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Conducting with flair

Even best worked to their own beat

The irrepressible Leo 'The Lip' Durocher lived up to his nickname. The irrepressible Leo "The Lip" Durocher lived up to his nickname. (1939/File/The Boston Globe)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Staff / March 23, 2008

Hollywood has done a nice job creating images of colorful dugout bosses. Tom Hanks was hilarious as the fictional Jimmy Dugan in "A League of Their Own," and James Gammon pretty much got it right playing Lou Brown in "Major League." Danny Glover wasn't bad as George Knox in "Angels in the Outfield."

Real life is better. How can Hollywood embellish Don Zimmer playing the gerbil in Boston or former Mets manager Bobby Valentine wearing a fake nose and mustache when returning to the bench after he's been tossed out of a ballgame?

Earl Weaver turning his cap around and theatrically ejecting an umpire after the umpire had tossed Weaver? You can't make that stuff up.

Baseball cultivates and celebrates the wacky guy in the dugout, perhaps because it's the only sport in which the field boss is obligated to wear the same uniform as his players. Try, for a second, to picture Bill Belichick eschewing the hoodie on game day, instead suiting up in cleats and shoulder pads with a Flying Elvis helmet. Better yet, imagine the late, great Red Auerbach, smoking his cigar while wearing satin short-shorts and black high tops on the Celtics bench.

Hall of Fame manager Connie Mack famously rejected the notion of wearing a uniform while managing, but that prohibited him from leaving his perch on the bench. There was no arguing on the field with umpires for old Connie. No walks to the mound to change pitchers, either. He worked in street clothes, with dignity - an accountant with a lineup card (wonder what Mr. Mack would have made of Terry Francona's insistence on wearing the oil-changin' sweatshirt over his Sox uniform top?)

When it comes to colorful big league managers, truth is always better than fiction. Jim Bouton brought this to life in his groundbreaking "Ball Four" when he wrote about Seattle Pilots manager Joe Schultz. Bouton told us that Schultz looked like Nikita Khrushchev and brought the man to life by quoting Schultz's string of hardball clichés. Most of us, at one time, had a boss like Schultz. Even the name was perfect. Joe Schultz.

It's a mistake to think of all the colorful skippers as buffoons, however. Casey Stengel, Weaver, Sparky Anderson, and Tommy Lasorda were among the more outsized characters of their times. And all are in Cooperstown.

Stengel won 10 pennants in 12 years with the Yankees. But he's proof that having good players is what makes good managers. Stengel skippered terrible teams in Brooklyn and Boston (Braves), then enjoyed his Hall of Fame run with the Yankees. Stengel's inaugural Mets went 40-120 in 1962 and Casey asked, "Can't anybody here play this game?" He spoke of his inept ball club as "Amazin" and, to this day, they are the Amazin' Mets.

Leo Durocher was no less quotable than Stengel, but had an edge that Casey lacked. Leo the Lip liked to gamble, fight, and chase women. He hung out with nefarious types and was suspended from baseball for the 1947 season. It was Durocher who first said, "Nice guys finish last," and that is the way he went about his work. But he knew the game and he knew talent. When rookie Willie Mays struggled to hit big league pitching in his first month in the bigs, Durocher assured him, "You are my center fielder." Things worked out pretty well for Mays.

Eddie Stanky was a Durocher-like scrapper who managed the White Sox during the memorable pennant race of 1967. Baiting Sox slugger Carl Yastrzemski, Stanky said, "Yaz is an All-Star from the neck down."

Weaver was the Stengel of the 1970s. Born and raised in St. Louis, never good enough to make the big leagues as a player, he took over the talent-laden Orioles in 1968 and won three straight pennants and a World Series between 1969-71. He also established himself as one of the game's great characters.

Weaver's feuds with umpires, particularly Ron Luciano and Marty Springstead, were legendary. There were years when Luciano was barred from working Oriole games, and young ump Jim Evans was sanctioned by the American League after calling Weaver "Baseball's Son of Sam."

Earl liked to smoke in the dugout, a major league baseball violation. He was once ejected from the first game of a doubleheader for smoking, then came out with the lineup card for Game 2 with a candy cigarette between his lips and got tossed again. In Oakland, he hid in the dugout bathroom after an ejection, and upon discovery told the umps, "Your umpiring made me sick. I had to throw up."

When Larry Barnett got involved in a catcher's interference noncall in 1977, the ump told Weaver, "I've handled this before." Earl - taking a shot at Barnett's work in the Ed Armbrister/Carlton Fisk debacle in the 1975 World Series, told Barnett, "I know, Larry. And last time you [expletive] it up, I kicked in my TV set."

Weaver and Billy Martin (who once made out a lineup card by pulling names out of a hat) were enemies. Weaver was jealous of Martin's big league career and Billy believed Earl was overrated. The Orioles in 1977 had a midget sweeping the bases between innings and, after a particularly contentious Yankee-Oriole game, Martin said, "If I were Weaver, I'd draw a line at having to sweep the bases."

Informed of the comment, Weaver shot back, "Yeah? Well I'd rather be short of stature than a mental midget!"

On and on it went.

Weaver loved the big inning and the three-run homer, but hated the bunt. He liked to take credit for his decisions. When a writer suggested that Baltimore's pinch-hitting specialist Terry Crowley might be an everyday player if he played for a weaker team, Earl said, "Are you kidding? I just know how to use him. If it weren't for me, Terry Crowley would be working in a brewery." When an aging Mike Cueller complained that Weaver didn't give him enough chances, Earl said, "I gave Cuellar more chances than my first wife."

Orioles players despised Weaver the way the 1967 Sox hated Dick Williams. That's what happens when you tell the writers what you really think of ballplayers. Williams, for instance, didn't make any friends when he said, "Talking to George Scott is like talking to cement."

Speaking of cement, Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams privately referred to Weaver's successor, Joe Altobelli, as "cement head." Altobelli won a World Series for Williams in 1983.

Sox fans remember former snowplow driver Joe Morgan telling the world, "If you don't live in Walpole you're just camping out," and reciting the ever-vague "Six, two, and even" to explain every situation. Morgan was succeeded by Butch Hobson, who once asked a reporter if Norway was in Sweden.

Few great players make great managers. That's why baseball has so many characters calling the shots.

"It's simple, really," said Jim Frey, who never made it to the majors as a player, but won a pennant in his first year running the Royals in 1980. "We make them do a lot of [expletive] that we couldn't do ourselves."

Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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