(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeU.)
The Yankee family has lost yet another member in 2010 with the passing of Gil McDougald at the age of 82. McDougald, whose 10-year Yankee career included five world championships and eight pennants, was best know for his versatility, a quality that made him a favorite of Casey Stengel, who once called him “the best second baseman, the best third baseman, and best shortstop in the American League”.
McDougald broke into the majors alongside two other notable New York rookies: Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. Although that centerfield duo would reach legendary status, in 1951, the Yankees’ understated swing man was the toast of the town. Not only did he have a better season than both Mantle and Mays, but he also won the American League Rookie of the Year award and became the first freshman to belt a grand slam in the World Series.
The irony of McDougald’s immediate superiority over his Hall of Fame counterparts was just as evident in 1951 as it is now. While Mantle and Mays both inspired predictions of greatness, the only thing McDougald elicited was laughter…literally. His unique batting style, which now would be called an open stance, was often referred to as a “school girl swing”, leading Stengel and several Yankee coaches to doubt his ability to hit major league pitching. After hitting .306 with 14 home runs, however, it was McDougald who had the last laugh. In fact, after hitting the grand slam against the Giants in game five of the World Series, Stengel proudly told AP, “He’s the lousiest looking ball player in the world, but he’s splendid”.
Everything he does looks wrong but it comes out right. He bats funny but he hits like heck. He’s got a peculiar way of throwing but his arm is strong and accurate. He runs like a pacer but he is fast and knows how to run the bases. He’s only a rookie but he’s done as much for me as any of the veterans”. – Yankees manager Casey Stengel, quoted by Joe Reichler of AP, October 10, 1951
Unfortunately, McDougald’s career was also notable for two infamous beanings. On August 3, 1955, he was hit in the left hear by a batting practice line drive off the bat of Bob Cerv. Although the ball caused significant swelling and a severe laceration, the early diagnosis from team doctors was that the injuries weren’t serious. So, after a visit to the hospital for x-rays, McDougald was back on the field only three days later. Eventually, however, the injuries he sustained would lead to a gradual loss of hearing in not only his left ear, but the right as well. By the mid-1970s, McDougald, who was then a coach for the Fordham University baseball team, was almost completely deaf, and remained so until receiving a cochlear implant in 1994. After having his hearing restored, McDougald once again proved his versatility by becoming a tireless advocate for both the hearing-impaired and the cochlear technology capable of helping them.
In the second incident, which took place on May 7, 1957, Indians’ pitcher Herb Score was the victim of a screaming line drive off the bat of McDougald. Only 12 pitches into the game, the Yankees’ short stop sent a rope back to the mound that ricocheted off Score’s right eye toward third base for a 1-5-3 groundout. The young left hander immediately began to bleed profusely from his eye and was eventually carried off the field on a stretcher. McDougald, who along with teammates Yogi Berra and Hank Bauer went to Lakeside Hospital in Cleveland immediately after the game to check on Score’s condition, was so shaken by the incident that he told reporters he would quit baseball if the pitcher went blind. Although Score’s vision was completely restored, he didn’t get back on the mound until the following season and was never effective again. After the 1962 season, Score retired at the age 29.
It’s amazing how many things can go through your mind when a thing like that happens. Before I hit the ground, I thought about being blinded for life, that my teeth were knocked out, that my nose was broken and that something had happened to my tongue”. – Indians left hander Herb Score after being hit in the eye by a line drive, quoted by AP, May 8, 1957
McDougald’s career also came to a premature end after the 1960 season. His early retirement at age 32 was partly due to his gradual hearing loss, but mostly borne of the desire to spend more time with his family and manage his building maintenance business in New Jersey. After ruminating on the decision since the end of the 1960 World Series, McDougald finally made his announcement upon learning that he would be left unprotected in the upcoming expansion draft. According to the Yankees’ infielder, he didn’t want one of the new teams to waste a selection on him in case he decided to hang it up. It was a typical display of class from a man who had become well known for exhibiting that quality.
McDougald brought more than physical skills to the Yankees. He brought them an extra touch of class, honesty, decency and integrity. He announced his retirement when he did because ‘it was the honorable thing to do’. It was typical of him”. – New York Times columnist Arthur Dailey, December 16, 1960