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Baseball: Leo the Lamb

3 minute read

The manager of the Chicago Cubs is obviously an impostor. The 1967 season is already more than half over, and this fellow who says he is Leo (“The Lip”) Durocher, 60, has not cursed a single sportswriter, or attacked a single fan, and has been thrown out of only two games all summer.

The Cubs look suspiciously like impostors, too. The real Chicago Cubs have spent the last 20 years languishing in the second division, and they wound up the 1966 season dead last—7½ games behind the New York Mets. This year’s Cubs are acting like full-grown grizzlies. Four of them are batting over .280; four are in double figures in home runs. They lead the majors in runs scored (with 429). They have won seven of their last eight games, and at week’s end they were locked in a tie for first place with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Old Mellow. No team in modern baseball history has ever finished last one year and won a pennant the next. But there has never been a manage like Leo Durocher, either. Gourmet gambler, clotheshorse, man about Hollywood, Durocher was one of baseball’s most controversial characters when he managed the Brooklyn Dodgers anc New York Giants to three pennants in the 1940s and 1950s. “Nice guys finish last,” was his famous motto. He was sued by a fan who claimed Leo had broken his jaw, and he was suspended for the entire 1947 season by Commissioner A. B. Chandler, who finally decided that his conduct was “detrimental to baseball.” Dropped by the Giants in 1955, he couldn’t find another managerial job (he was a coach with the Los Angeles Dodgers for four years) until the Cubs called late in 1965. Arriving in Chicago, Leo was the same old Lip. “If I can’t win with this group,” he roared, “I’ll just back up the truck and get another.”

When the truck backfired and the Cubs finished last, Durocher realized his mistake. “Let me be the first to say I’ve mellowed,” he announced this spring. He did make a few cracks about the advancing age (36) of the Cubs’ two-time Most Valuable Player, Ernie Banks—”Old grampa’s wearing out”—but he took those words back last week when Banks hit his 17th homer of the season. The rest of the Cubs got the sugar lip—and the results are astonishing. Pitcher Ferguson Jenkins, whose record last year was 6-8, is 12-7 this year. Centerfielder Adolfo Phillips, a .260 hitter in 1966, is batting .290. Third Baseman Ron Santo ranks third in the National League in homers (with 19) and fifth in RBIs (with 62).

So now it’s Leo the Lamb—at least for the moment. “These kids belong to a new generation,” he says. “They have to be handled differently.”

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