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August 15, 2012

The Platoon Advantage

At What Price Revolution

by Michael Bates

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OK, stop me if you've heard this before:

A controversial and attention-seeking manager of a major market team antagonizes a popular leader on a team that was expecting to contend for the pennant and faces a revolt in the clubhouse, resulting in team meetings, front office involvment, and bold pronouncements.  And the whole drama plays out in the press.

It may sound familiar, thanks to Bobby Valentine's ongoing troubles with the stars of his Red Sox, but I'm actually talking about the 1943 Brooklyn Dodgers, a team coming off of consecutive 100-win seasons under manager Leo Durocher.

On July 9, Bobo (Buck) Newsom came into the dugout after giving up four runs to the Pittsburgh Pirates, and got on catcher Bobby Bragan for dropping a third strike and allowing a batter to reach. He then argued with Durocher about his pitch selection to Vince DiMaggio.  After the game, Durocher announced that he was suspending Newsom for three days.

One reporter apparently overheard Durocher complaining to coach Hugh Casey about Newsom's treatment of Bragan, and assumed that he'd discovered the cause. Durocher siding with Bragan sent the Dodgers into a tizzy, and they all voted to strike at Newsom's punishment. Durocher was blindsided. "[Arky] Vaughan came up to me," he said, "handed me his uniform, and said, 'Well, here's my uniform.  You can do with it what you want.'" Durocher interpreted that as Vaughan quitting the team and told him he was out.

Durocher called a quick meeting of players AND reporters, and declared the story "false and that the Bragan incident had nothing whatever to do with Newsom's three-day suspension....  The manager said Newsom 'seemed to think he had become Judge Landis, Mr. Baseball himself,' and that Bobo had persistently ignored his instructions on how certain batsmen should be pitched.... 'He virtually told me I was a liar. Nobody can talk to me like that as long as I'm managing the club--and that goes for all the players.'" 

Dixie Walker, believing that Vaughan had also been suspended, stood up with Vaughan and Newsom and told Durocher, "If what was printed in the papers is true, here's another uniform you can have.  I don't see why this boy [Vaughan] should suffer, and if he's out, I guess I'm out too." Durocher denied suspending Vaughan, when word came from the field that the Pirates were ready to go and the umpires wanted to play ball. 

So Durocher asked each man individually if he would play that day, saying, "Let's see if we've got nine men to put on the field.  If we haven't we'll just forfeit the game." Every player agreed to suit up except for Vaughan, who joined Newsom in the stands for the first few innings until Branch Rickey himself came over to talk to the future Hall of Famer. "I did not discuss with Vaughan the reason for what had happened," Rickey reported.  "I didn't think that was the time or place. I merely asked him to do this thing--and he did." 

The Dodgers went out and won 23-6, but at least one writer suggested that Durocher was in trouble, citing "New York baseball writers [who] agreed that 'there are strong reasons to believe Leo will not last the season as manager.'" 

In the aftermath, however, it's pretty clear who won this battle. Rickey backed Durocher to the hilt, saying "Durocher has not resigned; won't resign, in my opinion, and, if he did, I would not accept his resignation. No player or players, no president, no public, nobody can run a club for a manager. Durocher will have my undivided loyalty and support." An hour later, Rickey had traded Newsom to the one team he refused to go to, the St. Louis Browns, for veteran starter Fritz Ostermueller and another hurler. Durocher, meanwhile, stuck around until the end of 1946.

And yet, in actuality, no one won the war. The Dodgers finished in third, well back of the powerhouse Cardinals. After the season, they released the little-used Ostermueller, meaning they got nothing of value for their former ace starter. They also lost their Hall of Fame shortstop, as Arky Vaughan refused to return for 1944, citing his desire to work on his California ranch. But suspiciously, he would return to Major League Baseball in 1947, when Durocher was suspended for the year because of his connections to gamblers and organized crime and the Dodgers were run by Burt Shotton. And Brooklyn would never again win a pennant under Durocher, despite fielding strong clubs in 1945 and 1946. 

And ultimately, this is the lesson. In a bitter dispute like this, regardless of who wins, everybody loses. Guys like Newsom and Adrian Gonzalez get branded as malcontents and malingerers. Teams lose the services of players they need like Vaughan and Kevin Youkilis. People lose face and get embarrassed. And we all focus more on the soap opera than the game on the field.

New York Times reports from July 13, 1943 and July 15, 1943 were useful in this retelling. 

Michael Bates is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Michael's other articles. You can contact Michael by clicking here

9 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Hugh Casey was the closer for the Dodgers not a coach.

Aug 15, 2012 06:18 AM
rating: 0
John Collins

I was surprised by the description of Casey as coach too, so I looked it up. He was a dominant relief pitcher in 1942, but didn't pitch in 43-45, then came back in 46 as a dominant pitcher again. I would have assumed that military service explained his absence, but now I'm confused. Why was he a coach in 1943?

Aug 19, 2012 11:01 AM
rating: 0

If there are a bigger bunch of whiners in any one clubhouse than Boston, I'd like to know where it is.

Aug 15, 2012 09:14 AM
rating: 0
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

exactly team needs serious overhaul. thx theo good luck ben withis mess! oh yea we lead the league in plaques and ceremonies!!!lucchino idiot!!

Aug 15, 2012 12:18 PM
rating: -6

This whole thing really brings out the raw fan in me. I really just hate this freakin' team. And not just the team --- I now officially hate each and every player who turns out to be part of this Inner Circle of Creeps, Beckett and Pedroia in particular.

I hope there's a writer out there working on a tell-all, behind-the-scenes book about all this. Because I look forward to despising each and every overrated little chicken-eatin', beer-shlappin', golf-hackin', clubhouse-nappin', 90-IQ little canker sore in it.

Aug 15, 2012 14:00 PM
rating: 0

That's just it. They are a team that is becoming easy for everyone to hate. BV is not without blame, but these players have brought most of this on themselves. Beckett and Pedroia seem like clubhouse poisons. Pedroia is apparently the kind of guy that looks for a spot on your back to stab while he's smiling and shaking your hand. They've even got Gonzalez in on the act now too. I think Theo added too many big contracts to the lockeroom and an overall sense of entitlement took over the team. But whatever the cause, this team needs to be blown up.

Aug 15, 2012 14:11 PM
rating: 0

Entitlement. Exactly.

I now officially hate these guys as much as I do Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds.

Aug 15, 2012 15:09 PM
rating: -3

Agree completely.

Aug 17, 2012 11:55 AM
rating: 0

Kind of hard to pin it all on Bobby V. when the Red Sox were already in such a shambles long before he arrived.

Aug 15, 2012 22:39 PM
rating: 1
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