson (Bloomsbury, 358 pages, $28).

Combined ShapeCaption
“Leo Durocher — Baseball’s Prodigal Son” by Paul Dickson (Bloomsbury, 358 pages, $28).

“Leo Durocher — Baseball’s Prodigal Son” by Paul Dickson (Bloomsbury, 358 pages, $28).

Another baseball season is upon us. As the weather and baseball players’ bats begin to heat up, we can root for our teams and peruse the latest batch of baseball books.

Paul Dickson writes widely about the sport. He wrote “The Hidden Language of Baseball,” “The Unwritten Rules of Baseball,” and “The Dickson Baseball Dictionary.” The author had published over 60 books before he got around to penning his first biography, “Bill Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick,” in 2012.

Dickson now shifts his biographical lens to another colorful character, Leo Durocher, one of the most famous and infamous baseball personalities of the mid-20th century. Unlike Bill Veeck — who was a beloved figure in places like St. Louis, Cleveland, and Chicago — Durocher was a polarizing character, a hard guy to like.

In “Leo Durocher — Baseball’s Prodigal Son,” we follow the career of a man who lived his life with gusto and at full speed. His lifestyle was extravagant. He experienced huge victories and crushing defeats. He made good friends and bitter enemies. He possessed extraordinary talents and irritating flaws.

Young Durocher was a gifted fielder. He played the shortstop position. He was working at a factory when one of his co-workers persuaded him to pursue a career in baseball. The New York Yankees took note. His rise to a starting position with that storied ball club was amazingly quick.

Durocher savored the high life of nightclubs, gambling and fancy clothes. He was spending more money than he was earning. One of his teammates was the legendary slugger Babe Ruth. The young rookie became Ruth’s roommate on road trips.

Ruth was making a star’s salary. He began noticing thefts were taking place. Ruth marked some hundred dollar bills and used them as bait to lure the culprits. The next day he found the marked money and his watch in Durocher’s luggage.

Durocher didn’t last long with the Yankees. He soon found himself banished to the National League. He played briefly for the Cincinnati Reds. The owner of the Reds took Leo under his care. He helped him fix his money troubles. By the time the budding star was packed off to play for the St. Louis Cardinals he was an All-Star caliber player.

With the Brooklyn Dodgers Durocher began making the transition from star player to championship baseball manager. He could have been Jackie Robinson’s first major league manager during that historic year when Robinson broke through the major league’s color line. It wasn’t meant to be. Durocher became embroiled in scandal and was suspended for that season.

He went on to manage the New York Giants and became the mentor for another young star, the dazzling Willie Mays. By the time Durocher was managing the Chicago Cubs during the late 1960’s his magic touch was long gone. That team suffered through a monumental late season collapse.

Eventually he was inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame. He never knew about that last triumph. He had some stubborn enemies-they kept him out while he was living. Bitter and sweet, that was the life of Leo Durocher.

About the Author