Leo Durocher Mentors Willie Mays!

By Gary Livacari

“Leo Durocher was like my father away from home.”–Willie Mays

“What can I say about Willie Mays after I say he’s the greatest player any of us has ever seen. If he could cook, I’d marry him!” – Leo Durocher

“Leo Durocher has the uncanny ability to make a bad situation worse.”-Branch Rickey

New York Giants owner Horace Stoneham (left) and manager Leo Durocher (right) help Willie Mays (center) put on his jersey.
New York Giants owner Horace Stoneham (left) and manager Leo Durocher (right) help Willie Mays (center) with his jersey.

A while back I wrote about Jackie Robinson and Leo Durocher. It always makes me sad whenever I think about how things might have been significantly better for Jackie if he had the bold and brash Leo Durocher leading interference for him back in 1947, the year Jackie broke the infamous color barrier.

Instead, Leo had been suspended for what many think were frivolous reasons by Commissioner Happy Chandler just as the season began; and so he was not around to protect Jackie. In my opinion, Leo never would have let anyone get away with giving his star player grief. Had they done so, Leo would have given it right back…and they would have regretted it.

That got me thinking about Leo Durocher and Willie Mays, and how Leo acted as a mentor and father-figure for Willie during his rookie year of 1951. In the case of Leo and Willie Mays, we don’t have to speculate. We know what happened.

Leo had his faults…lots of them. As many players hated his guts as loved him. But, as I’ve been saying for a long time, in spite of what you might think about him, his greatest and most lasting contribution to baseball was taking a young, homesick Willie Mays under his wing and guiding him during his difficult transition into the major leagues. In doing so, Leo allowed Mays to blossom into arguably the greatest player in the history of the game. I don’t know if there was anyone else around at the time besides Durocher who could have done this.

I always love to think about the wonderful scene in the Giants’ clubhouse after rookie Willie Mays got off to his disastrous start going 0-12 and eventually 1-26. Giants’ coach Freddie Fitzsimmons saw Willie sitting alone in front of his locker crying. “Leo,” Franks said, “I think you better have a talk with your boy over there.”

What would have become of the Willie Mays if Leo wasn’t there to console him at this crucial time? I still get goose-bumps whenever I think about it. Leo went over to Willie and asked, “What’s the matter, son?” Willie turned to his manager and with tears streaming down his cheeks, replied:

“I don’t belong up here…I can’t play here…I can’t help you Missa’ Leo. Send me back to the minors.”

Leo smiled, patted Willie on the back, and simply said:

“Look son, I brought you up here to do one thing. That’s to play center field. You’re the best center fielder I’ve ever seen. As long as I’m here, you’re going to play center field. Tomorrow, next week, next month. As long as Leo Durocher is manager of this team you will be on this club because you’re the best ball player I have ever seen.”

The rest, as they say, is history. On his 24th at bat, Willie hit a homer over the left field fence off Warren Spahn who later joked, “I’ll never forgive myself. We might have gotten rid of Willie forever if I’d only struck him out.”

Years later, Willie was asked in an interview to expand on his relationship with Leo. Here’s what he said:

“I had such a good time with Leo. I met so many good people in Hollywood. Jeff Chandler used to come to spring training with me, Pat O’Brien, all the movie stars. Leo was like my father away from home. When I went to California I stayed with Leo in his house. His kid, Chris Durocher, was my roommate on the road. Chris would go to the black areas and stay with me. Leo trusted me. He knew that if his kid was going to stay with me, nothing was going to happen to that kid.”

Yes, Leo Durocher had his faults. He was “the All-American Out” as Babe Ruth so famously branded him. He was a scrappy, marginal player who couldn’t hit, but won three pennants and one World Series title as a manager. So you can debate back and forth whether he belongs in the Hall of Fame. To me, he’s a Hall-of-Famer just for the way he took care of a frightened and homesick rookie named Willie Mays.

If only he had had the chance to do the same for Jackie Robinson!

Stan Hack: A Pilot’s Pilot

Long before Stan Hack was named Cubs pilot in 1954, “Smiling Stan” was literally an airplane pilot, quite possibly the first player ever to fly himself to spring training.

Born and raised in Sacramento, Hack’s first professional experience came with his hometown Pacific Coast League Sacramento Senators in 1931. He appeared in 164 games for the Senators, where he hit .352, legged out 13 triples, and racked up 300 total bases. Following the season, the Cubs purchased Hack from Sacramento for the hefty sum of $40,000 (nearly $750,000 today).

Hack appeared in 72 games for the 1932 Cubs and slashed .236/.306/.365, with two home runs and five stolen bases. He had a single appearance in the 1932 World Series as a pinch runner for Gabby Hartnett, who had reached on an error in Game Four.

Almost immediately after the World Series ended, Hack began taking flying lessons in Sacramento and was granted his pilot’s license in January 1933. Using his World Series bonus share, Hack purchased a 225-horsepower Stearman biplane for $4400 and announced he would be flying himself from Sacramento to the Cubs training camp at Catalina Island, located 22 miles off the coast of southern California.  

Chicago Tribune, February 19, 1933

On February 19, Hack and two passengers escaped injury as Hack was attempting to land his airplane at Sacramento’s municipal airport. Witnesses reported seeing Hack approach at an excessive speed when his plane suddenly swerved and tipped over onto its wing, causing extensive damage. Despite the accident, Hack announced his intent to repair the craft immediately and fly it to Catalina.

Hack had invited Cubs outfielder Frank Demaree, a fellow Sacramentan, to fly with him to Catalina Island, but Demaree declined. Demaree quipped, “they couldn’t give me an airship, much less sell me one. I have yet to take my first ride in an airplane.” (Perhaps news of the crash landing influenced his decision?)

Following spring training, Hack’s flying instructor, Kenneth Kleaver, was hired to fly the plane to Chicago so Hack would have it available just “to ride around in.”

Hack began the 1933 season on the Cubs roster but was used sparingly by player-manager Charlie Grimm, appearing in just three April games as a pinch runner. He was demoted to the Albany Senators of the International League on May 3, sent along with outfielder Vince Barton.

Hack hit .299 in 137 games for Albany and was recalled to the Cubs once the Senators’ season ended. Irving Vaughn of the Chicago Tribune, however, was not impressed, “the .300 mark. . .isn’t much for the International League.”

Hack flew himself back to Chicago, along with his terrier Splinters, to re-join the Cubs. This photo appeared in the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune on September 10, 1933.

Stan Hack and his dog, Splinters
Backside of photo, including clipped caption

Back in Chicago, Hack worked his way into the lineup as the 1933 campaign closed and ended up holding onto the Cubs’ starting third base job for the next decade. Hack soared in his career as he recorded 2193 hits, posted a career slash line of .301/.394/.397, was a five-time All-Star, and garnered MVP votes in eight different seasons. His lifetime bWAR of 55.5 ranks 15th overall for third basemen.

Following his final Major League season in 1947, Hack was named manager for the Cubs’ farm team in Des Moines. He worked his way up through the minor leagues and was named Cubs skipper for the 1954 season. It is unknown whether Hack flew himself to Chicago to pilot the Cubs.    


Stan Hack appeared in 17 World Series games after 1932 and slashed .348/.408/.449/.857 across 1935 (L-DET), 1938 (L-NYY) and 1945 (L-DET).


  • http://www.baseball-reference.com
  • “Hack to Fly Own Ship to Cub Camp,” Evening Star (Washington, DC), February 4, 1933: 17.
  • “Flying to Coast,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 12, 1933: 40.
  • “Aviator Hack to Drop in On Cubs at Catalina Isle,” Chicago Tribune, February 19, 1933: 22.
  • “Stanley Hack Makes ‘Hook Slide’ in Own Airplane; Escapes Injury,” Sacramento Bee, February 20, 1933: 12.
  • “Cubs Send Vince Barton, Stanley Hack to Minors,” Morning News (Wilmington, Delaware), May 4, 1933: 12.
  • Irving Vaughn, “Rain Again Puts Doubleheader on Cub Program,” Chicago Tribune, August 29, 1933: 19.
  • “Hack Flies Back to Cubs,” Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota), September 10, 1933: 17.

First Rhubarb Blooms

Roy Campanella Heads for Home Plate as New York Giants Argue With the Umpire.

One of the fun things about collecting old photos is looking at them and imagining being there, watching live, experiencing the action the photo shows. Lots of times this is easy, posed swings or pitches, a guy warming up, or players chatting before a game. Other times the photo comes with the caption tag telling you exactly what’s happening. The real fun begins when there is a photo and some notes on the back, but not enough to be sure. 

A few years ago I got a photo of Roy Campanella strolling home against the Giants. The information on the back was interesting but not complete. The main draw was the fact that it was a shot of Campy, I collected him, and the Barney Stein stamp on the back. Asmany know Stein was the de facto official photographer for the glory days of the Brooklyn Dodgers. I often think his photos are undervalued; you sometimes see them get good prices but he has yet to reach the consistent prices you see from some of the other big names in baseball photography. 

It’s a fantastic photo, Campanella with a smile on his face heading home while a group of Giants surrounds the ump and others head to him. I loved it as soon as I got it in the mail but also wondered exactly what was happening. Thus, as Sherlock Holmes said, the game was afoot.

As simple as it seems I decided to try to figure out Who and Where, to get to the What and When.

The back of the photo gives some info, a quick description of the action, a location, a year, and some random notes that I believe describes the equipment used to take the photo. I have always found hand written notes to be misleading so I decided to basically ignore them.

The easiest first step was the Where. The photo clearly shows the “Dodgers” across Campanella’s chest. Based on this, I knew where: Ebbets Field. 

I went to Who. Campanella is easy, he is clearly recognizable. So the question is who else is in this photo? The photo shows three numbered Giants, and its the third that is the key. First is number 2, easy Leo Durocher. Next is 23, not too tough, Bobby Thompson. Then we get to 42 and the plot thickens. Anytime you are looking at a Dodgers game in the 50s there is one name that connects to the number 42, Jackie Robinson. I crossed his name out quickly though, can’t see any logical reason he would be running into a group of Giants arguing with the umpire. 

Next I took to twitter and licked out with some help from @HeavyJ28 and @vossbrink, the two esteemed heads of the SABR Baseball Card Committee.  With their help we learned that no Giant wore 42 in 1951 but soon found that one did in 1952, Max Lanier, a pitcher. 

From there it’s over to the game archives on Baseball Reference to look for a game in Brooklyn, that Campanella played, Thompson played 3rd, and Lanier pitched. I found April 19, 1952, all of them played but there was no Home Run by Campanella. Could be the game but not sure, better check the rest. Oddly nothing else matched so I enlisted some help and if you are going to ask for help figuring out a baseball photo you can’t ask for better help than a friend and fellow SABR member who also happens to be an archivist at the National Archives. It helps even more when you are asking for help in late November when half of DC is out of town. I texted him the info and was surprised that I got an answer the next day. Not only did he find the game but he also found a NY Times article describing exactly what the photo showed. 

In the bottom of the 4th Campanella came up with Jackie Robinson and Duke Snider on base. Facing Lanier he hit a ball down the left field line, started running and didn’t stop till he crossed home plate. Somewhere on its travels the ball ran into the hand of a fan and disappeared into the stands.Somehow this was completely missed by the umpire, you can insert any sort of umpire joke here.  It didn’t take long before third base umpire Augie Guliemo was surrounded by Giants protesting, the mistake was realized and the hit was ruled a ground rule double, sending Campy back to second. He would eventually come around to score on a Carl Furillo home run later in the inning. 

To say I was lucky would be an understatement. Lucky or not this was a lot of fun and quickly made this a favorite photo in my collection. 

Special thanks to Jason Schwartz and Nick Vossbrink for the help on twitter and Adam Berenbak for all their help and encouragement. 

The Three Lives of Reggie Jackson

Reggie Jackson Signs Autographs at Yankee Stadium May 14-16 1976. Focus on Sports photograph.

Sometimes photographs are great because of the story that they tell. It took a while for the story in this photograph to unfold. Like Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, this photo tells of Reggie Jackson’s past, present, and future in 1976.


Jackson joined the Kansas City Athletics in 1967 and moved with the team to Oakland in 1968. With the Athletics, he was a six-time all-star, won a most valuable player award, and was the face of the team for a decade. Then the new era of free agency entered baseball in 1976, and it struck Oakland like a thunderbolt. Oakland owner Charles Finley tried to trade or sell many of the team’s marquee players. He was hoping to get something in return for them before losing them in the free-agent process. On April 2, Jackson, with Ken Holtzman and minor leaguer Bill VanBommel was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for Don Baylor, Paul Mitchell, and Mike Torrez.

Jackson had a love-hate relationship with Oakland and Finley. He enjoyed playing on a team that had been to the post-season five straight times and won the World Series three of those years. Jackson wanted to stay in Oakland because he and the other players knew the team had a unique chemistry. However, he and the other players hated playing for Finley. At the start of the 1976 season, Finley gave everyone on the team a 20% maximum pay cut. He knew he would lose most of the players to free agency after the season, so he decided to pay as little as possible. Jackson had his salary cut by $30,000.

In the photograph, there is a kid in the crowd wearing an Oakland Athletics hat. He is desperately reaching toward Jackson, trying to get an autograph. No one else in the group of autograph seekers seems to be working as hard as he is. Jackson probably does not see the kid because he is in his peripheral view. However, because of how the photograph is framed, it appears Jackson is ignoring him. It conveys Jackson’s bitterness toward Finley for taking him away from the teammates he loved playing within Oakland. At the same time, he could be trying to ignore his past in Oakland to look toward his future.


Jackson may have had mixed emotions about leaving Finley and his teammates in Oakland. His feelings about landing in Baltimore were clear; he did not want to play on the East Coast. He claimed that his businesses outside of baseball in Oakland and Arizona would suffer if he were not on the West Coast. He asked the Orioles to make up the difference with an increase in his contract. The Orioles’ season started on April 9, just a week after the trade, and Jackson had still not joined the team. There was some question if he would join the team at all. Could he sit out the season and become a free agent at the end of the year? No one knew the answer because free agency was so new. The Orioles agreed to give him back the 20% pay cut Finley had taken to match his contract from 1975. On May 2, Jackson made his Baltimore Orioles debut, and it happened to be against his former team, the Oakland Athletics. He went 0-2 with a walk and an RBI and was hit by a pitch thrown by Rollie Fingers.

Things started rocky when Orioles’ manager Earl Weaver fined Jackson for not wearing a necktie during a road trip to Milwaukee. Jackson did not like wearing a tie because he thought it was an East Coast tradition, and he was a West Coast guy. However, for the rest of the road trip, he wore a different tie every day. He also received what he thought was an undeserved talking-to from Weaver for showing up five minutes late to batting practice. For the rest of the season, Jackson never got comfortable in Baltimore and sulked about how he was unappreciated.

The photograph taken between May 14-16, slightly less than two weeks into his time with the Orioles, shows how uncomfortable he appears in his new uniform. Sitting on the railing, he keeps his distance instead of standing at the wall to engage with the fans. His blank emotions and limp body language show his interest in signing autographs.


At the end of the 1976 season, everyone wondered what team Reggie would sign with as a free agent. The Montreal Expos offered him the most money, but he was not interested in playing in Canada for the last-place team. San Diego Padres owner Ray Kroc offered him a chance to return to the West Coast. Jackson was not interested in playing for a team that finished 73-89. Finally, George Steinbrenner and the New York Yankees made their pitch to Reggie. Jackson, who once said, “If I played in New York, they would name a candy bar after me,” was going to get his wish. The situation had all the glamour of a large city with the fame and endorsements that Jackson craved. He was also excited about joining a team that had played in the previous season’s World Series. Jackson signed for 3.5 million dollars over five years. It was the largest contract in baseball history at the time.

What is Jackson doing in the photograph? He is reaching for the fan’s scorecard so he can sign it. However, there is more to it than that; the scorecard is a New York Yankees scorecard. It is like George Steinbrenner is handing him a contract to sign eight months before it happened. In Jackson’s mind, did he already know he was leaving Baltimore? Was he already planning on going to New York?

The photograph nicely captures Jackson’s past with the Oakland Athletics, his present with the Baltimore Orioles, and his future with the New York Yankees.

Something New

Welcome to the new Society of American Baseball Research’s Pictorial Committee blog. Here you will find research articles about baseball in photography and moving images. We also hope to provide updates for ongoing committee projects. If you are a SABR member and would like to write an article for the blog please contact us.