By Father Gabe Costa
In this episode of By The Numbers, former guest blogger Ray Aumack gives us wonderful look at a wonderful human being.
Ray Aumack: One of the great gentlemen of professional baseball and everything else, Gil McDougald, passed away on November 28, 2010.
Gil McDougald played third base, shortstop, and second base for the New York Yankees. Baseball was his choice after evaluating opportunities to play basketball in the fledging NBA. He not only played at those positions, he played at them extremely well. He led all American League infielders in double plays at each of his three positions. Only two players in the history of baseball have been all-stars at three positions and McDougald is one of them. The other player is Pete Rose.
He broke in with the Yankees in 1951 and earned the Rookie of the Year Award, edging out the great Minnie Minoso and his own teammate, Mickey Mantle. He played ten seasons with the Yankees, was a five time all-star, played on eight American League championship teams and on five winning World Series teams. The teams of 1951 and 1956 are arguably considered among the greatest teams in the storied Yankee history. These were also McDougald’s best years.
Teammates and observers of the Yankees not only hailed McDougald’s prowess on the field and at the plate, they all spoke to his character and to his value as a teammate. It was a boisterous time to be a player. Many testosterone filled players of the era seemed to be trying to stretch being a sophomore well into adulthood, and professional baseball gave them the opportunity to do so. A stable gentleman stood out in that crowd and his performance on the field further encouraged the respect of his peers. Whitey Ford described him as a terrific teammate, a great ball player, and a fierce competitor. Ford was the closet leader of the “fun bunch.”
McDougald was also a deeply spiritual man. He was a devout Roman Catholic and was frequently noticed at Mass even during the week. He was also a great supporter of youth programs and especially supported the CYO, the Catholic Youth Organization.
It was under this umbrella that I met him. I was raising funds for the youth programs at Queen of Peace Church at North Arlington. Through a viable network that included the New Jersey State Police, I was able to promote a basketball game between State Troopers and a team of Priests of the Archdiocese of Newark. Believe me, few games were as hotly contested as this one. The assembled crowd witnessed incredibly competitive basketball. The priests and the troopers split victories for as long as the series lasted. This was the feature event of a sports night that included introducing active and retired celebrities, mostly athletes. Gil McDougald was among them together with Yogi Berra, NY Giants football players Roosevelt Brown and Andy Robustelli, Heisman Trophy winner and pro quarterback Angelo Bertelli, pro quarterback Frank Tripuka, middle weight champion Mickey Walker, and many others. Each celebrity was introduced at half-time, said a few words, and hung around to sign autographs. It was a wonderful evening and the athletes showed a saintly amount of patience.
Mc Dougald retired from baseball after ten years to become a businessman. He started a very successful company, Yankee Corporate Maintenance. He also coached baseball at Fordham University for eleven years. His Yankee baseball career was cut short by two painful experiences. During a batting practice, he was looking at something off the field and was hit just behind the ear by a line drive off the bat of Bob Cerv. Cerv was a big man who hit the ball very hard. Shortly after that event he began to lose his hearing to a point where, after several years, he was almost totally deaf. In 1995 he had undergone a new surgical technique called a cochlear implant that restored at least some of his hearing. McDougald then became the national spokesman for the company that manufactured the implant.
The most publicized event was a ball that he hit during a 1957 game with the Cleveland Indians that struck the pitcher, Herb Score, directly in the face. It was a horrific accident. Score did recover but he was never the same player. He returned after two years and then suffered an elbow injury ending what was predicted to be a Hall of Fame career. He went on to become the Cleveland Indians broadcaster, calling games for 31 years. McDougald was never the same player either and continually relived seeing the ball leave his bat and strike Herb Score just under his eye.
The athletic fields of America, since even before our country’s birth, have been graced by the great, the good, and the adequate athlete. The games had multiple purposes. For the player, they provided the opportunity to develop and use the skills of sport, to experience the joy of running, breathing deeply, and sweating. The games provided competition and camaraderie. There was always a winner and a loser, the joy of victory, the agony of defeat. After the game there was always a friend to be made, a toast to be hoisted, and dreams of even better days to come.
The games also provided opportunities of entertainment for the fans. We could step into another world, away from the cares of the day and into dreams of grandeur. Picture the old films of games played in our stadia during the depression of the 1930s. Each film shows a stadium filled with men in double breasted coats, ties, and fedora hats, cheering their teams and their favorite players, escaping for a few hours the genuine hardship and struggles of everyday life. The great player was deified and even the mediocre player was cheered. After all, he was good enough to make the team. He was on the field.
Unlike the players of today, the professional players of the 30s through the 60s earned a very small amount of money. Each player had to have one or more jobs off the field in to keep body and soul together. For instance, Yogi Berra and Phil Rizzuto were salesmen for American Clothing Stores, housed in a flagship type structure in the center island of Route 22 in Union, New Jersey. The flagship is still there although American Stores is long gone. Later, they were partners in a bowling alley near Route 46 in New Jersey. Almost all the players had off-season jobs. Most were salesmen and part of each company’s public relations effort.
McDougald was a great player. He did not have Hall of Fame stats for his entire career, but he did finish his career on the cusp of consideration (A very respectable .276 batting average and .975 fielding average). He finally left baseball when the Yankees left him unprotected in an expansion draft. Moving to a team in another state would have been a blow to his fledgling company. The driver of the decision was money. McDougald and his wife just had their fourth child and he couldn’t make enough money through baseball to support his family. It was time for him to “man up” and become an income- producing family head. He started his career being paid approximately $5,500 and finished his career ten years later, with nearly Hall of Fame statistics, garnering a salary of $13,500.
He was a player who will be remembered in baseball history as outstanding in the line of great Yankee infielders. At third base succeeded Andy Carey and Dr. Bobby Brown, who played for the Yankees to work his way through medical school. Brown, by the way, later became the President of the American League. McDougald filled in for Phil Rizzuto and Billy Martin. He was the quintessential gentleman that Yankee owner, Dan Topping, required of his players; and few achieved that desired status. In the eyes of many, though, two Yankees who did make the grade were Joe DiMaggio and Gil McDougald.
If the Hall of Fame had an award for being an outstanding person as well as an outstanding player, Gil McDougald would be a winner, hands down. He will always be a winner in my memory. He will always be a chapter in the history of great Yankees.
Next Blog: For the next several installments of By The Numbers, we will have a number of guest bloggers sharing their insights and observations with respect to the National Pastime.
- Former Yankees INF Gil McDougald Dies At Age 82 (newyork.cbslocal.com)