followup to "Derring-Do"

June 20, 2020

Belatedly, I realized that I did have, right on my shelf, an authoritative volume that should resolve a question I left hanging in my "Derring-Do" piece three weeks ago:

Durocher was fired a week later, around what seems to be the All-Star break (no games from Sunday, July 11, through Thursday, July 15, 1948). Somewhat surprisingly, the Dodgers had won 9 games of 10, including this "one" just before they decided to let him go. I should unearth a biography to find out the facts behind this peculiar set of circumstances—I only remember that Leo’s relations with GM Branch Rickey were volatile, to say the least.

I was thinking "Where’s that pesky Leo Durocher biography?" which literally has disappeared as I was shelving it upon unpacking a few months ago—it’s my autographed copy ("To Lawrence, Sincerely, Leo Durocher") and I remember putting it on my bedside bookcase. I even have evidence that I put it there—a boxscore from the 1963 World Series that I clipped from the New York World-Telegram and Sun fell out, but the book is not on any shelf. Drives me nuts. Has anything like that happened to you? You put something away, you know where that place is, but somehow it’s not where you put it?

But then I remembered that on that shelf-same self, there is my (somehow unautographed) copy of Lee Lowenfish’s authoritative biography of the other principal in the Durocher firing, namely BRANCH RICKEY: Baseball’s Ferocious Gentleman. I say "somehow unautographed" because I acquired this hardcover with every intention of getting the author to inscribe it for me: I used to see Lee Lowenfish frequently when he taught in the journalism program at Pace I used to run, and we’ve had many discussions of obscure baseball lore (which is the Brooklynese pronunciation of "baseball law," which we’ve also discussed from time to time) but somehow I never got the Rickey book, and me, and Lee in the same room at the same time.

Anyway, Lee is my ideal of biographers: scholarly, truth-seeking, thorough, fair-minded, reliable, and scrupulously honest and diligent, so I knew I could rely on his work for the straight poop. And right there on pages 458-60 is his account of Durocher’s firing in July of 1948.

At the end of June of 1948 Branch Rickey reached the painful conclusion that it was time to cut ties with Leo Durocher [Lowenfish gives Rickey’s many reasons for thinking so] .…However, when the Dodgers stumbled into a six-game losing streak near the end of June 1948, Rickey decided that Durocher must resign…. Rickey dispatched road secretary Harold Parrott to Ebbets field to ask for the manager’s resignation. The Dodgers were playing a doubleheader with the Giants, and Brooklyn was far behind in the first game. Parrott found Durocher in the clubhouse after another of his many ejections by the men in blue. When told that Rickey wanted him to resign, Durocher refused. "The Old Man will have to fire me himself, face-to-face, and he hasn’t got the guts," Leo roared.

      Suddenly, coach Clyde Sukeforth stuck his head in the door to announce that Roy Campanella had hit a two-run homer, and the Dodgers were coming closer in the first game. Parrott and Durocher talked some more about the resignation. Soon, Sukeforth returned excitedly to announce that Campy had hit a 3-run homer and the Dodgers had taken the lead. They wound up sweeping the doubleheader and started on a winning streak.

 

His sources for this passage were Jules Tygiel’s exemplary Baseball’s Great Experiment and Harold Parrott’s memoir The Lords of Baseball. (Among Lee Lowenfish’s virtues, he provides source references allowing readers to examine easily the basis for his work, a virtue that most baseball historians sadly lack. It is not only a great deal of trouble to publish one’s sources, but it also leaves one exposed badly when writing without sources and inventing material or making one’s best guess. Much easier to cop out with "Hey, I don’t have to provide sources for every bit I used, so get off my case, would ya?") My own best guess is that one or both sources misled Lowenfish into the mistaken conclusion that he draws here, which sharp-eyed readers of my "Derring-Do" piece have no doubt caught by now.

1)     The game that Campanella hit his two home runs in was a single game, not the first game of a doubleheader. (Campanella hit more than one homerun in only one game that season, the July 4th game that the Dodgers won 13-12, which "Derring-Do" was about.) These RBIs were Campanella’s first RBIs. Not only of the 1948 season, but ever.

2)     The Dodgers did play a doubleheader on Monday July 5th, and sweep it, but it was in Philadelphia against the Phillies, and not in Ebbets Field against the Giants.

3)     The Dodgers did go on a six-game winning streak, but the streak started the game preceding the July 4th game.  The sweep of the Phillies was, in other words, wins #s 3 and 4 of the six-game streak, not wins #1 and 2.

4)     The description of the "first game" of the doubleheader against the Phillies couldn’t apply anyway, since the Dodgers were never "far behind" the Phillies—they led most of the game, except briefly when the Phillies held a 3-2 lead for an inning and a half.

5)     Durocher had not been ejected in the first game of a doubleheader, but rather in the fifth inning of the 13-12 walkoff victory. According to the New York Times of July 5th, "Scotty Robb, the plate umpire, tossed him off the bench while Reese was at bat. Leo came out and argued at length but the banishment stuck."

6)     Since Campanella’s first home run was struck during the fourth inning, and the ejection came in the bottom of the fifth, Durocher had not yet been ejected and would have had no reason to be in the clubhouse to be informed of the home run.

7)     Further, the Dodgers were not really "far behind" as Lowenfish has it, only 3-1 behind in the 4th, when Campanella’s home run actually tied the game, rather than having the Dodgers merely "coming closer."

8)     The Dodgers’ previous six-game losing streak didn’t come exactly "near the end of June" but at the very end of June and into the first two games of July.

 

These are all petty errors,  incredibly small stuff, and I point them out merely to support my contention that you can’t ever rely on any one source, even a thoroughly reliable source, for the final word. Perhaps my favorite phrase in my years of teaching journalism is "If your mother says she loves you, check it out." In daily journalism, especially, there is always the temptation to rush into print without asking your father or your siblings or your next-door neighbor if your mother’s love is as constant as she maintained it was, and most daily journalism suffers from the deadline pressure of trusting your stones not to require any overturning, but eventually every journalist learns that there is never any danger in double- and triple-checking what a reliable source swears to you is true.

Another lesson I have learned through running tracers over the years is this: everyone makes mistakes, and lots of mistakes get published. Another is this: when I am knowledgeable in a subject, I can usually find a mistake in almost any broad account that gets published which includes that smaller subject in passing. Case in point: as of this month, I’m pretty knowledgeable about the 13-12 Dodgers victory over the Giants on July 4, 1948, and Lee Lowenfish’s magisterial biography of Branch Rickey necessarily covers that one game very fleetingly. Ergo: I found an error in the passage above. (Ties the record for most consecutive sentences unintentionally begun with a colon clause.)

Yet another lesson I’m learning all the time concerns what happens when we narrow our focus: the interest of the narrower subject is disproportionate to the narrowness. That is, if I’m studying the entire 1981 season of the Los Angeles Dodgers, which is the subject of Jason Turbow’s book that I reviewed here a few weeks ago, I will find themes and passages in that broad subject that are in themselves deserving of close scrutiny. Maybe that theme is "What Steve Garvey’s teammates thought of him" or maybe it’s "Tommy Lasorda’s evolving relationship with his gay son"—the point is that Turbow wasn’t writing a book about either of those subjects, so he got into and out of both of them quickly, much more quickly than either subject warrants. If another writer read Turbow’s book and was taken with either theme, he could sometimes build a pretty good book out of that theme alone.

Most of the time, probably not. Most of the time, even an impassioned writer taken with a tightly focused theme CAN’T turn it into an entire book. But sometimes, with enough interest in that subject and enough motivation to research it further, he can. Every book contains multitudes of potential book-length studies, and each of the more tightly focused books also contains subjects that someone could build a whole book out of. Which is why history is an inexhaustible mine of material.

 
 

COMMENTS (11 Comments, most recent shown first)

hankgillette
What did the Durocher bio say about the firing?

Someone is messing with my head. The scary part is, I live alone.

That’s why I have cats. That way, I can blame them for things that are missing. Sometimes, it is even true.
8:02 PM Jun 22nd
 
MarisFan61
You need to believe more in the supernatural.

Leo didn't want you to find it so easy, and so his spirit kept moving it around -- but eventually it was no match for you.
2:27 PM Jun 22nd
 
Steven Goldleaf
I FOUND THE LEO DUROCHER BIOGRAPHY! It was right on the shelf where I'd looked 17 times, slowly, over the last two months, for it. Someone is messing with my head. The scary part is, I live alone.
1:26 PM Jun 22nd
 
MarisFan61
(BTW I don't fail to realize that you can't be more than 180 degrees off :-) ....although if we take it to a third or fourth dimension..l..)
12:56 PM Jun 21st
 
MarisFan61
I'm with Mike on that too.
The main things that stand out to me are 'our' history with Native Americans, and the related thing of this sort-of textbook that we had in about 5th grade called "Our United States." As I remember, it included rundowns on all the presidential administrations, most of them just a single paragraph.

That has formed a certain kind of frame of reference for me in seeing all the presidential administrations of our adult lifetimes, as they were going along. I've always been aware of how differently a paragraph about any of those presidencies might read, depending on the orientation of the writer and the 'collective unconscious' of the time. We could have fun doing all kinds of orientated versions of the current presidency, and speculating on how an "Our United States" textbook might put it in 50 or 100 years. Of course I have a guess on that, but I realize iit could be 180 degrees or more off.
12:54 PM Jun 21st
 
Steven Goldleaf
You make a great point, Mike. It's deserving of a longer, more complicated article than I can hope to give in a comment here.
12:32 PM Jun 21st
 
mauimike
......and anyone who believes in one version of history is a fool.
11:19 AM Jun 21st
 
steve161
Perhaps the perfect example of turning an incident in a larger biography into an entire book is Roger Kahn's Joe and Marilyn: A Memory of Love.
8:38 AM Jun 21st
 
jfenimore
The first time I saw the movie, Stand By Me, there is a montage at the start of the movie stating it occurs in 1959, but on the boy's bulletin board is tacked a 1960 baseball card.
I couldn't get that error out of my head the entire movie. "How could they mess that up?" I thought to myself.
8:33 AM Jun 21st
 
MarisFan61
Those errors in things are part of what motivates me to read carefully (sometimes) :-) because of how interesting it is to find them (and how fun, but that's maybe not an admirable characteristic) ....and also what sometimes enables me to feel OK just skimming, because not all the little stuff is right anyway and so there isn't necessarily much loss just getting the big stuff.

In my early kidhood -- maybe you or others remember it too, if you were in New York, because it was in some of your kidhoods too and it was a local New York thing... one of the music radio stations for a while had a "goof contest" -- they'd say something purposely wrong, and the first one who called in about it would win a record or something. One time my big sister won because she realized there weren't really "4" McGuire Sisters.

That was good early training for me. Those kind of errors were usually there even when people weren't making them on purpose.
Bill's "Tracers" were for me the pinnacle of having fun with this (and manifesting the unreliability of details, which we do well to realize) . I could never get enough of them.

Here's one from Beavis and Butt-head, which maybe set a record for how many things you can get wrong in 1 sentence (and still almost convey something): Seeing Connie Chung on TV, Butt-head explains, "She's the chick who called the president's mother a bitch on TV."
(Requires recollection of an interview of Newt Gingrich's mom, and a long paragraph to interpret all the mistakes.)
5:04 AM Jun 21st
 
Manushfan
I always enjoy reading about Clyde Sukeforth, having actually spoke to him ages ago. Nice man.
4:42 PM Jun 20th
 
 
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