Leo the Lip Lights Up The Belvedere Club

March 5th, 2012

Future Hall of Famer Leo “The Lip” Durocher came to Hot Springs as the new manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers in February of 1939 when he brought the team’s pitchers and catchers to town to get them in shape for the upcoming season.

The team arrived in town on a Friday and Saturday found them in the Eastman Hotel gym working out with medicine balls, Indian clubs, and calisthenics followed by a run over the mountains. After their workout everyone hit the showers and got dressed for dinner. Durocher and his coaches, along with a few friends, decided to eat at a place that was recommended as having the best “eats” in town, The Belvedere Club.

Durocher and his party had a great dinner at The Belvedere Club. After dinner the tables were cleared and they brought Bingo cards around to each table. Leo “The Lip” describes what happened next in his autobiography, Nice Guys Finish Last:

I bought five cards, and all of a sudden I am a Bingo player. Saturday night in Hot Springs. At the end of the night, they announce the Jackpot Game. Instead of the usual five-in-a-row, you had to cover the entire card, and the winner would get $660. I quickly covered every square except one, the caller called I-17 — I will never forget that combination — and up I jumped finger held aloft, and from my lips came that happy cry, “That’s me.”

Before I left there I did not have a dime of the $660 left. I bought champagne for everybody in the house. I strutted around making a big joke out of being the Bingo champion, although truth be known, it seemed to me that it was a good omen to come up with the jackpot prize on my first day as a working manager.

Early Sunday morning the ringing of the phone sounded in my ear.

“Hello” I said, barely awake.

“You’re fired!” Came the voice of MacPhail (the President of the Brooklyn Dodgers).

“I’m fired? I’ve been a calisthenics instructor for one day, and this is the end of my career as a manager? What’s the matter I don’t lead calisthenics good?”

“For what?” I yelled, fully awake.

“You’re a gambler!”

“What the hell are you talking about Larry?”

“I just read it in the morning’s paper. You won the big Bingo prize.”

“Bingo? Larry that is a game old women play at church socials. I explained to him that the crème of Hot Springs society had been there with us, including Gussie Busch, who he knew very well.”

“See?” he said. “Just what I said. That’s gambling and you’re fired. Turn the club over to Andy High right now.”

“Turn the club over to High?” I yelled. “To High? Are you crazy? If you don’t want me to manage, that is your business, but how the hell can you give the club to Andy High when you have Charlie Dressen, the best baseball man I know. You got to give the club to Dressen.”

Durocher stayed on the phone over fifteen minutes trying to convince MacPhail to give his job to Charlie Dressen instead of Andy High. He ended up hanging up on MacPhail and went right on managing the Brooklyn Dodgers. He never heard another word about his misadventures as a Bingo player in Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas.