Leo Durocher was an old-school manager.
He was already 60 when he took over the reins of the Cubs for the 1966 season, and one of the things he disliked most was the newfangled Astrodome, which had opened the previous year.
The first series the Cubs played in the Astrodome that year was from May 3-5. The Cubs got swept and were outscored 18-5 in the three games. Leo fumed. Not only did he hate losing, he wasn’t a fan of the then half-Astroturfed field. He called the artificial surface “nylon,” termed the Astrodome “a $45 million stadium with a 10-cent infield” and the team a “bush organization.”
The next time the Cubs were in Houston, Durocher ripped a phone off a dugout wall and the Astros sent him a bill for the damage. (The Cubs paid it.)
Third time’s the charm? When the Cubs made their third and final trip to Houston beginning August 26, 1966, they were 44-82 and 30½ games out of first place.
In the first game of that series, Friday, August 26, the Cubs took a 4-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth with Ken Holtzman on the mound, seemingly in control. John Bateman led off the inning with a homer to make it 4-2. Holtzman allowed a single and walk sandwiched around a fly to left, and Durocher came out to replace him. From a book titled “Houston Astros: Armed and Dangerous,” a book by Jose deJesus Ortiz, here’s what happened next:
Durocher pulled another telephone off the wall in the visitors’ dugout in the Astrodome during another fit of anger on August 26, 1966. Adding a twist, he threw the phone on the field during a pitching change.
Here’s the reason Durocher was so angry, from Edward Prell in the Tribune recap of the game:
As the [pitching] change was being made, the Astrodome’s saucy message board flashed, “A message from Leo, who—.” Durocher, the Cubs manager, answered it by ripping the dugout telephone from its moorings and hurling it onto the field, where it was retrieved by Plate Umpire Tony Venzon. Roy Hofheinz, the Astros’ owner, later said Durocher will get a bill for the damage inflicted.
Bob Hendley eventually replaced Holtzman. He walked Joe Morgan to load the bases, gave up an infield single that made it 4-3 Cubs, and then Bob Aspromonte hit a walkoff grand slam for a 7-4 Houston win. You can imagine how happy Durocher must have been after that.
The Cubs did eventually pay the bills for Durocher’s damage. And, of course, the kicker is that Durocher finished his managing career in Houston, managing the Astros for part of 1972 and all of 1973.
And all the events described above happened in Houston 55 years ago today.