Cursed Teams: Part 4
Let’s review, briefly, the history of the New York Giants – from God’s perspective (or, as I like to correctly refer to Him, Elohim , Yahweh or Abba Father) John McGraw, the Giants’ manager from 1902 to 1932, considered by many who played for and against him to be the Greatest Manager in MLB history, was the source of much of the early curses. The first curse, I’m convinced, was because he arrogantly had his team wear uniforms in 1906 that said “World Champions”. That was a seven year curse (1906 – 1912, seven seasons) manifested by Merkle’s Bone-headed play in 1908 and Snodgrass’ Muff in the 1912 Series. He further brought cursing on the Giants by being so superstitious, especially when it came to the mocking mistreatment of Charles “Victory” Faust in 1911. He put his faith in Faust, rather than putting his faith in Elohim. In the classic German legend, Faust sold his soul to the devil for worldly success and pleasure, but it was also what McGraw did. That was the source of the second seven-year curse – from 1913 to 1919 – which was manifested by many things, the most famous of which was the Heinie Zimmerman “Chase” of Eddie Collins, across the plate with the Series winning run, in 1917.
The Giants won two World Championships in 1921 and 1822. They were, temporarily, blessed from 1920 – 1923. But McGraw continued his unrepentant arrogance by his public disrespect of three players: Babe Ruth, Casey Stengel, and Mose Solomon. He proudly took credit for the Babe’s poor World Series performances, declaring to the world that he had called every pitch against him from the bench. Then he publically insulted the Bambino, who was a blessed player, when he disrespected his ability by saying, sometime during one of the Series’: “Why shouldn’t we pitch to Babe Ruth? We pitch to better hitters in the National League”. He found out just how wrong he was about THAT, though, when the Babe had a great 1923 World Series against the Giants. Also, in the 1923 Series, McGraw had a blessed player who had a great Series for the Giants – Casey Stengel. “Little Napoleon” “thanked” his Series MVP with a one-way ticket to the Boston Braves. While the Giants were fighting for their third straight NL pennant in 1923, McGraw had insulted Solomon, who was called “The Rabbi of Swat”, by not playing him very much in a late-season call-up. McGraw wouldn’t put him on the post-season roster, but wanted him to stay with the club, without pay. Solomon had an offer to play professional football (a sport he was better at, anyway), so he left the Giants to accept the offer. McGraw wasn’t exactly polite to him – leading to the big one. Yahweh laid on the Giants an 84-year Super-curse because of the mistreatment of these three.
This explains why the Giants didn’t win again, as long as McGraw was manager. The curse was manifested in the 1924 World Series against Walter Johnson and the Washington Senators. In Game Seven, two weird events happened that show all the signs of a curse. First, not one but TWO ground balls took bad hops over Giants’ third baseman Freddie Lindstrom. According to the Society of Baseball Research’s Biography Project, “In the eighth inning the Giants were leading 3-1. Then the Senators loaded the bases with two outs. Washington’s playing manager Bucky Harris slammed a sharp grounder toward third base. Just as Freddie was about to field it, the ball took a wicked hop right over his head and two runs scored to tie the game. The game remained tied into extra innings. In the 12th inning with runners on first and second and one out, Earl McNeeley slashed a grounder toward Lindstrom at third. Amazingly, the ball hit a pebble or a clod of dirt, perhaps the same one that had deflected the hit by Harris four innings earlier. The ball bounded into left field for a base hit and Muddy Ruel raced home with the winning run. The Washington Senators won their first World Series, and Freddie Lindstrom was the goat of the series.”
Lindstrom was not the only goat, however. In the second weird event, Giants catcher Hank Gowdy tripped over his mask when trying to catch a foul pop in the 12th: According to the SABR Biography Project: “In the 12th inning of Game Seven of the 1924 fall classic at Griffith Stadium, Gowdy literally stepped into the spotlight again – this time as a goat. With one out and no one on, Washington’s Muddy Ruel popped up what looked like an easy foul. Gowdy tore off his mask, tossed it to the ground, and promptly stepped in it. “I thought my foot was being held in a bear trap,” Gowdy later recalled. He staggered around and couldn’t reach the ball, which dropped to the ground. Given new life, Ruel doubled and later became Washington’s winning run when Earl McNeely hit a hopper over Freddy Lindstrom’s shoulder at third. Sportswriters, calculating the winning team’s share, called Gowdy’s misfortune “a $50,000 muff.”(SABR Biography Project).
Think I’m only seeing these things in retrospect? How about the testimony of those who was there: from the SABR Project – “Some observers thought Providence had a hand in the miscues. Clark Griffith, owner of the Senators, said “God was on our side in that one. Else how did those pebbles get in front of Lindstrom, not once, but twice?” Heinie Groh was not sure whether to blame the Lord or Fate. He told Lawrence Ritter, “I guess the good Lord just didn’t want us to win that game, that’s all there is to it.” Later in the same interview he said: “It wasn’t Freddie’s fault. It could have happened to anybody. He never had a chance to get the ball. It was Fate, that’s all. Fate and a pebble.” “ ( SABR)
A couple of years later, John McGraw actually did the right thing – but probably for a superstitious reason instead of honestly believing he was honoring Elohim. He hired Andy Cohen (not just a Jewish player, but one of the Kohanim, or priests) in 1926. He played second base for the Giants in 1928 and ’29, then got sent down to the Minor League Newark Bears. McGraw told him he was coming back to the Giants, but that very day he broke his leg. (Providentially?) He returned as a Major League coach, but never again as a player.
On July 3, 1932, McGraw suddenly resigned as the Giants’ manager. He handed the job to his All-Star first baseman, Bill Terry. Whether by accident or design (the Lord is in charge, in either case), the Giants brought up catcher Harry Danning and outfielder Phil Weintraub in 1933. Yes – they were Jewish … and, yes, the Lord blessed the Giants under Bill Terry with a World Series Championship that same year…
Yes – they were still under the 84-year curse. And, yes, cursed teams cannot win (how is that a curse, then?) Well, it probably was Yahweh relenting – because McGraw wasn’t around any more, and because the Giants had not one but two Jewish rookies (who were not brought up because they were Jewish but because Terry thought they could help the team on the field). But Yahweh honored that choice and, temporarily, relented and allowed the Giants to win.
We soon saw the difference between McGraw’s insincere, superstitious attempts to get a Jewish player, and Bill Terry honest additions to the team and his respect for his players. After defeating the Washington Senators in the 1933 World Series, before they ever played a game in 1934, Bill Terry stood up for his Jewish players in Florida in spring training. When the Giants’ hotel threatened not to allow Danning and Weintraub to stay there, Manager Bill told them that the whole team wouldn’t stay there if those two didn’t. They let him and his “Hebrews” stay.
Bill Terry was blessed with pennant wins in 1936 and 1937 – only to be mauled by the Yankees in both Series, but these were not ignominious – they just got beat. The Giants were blessed when they elevated a number of Jewish players during this era, at a time when the world was becoming increasingly Anti-Semitic. While the Holocaust was proceeding in Europe, the Giants had Harry Danning as their All Star catcher. When Sid Gordon debuted in 1941, the Giants had 4 Jewish players on the field.
After the war, the Giants continued to do good things. I believe they were blessed for hiring a number of players who had come back from military service, even though most of them were not what they had been before they went away. They went out of their way to hire players like Goodie Rosen, Morrie Arnovich, and Phil Weintraub at that time, blessing them with a few more pay-days than other teams would have given them. These are some of the reasons the Giants had success on the field – temporarily.
So – we left the New York Giants in 1950, as they’re changing managers to hire Leo the Lip, Leo Durocher, as their new skipper. Remember? He famously said, “Nice Guys finish last,” in describing the Giants, in his capacity as manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was on July 6, 1946. Before the game at the Polo Grounds, the Giants’ home ballpark, Leo was talking to Dodgers announcer Red Barber and Frank Graham, sportswriter for The New York Journal-American, and dissing the Giants and their manager, Mel Ott.
Graham reported that Red Barber had asked Durocher “Why don’t you be a nice guy for a change?”
According to Graham, Durocher replied: “Nice guys! Look over there. Do you know a nicer guy than Mel Ott? Or any of the other Giants? Why, they’re the nicest guys in the world! And where are they? In seventh place! Nice guys! I’m not a nice guy – and I’m in first place.” After pacing up and down the visitors’ dugout, the Dodger manager waved a hand toward the Giants’ dugout and repeated, “The nice guys are all over there, in seventh place.”
When first confronted for saying “Nice Guys Finish Last,” he denied it (he said they were in 7th place, not last!). But, when the quote became famous, he embraced it. Here’s what he said in his autobiography, written years later:
[T]he Giants, led by Mel Ott, began to come out of their dugouts…I called off his players’ names as they came marching up the steps behind him, “Walker, Cooper, Mize, Marshall, Kerr, Gordon, Thompson. Take a look at them. All nice guys. They’ll finish last. Nice guys. Finish last…Give me some scratching, diving hungry ballplayers who came to kill you…That’s the kind of guy I want playing for me.”
Leo, despite his colorful language, also played a critical role in getting Jackie Robinson’s career started. He stood up for him at Spring Training in 1947 when his own players were passing a petition to keep Robinson off the team. He famously said: “I don’t care if the guy (Jackie Robinson) is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a __________ zebra. I’m the manager of this team and I say he plays.” He later was instrumental in hiring three black players: Monte Irvin, Hank Thompson, and Willie Mays for the Giants.
In 1947, he didn’t make it to the season as the Dodgers’ manager – he was suspended by Commissioner Happy Chandler for a year for his relationships with gamblers. He returned in 1948. But when the Dodgers struggled, they let Leo out of his contract to sign with their cross-town rivals, the Giants. One bad move – Leo the Lip traded Sid Gordon to the Boston Braves (He was one of those “nice guys”), But I believe that Leo and the Giants were blessed because they got Al Dark from Boston in that trade – a Christian who was, at that time, not living a Christian walk. Al Dark later made a deeper commitment to serve the Lord when he started going to Bible Study in 1971. He had one of the most powerful testimonies of any Christian baseball player or manager. He also got Eddie Stanky in that trade. In 1951, Leo summed up Stanky’s talents as, “He can’t hit, can’t run, can’t field. He’s no nice guy … all the little SOB can do is win.” Or, “He can’t hit, he can’t field, he can’t run. All he can do is beat you.”
It’s not always clear why the Lord blesses certain players and not others. Many times, it seems that it is His will to bless a player, just because it’s His sovereign will. But, I also believe that Yahweh told Abraham a truth that stands forever – the simple promise to him that “I will bless those who bless you; I will curse them who curse you.” The Lord was referring to the nation that would be descendants of the blessed sons, Isaac and Jacob – His Chosen People, today, the people we call “Jews.” And, whether they are believers or not, He is still blessing those who bless His People, and cursing those who curse them.
Now – we can see this manifested in the blessed individuals, Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax. Hank Greenberg publically honored Yahweh when he did not play on Yom Kippur in September of 1934. It was a very tough decision because the Tigers were in their first pennant race in 25 years. They were playing their number one rival – the New York Yankees. Hank was the number 4 hitter for Detroit – a lot of people’s hopes were with him. He sat out – and I believe the Lord blessed him by allowing the Tigers to win the AL pennant in 1934, and then win the 1935 World Series. Greenberg had his best season during the Shemitah season from September 5, 1937 to September 25, 1938. when the Hebrew Hammer hit 64 home runs. He spent 4 ½ years in the Army, famously returning in the middle of the 1945 season to lead Detroit to the pennant AND the 1945 World Series Championship. In 1947, because of stalled contract talks, the Tigers traded Greenberg to Pittsburgh. In his only season in the National League, he had a front-row seat to Jackie Robinson’s arrival in the Major Leagues. He publically welcomed Jackie, an unusual act for an opposing player (Robinson said, “Hank Greenberg is a class act.”) In 1948, knowing that his playing days were over, Hank was hired as the GM of the Cleveland Indians. Is it just a coincidence that, not only did the Indians open the door for black players in the American League by hiring Larry Doby in 1947 and the great Satchel Paige in 1948, but that the Indians were blessed by winning the 1948 World Championship? I think not.
Sandy Koufax, in 1965, did the same thing that Greenberg had done earlier – he openly sat out the first game of the World Series against the Minnesota Twins because it was Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. He was immediately rewarded by Elohim: he picked in Games 2, 5, and 7 – looking as unhittable as any pitcher has ever been – and won the World Series MVP award as he led the Dodgers to victory.
So – what does all this have to do with the Giants in 1950? Well, I believe that there is another blessed individual who I have just discovered – Leo Durocher.
What? There are about 500 reasons to be shocked by that, but that’s what I believe.
I know… I know – the nasty attitude… “Nice Guys Finish Last”… the foul language at a time when public cursing was not nearly as common as it is today… the association with unsavory characters … the affairs… the four marriages… and four divorces… his arguments with umpires… I could go on, but I’ll stop. So this guy is BLESSED?
Well, he was definitely blessed because he was the person most directly affected by the “Shot Hit Round the World” – other than Bobby Thomson. And Ralph Branca, but I’m saying he was the most POSITIVELY affected by the moment that has been voted, many times, as the Greatest Single Moment in American Sports History. Sure – Thomson hit the winning shot, but who was the team’s manager? Yeah, that guy you see coaching third base, the most excited man on a field full of extremely excited people! Yes – even though the Giants had been stealing signals all season – and, yes, Bobby Thomson knew there was a fastball coming. Yes – despite all the bad things that Leo had done, we’d all have to agree that winning that game that way was an enormous blessing. Even despite the fact that they went on to lose to the Yankees in the World Series (with THEIR blessed manager, Casey Stengel).
And he had another blessing three seasons later, when, as m 1954, in a World Series made famous for Willie Mays’ A-Mays-ing catch in Game One. The most amazing thing was how that single play seemed to flatten an outstanding Cleveland Indians team – a team that had just set an American League record of 111 wins. Yes – Willie Mays was also a blessed player, but that’s another story for another time. Despite the Giants still being in the midst of a 84-year curse, they were allowed to win another WS. Leo was also blessed as a coach of the LA Dodgers, being on their staff for three seasons, including the 1963 World Champions. Yes – he did manage the Chicago Cubs… but their curses were just too powerful for Leo to break.
Why would God bless a guy like him? As I said above – I really don’t know for sure. I can speculate, though, and follow what I believe is the leading of the Ruach Khodesh (the Holy Spirit). First of all, he may have had Jewish ancestry. I know… I know… Durocher is a French-Canadian name and Leo was a practicing Roman Catholic. But – as with other players who I believe have Jewish ancestry but were not practicing Jews (like Honus Wagner, Casey Stengel, and Yogi Berra) – look at him. I have to say – I thought he was Jewish at first because… well, he looked Jewish. Especially… the prominent proboscis. Besides Italians (like myself), which OTHER ethnic group is associated with having big noses? You got it!
Leo has other telling signs of his Jewish ancestry. Besides his “look”, there’s also something quite obvious about him. Hint: what’s his nickname? Ah hah – Leo the “Lip”. Why that nickname? Remember all the quotes above? Leo was a great talker; he was glib, to say the least. He also showed a great deal of intelligence – he understood the thinking man’s side of baseball like few others. When it comes down to it, most coaches and players are pretty boring to listen to. When there’s one who can turn a phrase or can be witty – they are the ones who we want to quote. Leo the Lip. Casey Stengel, Yogi Berra, Babe Ruth (who called Durocher “The All-American Out”) – all funny guys, all very quotable… all possibly Jewish. Jewish people are known for being intelligent, funny, and successful in whatever they do. Now, just like all stereotypes, they are not always true (just like, not all Italians can sing – MOST, but certainly not all!) Leo Durocher was all of those.
So – what about his decidedly un-Christian lifestyle? Just goes to show how wrong our thinking is when it comes to understanding Abba Father. Remember: HE (Elohim, Yahweh) is the Father character in the parable of the Prodigal Son. There are many Prodigal Sons all around us. In His story, Jesus doesn’t blame the Father for the son leaving with his improperly-received part of his inheritance (the Father in the story wasn’t dead!). When the prodigal returns, the Father is so overjoyed that he violates all kinds of cultural norms to run up to and embrace his returning son. He asks no repayment or even suggests it – He’s just full of love and forgiveness for his once-lost boy. The older son represents the religionists – instead of sharing the Father’s joy, he is bitter and angry about the Father’s gracious reception. That’s the way many of us are. We look at people’s lives and we just write them off as “sinners… beyond the help of God.” Well, that’s not the way Jesus saw people. He made a special effort to reach out to sinners – which means all of us.
God didn’t choose ANY of us because we are worthy. The Scriptures clearly paint us as unworthy. We can’t do ANYTHING to merit salvation.
“So – does that mean Leo Durocher was SAVED?”
“So how was he BLESSED, then?”
Elohim sends His rain on the just and the unjust. The Lord poured out blessings on His People, Israel, throughout the Scriptures. Did that keep them from turning away from Him? No. In fact, blessing often seemed counter-productive – the more He blessed them, it seems, the more they turned away. Solomon, for example, was the most blessed king of Israel. He had the largest kingdom of any king of Israel in the Bible. He was blessed with a supernatural degree of wisdom. He was richer that any human being who has ever lived. The Word tells us that gold was in so much abundance that silver was considered worthless! They used silver for everyday uses! So – did Solomon praise Yahweh and always serve Him faithfully his entire life? Unfortunately not. Great blessing can lead to a great falling away. Solomon collected wives like some collect baseball cards – 700 of them, with 300 concubines! He used his opulent wealth to build the most magnificent human structure ever built – the Temple. But he also built an opulent palace for himself. Instead of seeking Elohim and rejoicing in Him, the source of all of his blessings, he sought out the pleasures of this fallen world. According to the record in the Scriptures, he ended up worshipping the false gods that many of his wives had brought from their pagan homes. He even brought the worship of Molech into Israel, a false god that Yahweh had specifically forbidden. Molech was worshipped by heating up a bronze statue of him and sacrificing babies in his arms. Solomon, as we’re told in the book of Ecclesiastes, tried to find happiness by getting drunk, another thing kings were forbidden to do. He participated in all kinds of sinful activities. Here he was – the man who Elohim blessed to write the book of Proverbs – raising a foolish son whose lack of wisdom caused the kingdom to split after Solomon’s death. Solomon was tremendously blessed – but he let his riches take him away from Yahweh, not closer to him.
That’s not to say that Solomon didn’t do some great things – he did (like building the Temple). But he wasn’t as dedicated to the Lord as his father David (who was also a sinner). When he died, the Lord tore the kingdom in half – Israel to the North; Judah to the South.
So- does blessed mean saved?
No. Unfortunately not.
Many who are blessed are not saved – MOST who are blessed are not saved.
It’s possible that Leo Durocher came to the Lord late in life – but that’s between him and the Lord.
More next time…