OnJuly 16,1948, Brooklyn Dodgers Manager Leo Durocher announces that he will be joining the New York Giants, the Dodgers’ archrival. The move was the swiftest and most stunning managerial change in baseball history.
Leo “The Lip” Durocher was a brilliant shortstop and mediocre hitter for 17 major league seasons with four teams, including the famed “Gashouse Gang” St. Louis Cardinals teams of the 1930s. Durocher served as manager and part-time player for the Dodgers from 1939 to 1945, when he ended his playing career but stayed on as manager. Prior to the 1947 season, Durocher was suspended by National League President Happy Chandler because of incidents Chandler summed up as “detrimental to baseball.” These included rumors of gambling; a public rivalry with New York Yankees owner Larry MacPhail, for whom Durocher had worked when MacPhail ran the Dodgers; and a highly publicized affair and elopement with actress Lorraine Day. The suspension forced Durocher to sit out the entire 1947 season.
Giants President Horace Stoneham, believing that his team would benefit from the fire Durocher brought to the game, engineered the hiring. Stoneham approached Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey regarding the availability of Durocher, whom he suspected was falling out of Rickey’s good graces. Rickey was receptive to the change, and Mel Ott, the National League’s all-time home run leader and Giants’ manager since 1942, agreed to a transfer to the team’s front office. On the 46th anniversary of the great John McGraw’s hiring as Giants’ manager, former team enemy number one Leo Durocher took the team’s helm. The move shocked baseball fans across the country.
Durocher went on to manage the Giants through the 1955 season. Highlights of his tenure included a victory over their archrival Dodgers in a one-game playoff for the National League pennant in 1951 and a 4-0 sweep of the Cleveland Indians in the 1954 World Series for the team’s first championship since 1933.
In his career, Leo Durocher won 2,015 games–good for ninth all-time–as manager of the Dodgers, Giants, Chicago Clubs and Houston Astros, in addition to three National League pennants and one World Series. He may best be remembered for the quote “nice guys finish last.”