By Joe Rini
Following the completion of his suspension for his role in the Houston Astros sign stealing scandal, the Boston Red Sox announced the rehiring of Alex Cora as manager, ten months after he and the team mutually agreed to part ways. Sounds crazy, right? A story fit for 2020, right? Well, New York saw something crazier in 1948. Let’s put it this way, imagine Alex Cora topping his rehiring by the Red Sox by becoming the Yankees manager next July.
Baseball in New York in 1947 is most famous for the debut of Jackie Robinson with the Brooklyn Dodgers but just prior to the start of the season, baseball commissioner Albert “Happy” (well in this case, not so happy) Chandler suspended Brooklyn’s flamboyantly volatile manager Leo Durocher for associating with known gamblers, among other things. Earlier in spring training Durocher had squelched a mini-rebellion among players protesting the arrival of Robinson, but it would be under interim manager Burt Shotton (later satirized as “Kindly Old Burt Shotton” aka “K.O.B.S.” by Dick Young of the New York Daily News) who navigated Robinson’s debut season and the Dodgers to the NL pennant. Having Shotton replace Durocher was akin to Bob Lemon replacing Billy Martin as Yankee manager mid-season and winning the World Series in 1978.
Like Cora, Durocher’s suspension ended and he returned to helm the Dodgers in 1948 and this is where the story gets strange. Durocher’s Dodgers started sluggishly, sitting in fifth place at midseason in July at 35-37. Finally, after enduring nine seasons of the mercurial Durocher, Brooklyn’s GM Branch Rickey didn’t just fire Durocher; instead, he “traded” his services to their hated crosstown rivals the New York Giants and replaced him again with his placid pennant winning manager waiting in the wings, “kindly old” Burt Shotton.
To recall the rivalry between the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants, think Yankee-Red Sox with more beanballs, brawls, and rival fans living in the same neighborhoods not 200 miles apart. The move stunned everyone and even Giants fans didn’t know what to think of the sight of Durocher in a Giants uniform. In fact, Durocher and a disgruntled Giants fan even came to blows in 1949 but in the end it worked out well for both Durocher and the Dodgers. Shotton skippered the Dodgers to another NL pennant in 1949 while Durocher mentored Willie Mays and led the Giants to their Bobby Thompson’s Miracle in Coogan’s Bluff NL pennant in 1951 before winning a World Series in 1954. Ultimately, Durocher and Rickey were inducted into the Baseball’s Hall of Fame.
I doubt the Red Sox shipping off Alex Cora to manage the Yankees in midseason would ever happen…that would be like crowning a World Series winner after a 60 game regular season, right?