Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Nice Guys Finish Last

University of Chicago Press just re-released "Nice Guys Finish Last" in paperback, and I was asked to review the book for The Beachwood Reporter. My full review is here.

Here's a short excerpt:

Durocher was a bench warmer on those great Babe Ruth-Lou Gehrig Yankee teams in the late 1920s, a spark plug for the legendary "Gas House Gang" in St. Louis in the 1930s, the manager of the Dodgers when the color line was broken in the 1940s, and the manager of the Giants in the 1950s when Willie Mays came to the majors and Bobby Thomson hit the shot heard 'round the world.

His stories about his run-ins with the baseball executives of the day, including Yankees owner Ed Barrow (Leo told him to "Go f*** yourself"), Cardinals owner Branch Rickey (the tightwad Bible-thumping baseball genius), Dodgers owner Lee McPhail (the manic-depressive lunatic), and Giants owner Horace Stoneham (the distant drunk), are almost inspiring in their iconoclastic furor.

But I'm a Cubs fan first and foremost, and for me the most interesting parts of the book were the little tidbits about some of the all-time Cub greats like Pat Malone, Charlie Grimm, Billy Herman, Bill "Swish" Nicholson, Rabbit Maranville, and of course, the Cubs that Leo managed in the late 60s and early 70s.

Those Cubs years were still fresh news when Nice Guys Finish Last first came out, and while I love the inside look at my childhood heroes, this entire section does make Leo sound like he's attempting to settle some scores. He calls out Ernie Banks as a phony, and implies Ron Santo was an overrated dimwitted baby. He calls Milt Pappas an agitator, and implies Joe Pepitone was God's punishment for Leo's own behavior as a player.

Perhaps the most shocking part of the book for me, though, was Leo's portrayal of Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley. Durocher, who has almost nothing nice to say about anyone (except Willie Mays and Eddie Stanky), calls Wrigley "The finest man to work for in the world" and "The most decent man I've met."

I did not see that one coming.