Legends: Durocher known for skills on diamond, ice
STANTON — The late Leo Durocher is noted mainly for the outstanding baseball career he put together.
Any time you can average more than .420 over 40 seasons and hit with power, you will get noticed.
But the Stanton product also was a fine hockey player who put in many years on the ice.
Former Copper Country Chiefs teammate Bruce Coppo said that Durocher was a stellar defenseman.
“(Durocher) was one of those players you could always count on,” said the longtime Calumet Wolverines player-coach,” Coppo said. “And he could play physical hockey when he had to.”
The Chiefs, who were in operation between 1972 and 1976, had a large number of players who saw action in that time.
But Durocher, who played all four seasons for the Chiefs, appeared in 81 games. That was the most of any Chiefs’ player.
He had seven goals and 27 assists while patrolling the blue line.
Paul Lehto served in the front office for the Chiefs. He said that Durocher was a steady player.
“Leo brought the same kind of game every game when he was out there,” Lehto said in an interview a few years ago. “You knew he was going to give it his best.”
Durocher, in an interview in 1996, said the USHL was a tough experience.
“That was a very physical league,” he said at the time. “And the traveling part was even tougher.”
Leo played junior hockey from the age of 13, and later would serve as an assistant coach in the CCJHL.
He also had the chance to coach sons Daron and Andre when they were at Houghton High.
“Coaching your own sons is a great experience.” he said. “And getting the chance to work with (HHS coach) Don Miller was a lot of fun.”
Of course, Leo had already played on the same Stanton baseball team with all four of his sons.
Brother Clarence “Scurb” Durocher and he were responsible for Stanton becoming a member of the Copper Country Twilight League in 1955.
Leo also played a couple of seasons for Central Michigan University baseball team. He batted .311 for CMU.
While at Central Michigan, he said he missed hockey.
“I even used to check under the highway underpasses to see if there was frozen water there,” he said. “Anything to have a chance to skate on, because there weren’t many hockey rinks down there.”
He returned to Stanton after his college days and led the Wildcats to consistent success.
The late Merv Klemett managed the Bancroft Dairy team in the Twilight League at the time. He remembered Durocher as a great competitor.
“Leo was a very tough out,” Klemett said. “He battled you on every pitch and he always hit the ball very hard. Probably the best all-around player in the league.”
While he played shortstop, Durocher also pitched a lot of innings for Stanton.
Tapiola’s Bob Michaelson said he was effective on the mound as well.
“He threw hard but had good control,” Michaelson said a few years ago. “He always battled you.”
Stanton holds a tournament in his honor, the Leo Durocher Memorial Tournament.
The tourney, managed by Daron Durocher, draws teams from around the Upper Peninsula as well as local teams.
There’s also a plaque at the ballfield in his honor.
Durocher died of a heart attack at home plate in 1999 — just before a game he was getting ready to to play in.
“I think that was fitting,” Klemett said. “He was right there at the place he enjoyed the most.”