Tag: cardinals

Leo Durocher Got His Start in Hartford

Leo Ernest Durocher was born in 1905 in West Springfield, Massachusetts, as the youngest of four sons. His parents with French Canadian parents were George and Clarinda (Provost) Durocher and often spoke French at home. George Durocher worked on the railroad, for the Boston & Albany Railroad. At 5-feet-10, he grew to be the tallest of his brothers. His French-Canadian parents. Durocher dropped out of Springfield Technical High School after being suspended and never went back. Instead, he became a prominent semi-professional athlete and several employers competed to have him play for their company teams.

According to baseball historian Paul Dickson, Durocher was convinced to try for a professional club, the Hartford Senators:

“There’s a guy named David Redd, who’s a black man, who pushes and pushes and pushes Durocher to go try out for the Hartford team, which in those days was a semi-Yankee farm club,” Dickson says. “And Durocher does. Tries, fails once.”

Paul Dickson – WBUR, Robinson And Durocher’s Complicated — And Changing — Relationship

Having failed, Durocher was again encouraged to try out for the 1925 season again by his friend, David Redd. This time, he made the team and batted for an average of .220 in 536 at bats that season. As an infielder for Hartford, Durocher learned and grew his game under Manager Paddy O’Connor, a baseball lifer and former catcher of the 1909 World Series winning Pittsburgh Pirates. Durocher showed promise in Hartford under the lights at Clarkin Stadium and was called up to the New York Yankees lineup for 2 game appearances.

Leo Durocher is sold to the Yankees, 1925.

It would take two seasons in the Yankees farm system – Atlanta, Georgia and St. Paul, Minnesota – before his permanent call-up to the big leagues in 1928. He won his first World Series that same year as a teammate of Babe Ruth and another Hartford Senators alumnus, Lou Gehrig. Durocher would become known as one of baseball’s fiercest players and would achieve team and individual success.

As a captain of the St. Louis Cardinals “Gashouse Gang” in 1934, Durocher started shortstop and won another World Series. He also collected three National League All-Star game appearances. After the 1938 season with the Cardinals, Durocher became the Dodgers’ player-manager. In 1939, Durocher was named player-manager for the Dodgers and quickly became known for his dirt-kicking tirades against umpires. He also clashed with Brooklyn’s front office and claimed that he was fired and rehired by general manager Larry McPhail dozens of times.

In 24 years as a skipper for the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros, Durocher won 2,009 games, three pennants and a World Series. However, Durocher also became famous for his arguments with umpires, executives and players earned him a reputation as “The Lip.” His nickname was thought to have stemmed from his relationship with another diminutive Hall of Famer: Rabbit Maranville. While not an imposing hitter, Durocher’s scrappy play and maximum effort led Babe Ruth to call him “The All-American out.”

Leo Durocher, Manager, Brooklyn Dodgers, 1941.

Despite his antics, there was no doubt about Durocher’s record. In 1941, Durocher led the Dodgers, who were affectionately named “the Bums” by their own fans, to the franchise’s first pennant in 21 years.

“As long as I’ve got a chance to beat you, I’m going to take it.”

Leo Durocher, 1941.

In 1947, Commissioner Happy Chandler suspended Durocher for a year due to his “accumulation of unpleasant incidents” which included his accused association with gamblers. Led by Jackie Robinson, who Durocher staunchly supported when he broke the color barrier, the Dodgers captured the ’47 National League pennant.

In 1948, Durocher shocked the baseball world when he became manager of the Dodgers’ crosstown rival New York Giants – who he had famously referred to when he remarked that “nice guys finish last.” It was at the Polo Grounds where Durocher found his greatest success. In 1951, his Giants capped off an incredible 13½ game comeback on the Dodgers with Bobby Thomson’s famous “Shot Heard ’Round the World” homer to win the pennant. Three years later, Durocher and the Giants swept the heavily favored Cleveland Indians in the 1954 World Series.

Durocher with his wife, Laraine, Day, 1950.

Durocher left New York after the 1955 season and became a color commentator for NBC’s baseball broadcasts. He returned to the manager’s office with the Cubs in 1966 and served his final nine seasons in Chicago and Houston. Durocher retired in 1973 as the fifth-winningest manager in history, and second only to Hall of Famer John McGraw in the National League.

Casey Stengel, Manager, New York Yankees and Leo Durocher, Manager, New York Giants, 1951 World Series.

Upon his retirement, he ranked fifth all-time among managers with 2,009 career victories, second only to John McGraw in National League history. In 1965, Durocher co-authored an autobiography entitled, Nice Guys Finish Last. He lived a long life but passed away on October 7, 1991. Leo Durocher was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994.

Leo Durocher

Sources

  1. WBUR, Robinson And Durocher’s Complicated — And Changing — Relationship.
  2. Hartford Courant Database, Newspapers.com.
  3. Baseball-Reference.com, Baseball-Reference.com.
  4. Durocher, Leo, Baseball Hall of Fame, Baseballhall.org/Hall-of-Famers/Durocher-Leo.

Baseball Bloodlines: The Repass Brothers

One of the most influential families in Hartford’s storied baseball history went by the name of Repass. A trio of brothers: Charlie, Spike and Jack Repass significantly impacted the local baseball scene. Raised in the South End of Hartford by Lena and Charles Repass Sr. each Repass brother graduated from Bulkeley High School and starred on the Maroons baseball team. In the summer months, the Repass brothers competed in the Hartford Twilight League.

Charles “Charlie” Repass Jr. (1914 – 1933) was the eldest and the tallest of the Repass brothers. As a right-handed pitcher and outfielder, Charlie had the best throwing arm in his family. During the summers of his teenage years, he played for the Hartford Cardinals, an American Legion team. In 1931, Charlie pitched and occupied the outfield for the Home Circle nine of the Hartford Twilight League. That year, he led Home Circle to a second place finish for the league title in a final match up at Bulkeley Stadium. Sadly, a few weeks later, Charlie Repass was hospitalized with a form of cancer and passed away on December 12, 1933.

Home Circle baseball club of the Hartford Twilight League, 1930.
Charlie Repass, Bulkeley High School, Hartford, Connecticut, 1929.
Charlie Repass, 1933.

Bob Spike Repass (1917 – 2006) was three years younger than his brother Charlie, and became one of the best middle infielders to ever hail from Hartford. Bob graduated from Bulkeley High School in 1935 where he was a standout second basemen and three-sport star athlete. He then played for the Tuckel Rhymers team in the Hartford Twilight League during the summer. As a top local prospect, he signed to play for the St. Louis Cardinals organization in 1937.

Bob Repass, St. Louis Cardinals, 1939.

Bob Repass was called up to the Major Leagues for 3 appearances with the Cardinals in 1939. He later guarded second base, third base and shortstop for 81 games as a member of the 1942 Washington Senators. Like many of his counterparts, Repass was drafted into military service during World War II as part of the U.S. Army in Europe. He returned to professional baseball in 1946 when he re-signed with the Baltimore Orioles of the International League and mashed 19 home runs on the season.

Bob Repass, Columbus Red Birds, 1940.
Bob Repass, Columbus Red Birds, 1940.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1941.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1941.
Bob Repass, Baltimore Orioles, 1942.
Bob Repass, Washington Senators, 1942.
Bob Repass, Washington Senators, 1942.
Bob Repass, Washington Senators, 1942.
Bob Repass, Washington Senators, 1942.
Bob Repass, Baltimore Orioles, 1943.
Bob Repass, Baltimore Orioles, 1943.

Towards the end of his career, Bob played 43 games for the 1947 Hartford Chiefs. He retired from professional baseball following another season with the Baltimore Orioles in 1949. Thereafter, he made appearances for the Hartford Indians, a semi-professional squad who took on Negro League and professional opponents at Bulkeley Stadium. In the latter half of his life, Bob Repass made his home in Wethersfield, Connecticut. He was known as a humble friend and a patriotic American.

Bob Repass at a dinner fundraiser, 1961.

In 1963, he became the resident golf professional at Edgewood Golf Club (now TPC River Highlands) in Cromwell, Connecticut. Bob Repass played his last ballgame in 1968, appearing in a GHTBL Old Timer’s game. For many years, he worked as a steamfitter with the Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 777. Bob “Spike” Repass lived a long life, was married to his wife, Genevieve, for 64 years and died at 89 years old on January 17, 2006.

GHTBL Old Timers’ Game, 1968.
GHTBL Old Timers’ Game, 1968.
Bob “Spike” Repass (center), 1974.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1975.
Bob Repass, 1999.

John Jack Repass (1924 – 2001) was the youngest brother of the Repass family who helped sustain amateur baseball in the Greater Hartford area. His baseball legacy began with a successful athletic career at Bulkeley High School. Jack was a speedy infielder and solid contact hitter. In the summer of 1946, he joined the Hartford Twilight League as member of the St. Cyril’s baseball club.

1947 St. Cyril’s

He then played shortstop for the Shamrock A.C. team in 1949. That same year, he organized and managed the Paragon Indians who won the Courant-Junior Chamber of Commerce League, later named the Jaycee-Courant Amateur Baseball League. Jack entered the Paragon Indians into the East Hartford Twilight League the following year; his first season as a player-manager.

Jack Repass stepped away from baseball in 1951 to serve in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. When he came home two years later, Jack organized another team in the Hartford Twilight League as player-manager of a team sponsored by Yellow Cab. He enrolled at Hillyer College and helped form a baseball team at the school before its 1958 merger into the University of Hartford.

Hartford Twilight League awards banquet, 1955.

During University of Hartford’s inaugural season, Jack, a 34-year-old junior, batted for a .463 average and led the NCAA College Division in stolen bases. In addition to his baseball talents, Jack was a skilled writer, researcher, pianist, and singer. His skills propelled him to earn a living at the Manchester Herald as a reporter. He later went on to revolutionize the Sports Information Director position at the University of Hartford for over 14 years.

Jack Repass (right), University of Hartford, 1958.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1959.

As his playing days came to close, Jack Repass became the statistician and Secretary of the Hartford Twilight League. In 1979, he created a 32-page booklet documenting the history of the league and commemorated its 50th anniversary. The following year, Jack founded the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League Hall of Fame. The organization gave local players, managers, umpires, sponsors, and sportswriters recognition for their contributions to the league.

Jack Repass and Art McGinley, 1968.

In 1991, he was named to the University of Hartford Alumni Athletics Hall of Fame and the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance presented Repass with its Good Sport Award; given to top volunteers in support of community sports. Jack, a long-time resident of East Hartford, Connecticut, passed away on November 10, 2001, at 77 years of age. A debt of gratitude is owed to Jack Repass and the entire Repass family for their remarkable contributions to the game of baseball in Greater Hartford.

Jack Repass, 1971.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1971.
University of Hartford honors Jack Repass (2nd from left), 1972.
Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League 50th Anniversary booklet, 1979.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1989.
Jack Repass, 1991.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 2001.