July 29, 2014
It's Not Smart to Irritate The Lip
The Lords of Baseball, Harold Parrott (1976)
It is 1945. Branch Rickey has gone to the Dodgers from the Cardinals. Leo Durocher
is the Brooklyn manager, and Harold Parrott is the traveling secretary.
The fans in St. Louis felt that Branch Rickey had deserted them to build in Brooklyn a juggernaut that would one day crush their Cardinals ... Rickey carried an open grudge against Cardinal owner Sam Breadon. The Mahatma had made millions for Breadon, auctioning off to other sucker owners more than $2.8 million in castoffs while keeping the players needed to win five pennants and four world championships. Rickey felt his reward had been to have Breadon betray him when he needed support to fight Judge Landis's vendetta against the far-flung "chain-gang" farm system. ...
On the eventful September night in 1945 ... Durocher turned the entire National League pennant race around, because he felt his downtrodden Dodger team, hopelessly out of the race, had been humiliated and belittled by Breadon. For Breadon, his double-cross of Durocher just to pick up a few more bucks in an illegal doubleheader was one of the dumbest blunders any one in baseball's House of Lords [the owners] ever pulled off. ...
The moment Leo got wind of Sam Breadon's dirty trick, he began acting like a crazy man; and he never stopped for the next thirty-six hours.
L-R: Sam Breadon, Branch Rickey, Leo Durocher
Until that night, the Cardinals had been coming fast; they had streaked from far back in the race to a point where they would be only a game and a half back of the league-leading Cubs if they could trample the Dodgers twice this night. That did not figure to be too tough, for Durocher and his team had been sauntering through September with a "who cares?" smirk. The Lip had originally intended to throw two "give-up" pitchers, Clyde King and Les Webber, against St. Louis in the last two games of this series. The Cards had chewed Ralph Branca to bits in the first game.
Leo was saving his two best, Vic Lombardi and Hal Gregg, to pitch against the Cubs in the next series in Chicago. The Cubs were staggering and had lost again that afternoon. That was Durocher's way: Save your best to knock off the guy on top. But Breadon changed all that.
It had rained on our second night in St. Louis. And now, instead of playing the postponed game on the afternoon of our final day there, as the rules required, the owner of the Cardinals was forcing us to play a twilight doubleheader. The old skinflint knew, because I had told him, that this night doubleheader - before the next day's afternoon game in Chicago - would cost us our Pullman sleepers on the regular night train and would force us into an all-night situp ride in a chair car at the end of a long freight. Leo knew it, too, and he had blown up when I told him what Breadon was planning.
All night long the two of us kept calling Ford Frick, the National League president ... But Frick wasn't answering his phone. He wanted no part of a hot potato like this, because Breadon was a powerful owner in league councils, and Ford needed his vote next time his contract came up. ...
It became clear on the sunny afternoon when we should have been playing that Breadon was gong to get away with his night doubleheader; and Durocher got madder and madder instead of shrugging it off. He got hold of Gregg and Lombardi ... and told them he was going to use them that night to "kill" Breadon and the Cardinals. He started to psych up his whole team in the lobby of the Chase Hotel before we left for the ballpark.
This wasn't easy. It was a joke of a Dodger team, a crazy quilt of has- beens ... and never-was ballplayers ... Once at the park, the Lip strutted like a Napoleon in a baseball suit in front of his troops as they warmed up. "Look at that plush-lined bum up there in his private box," he stormed, pointing to where Breadon sat. ...
A steady drizzle was falling now, to make things worse, if possible. "Fuckin' Ol' Moneybags is makin' you risk your arms and legs ... down here in this mud!" ... Nothing else mattered to Leo right now except knocking Breadon out of the pennant race. He had spent half an hour getting Lombardi keyed up to pitch this first game. ... Ken Burkhart was a sixteen-game winner, but Brooklyn hitters he could usually handle stomped all over him this night. Playing as if they were in the World Series, Durocher's men grabbed the first game, 7-3.
It was raining harder now, but that didn't cool Leo off. The Cardinals were stunned when they saw ... Gregg ... warm up for the second game; they knew the Lip had been saving him for the Cubs the next afternoon. In the dugout we could hear the manager screaming, "Breadon took away your Pullman sleepers tonight. He's treating us all like animals, making us ride in a cattle car!"
The Dodgers climbed all over Charley Barrett right from the first pitch. ... [He] never got out of the first inning. Gregg coasted to win it.
Breadon, instead of being on the Cubs' heels, was now three and a half back and fit to be tied. The few bucks he had tried to make at the Dodgers' expense were about to cost him a bundle. Although he didn't know it right then, the pennant race was over.
It was long past a wet, cold midnight when the ... Dodgers began to straggle onto the train platform. We usually went first class, with two sleeping cars ... But wartime travel restrictions, plus Breadon's dirty trick, had changed all that. ... Durocher stopped to chat with the engineer, who was already up in his cab, anxious to turn it loose. They were already more than an hour late ... Had Charley Tegtmeyer known, he'd have stretched out this little chat, instead of rushing it. It was to be his last night on earth. ...
"A dirty trick that was," Charley began. He lived in Chicago and was a double-dyed Cub fan ... "How could they force you to play two on a night like this when you gotta be on the field at noon today in Chicago?" "
The thin glow that was the edge of dawn was beginning to show up ahead of Old No. 70, and she seemed to be leaping like a hungry horse nearing the barn [forty miles outside Chicago]. Even Durocher ... was catching forty winks [after an all-night poker game] ...
When it happened, most of us thought it was the end of the world. Every window on both sides of the car lit up with that wild, dancing brightness you see in blast furnaces. Outside, an inferno was raging. The whole train, running full throttle a few moments before, was now bumping and swaying in a tortured way as the air brakes blew. ... Up front half a tanker-trailer rig was astride Charley Tegtmeyer's locomotive, and the 2,000 gallons of gasoline it had spilled on the cab had cooked Charley to death before spraying aft to ignite the rest of the train. ...
As Durocher herded his charges like dazed children out the back door and down into the sharp morning air on the roadbed, they could look back at the death trap they'd all been carried through by sheer momentum ... All Durocher could do was to keep repeating, "Breadon ... that miserable bastard ... Breadon ... he should be here to see what he caused ..."
In three hours the fireman was dead, and just about that time the Dodgers, not much better off, staggered out onto Wrigley Field. Les Webber, dead on his feet, did the best he could ... but the Cubs ate him up. Back in St. Louis, the Cardinals were also very, very dead. Run over, you might say, by Breadon's night freight.