Bill Rigney had been Leo Durocher's heir apparent since 1954 when he ended his quiet major league career (eight years of journeyman in-fielding for the New York Giants; a .259 lifetime average) to become the manager of the minor league Minneapolis Millers. The fine job he did there this year strengthened the feeling that he would be the one to succeed Leo.
Despite travail and frustration that might have felled a lesser man, he led his team through a spectacular season. He got them off to a fast start and took a firm grip on first place. But the parent Giants, off to a slow start, took a firm grip on some of Rigney's best players and brought them up to reinforce New York's roster. Injuries compounded the felony and the Millers tripped, stumbled and fell to fifth place in mid-season. Then the Giants gave Rigney Monte Irvin. The Millers rallied round, ran off 15 straight to move back to first place and raced on to win the pennant by eight full games and swept past the postseason playoffs and into the Little World Series.
This success, coupled with the widely held belief that Durocher was through, fed the rumors, but not even Rigney knew that this time rumor was fact until Horace Stoneham called Saturday.
"Bill," said Stoneham, "Leo is retiring from baseball. We'd like you to take his place as manager of the Giants. Do you want to be manager?"
"I don't remember what I said," Rigney laughed later, "but I guess I said yes, because I got the job."
At the Polo Grounds the mood was not one of mourning, nor did Leo Durocher seem to want it so. He was chipper and bright on this, his last day in the major leagues.
He spent some time talking to his coaches, Fred Fitzsimmons and Herman Franks. He asked Eddie Logan, the clubhouse man, to pack certain pictures he wanted to keep. He posed for photographers, sitting at the desk in his office. "No, boys," he said at one point. "Take all the pictures you want but none of that cleaning out the desk stuff. No phony poses."
Outside the office half a hundred hangers-on stood talking together in a sort of subdued hubbub, as before a curtain rises.
The curtain rose. The door to the clubhouse opened and Leo Durocher walked down the steps onto the far reaches of center field and began the long walk in across the grass to the New York Giant dugout. There were not many people in the stands on this last Sunday in September but those who were there applauded as Durocher walked the length of the Polo Grounds.
In the dugout he talked to Frank Frisch for a while and then led a flock of reporters out through a runway leading from the dugout to a small television studio under the stands.
There Leo appeared as guest master of ceremonies on his wife's pregame television show. Laraine Day was in the Middle West. Via prepared film clips she announced to the television audience that Leo was pinch-hitting for her.
He did an excellent, professional job, handling himself before the cameras with poise and assurance. He talked to A.P. Reporter Joe Reichler about his retirement, cued in the commercials, nodded near the end when the director whispered, "You have 30 seconds. Just talk."
He talked, though not quite so glibly as he had earlier. As his time neared its end, he smiled into the cameras, thanked the fans for their support, waved his hand and said so long.
Except that when he said, "So long," his voice wouldn't work. His voice broke on the phrase. Then the program was over. The room was quiet as a church. The director said, "Good." Leo Durocher, not speaking, walked swiftly away from the cameras.
Durocher's last day was almost a spectacular one. His Giants won the first game of a double-header handily, 5-2. His Willie Mays hit his 51st home run of the year. His pitching selection, Rookie Pete Burnside, pitched a fine ball game. But in the second game the Giants came to bat in the last inning of Durocher's reign trailing by two runs.
Almost as if they wanted to give Leo a farewell present, the Giants rallied. Joe Amalfitano singled and Whitey Lockman walked. Bob Hofman, one of the best clutch hitters the Giants have ever had, was at bat. He rocketed one of Curt Simmons' fast balls on a line toward center field. Amalfitano and Lockman were running for all they were worth. But Ted Kazanski, Phillie shortstop, speared the ball for one out and flipped to Bob Morgan at second for two; Morgan lobbed it on to Marv Blaylock at first base for a triple play to end the inning, the game, the season and Leo Durocher's career.
It was symptomatic of the way the season had gone for Leo Durocher. He walked back across the outfield grass to the center-field clubhouse, dressed quickly and was gone.
BESPECTACLED BILL RIGNEY SMILED BROADLY IN A RECENT MEETING WITH LEO DUROCHER