Baseball: Past and Present

Here’s the latest guest post from Joe Guzzardi, on a Yankee infielder who retired near the top of his game. Derek Jeter, take note.

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While I was writing my post about Derek Jeter earlier this week, New York Yankee great Gil McDougald died.

Reading McDougald’s obituaries, I couldn’t help but think about one major difference Jeter’s will have. Both are career Yankees with special on-field accomplishments that played critical roles in their teams’ World Series Championship years. McDougald famously and willingly played three infield positions with equal skill.

But McDougald never entered into nasty contract negotiations at the end. When it appeared the Yankees would not protect McDougald in 1961 during the first expansion draft, he walked away after ten seasons without regrets. Among McDougald’s motivations were that he wanted to be closer to his wife Lucielle and their seven children.

An interesting footnote to McDougald’s retirement is that Los Angeles Angels owner Gene Autry, a fan of his, begged him to join his newly formed team. As an inducement, Autry promised McDougald that when his playing days were over he would turn over to the managerial reins from Bill Rigney. But because McDougald knew he couldn’t perform up to his standards as a player and he admired Rigney, he declined.

One of McDougald’s former teammates said something about him that sent me deep into my baseball library.

Pitcher and Cy Young Award winner Bob Turley: “Before I was traded to the Yankees, Gil and I played against each other in the minors in the Texas League. He was always one of the most serious guys out there, and he loved to win. But Gil was also a person who got along well with everyone. He was always in good spirits.”

In 1958, Sports Illustrated published a series titled “Big League Secrets.” In it, Sal Maglie, Roy Sievers, Del Crandall, Richie Ashburn and McDougald explained how they plied their crafts.

McDougald told readers how from each of his three positions he executed the pivot, fielded the bunt, applied the tag and made the long throw.

As an example of what Turley meant when he spoke of his old infielder’s competitiveness, McDougald told reporter Robert Creamer how he executed the pick-off play:

I can’t stand to see this play go more than two throws. It’s sort of an obsession with me, especially if I’m in it, because if it goes more than two throws, we did it wrong. The runner should never, never get away in a rundown, no matter how great he is.

As much as I admire Jeter, I’m a product of my time. I miss talented, underrated, underpaid team-oriented players like McDougald. The era of a player who will play 599 games at second base, 508 at third and 284 at shortstop without missing a beat are long gone.

I wish McDougald had more financial leverage. But he played in the baseball’s Golden Era which had to be more satisfying to him than living in a 30,000 square foot Florida mansion like Jeter’s.

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Joe Guzzardi belongs to the Society for American Baseball Research as well as the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Email him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com



5 Comments so far

  1.    jjswol on December 4, 2010 9:46 am      

    Graham, Thanks for writing this, I enjoyed it. I started following baseball in 1957 when the Braves beat the Yankees in the World Series. The Braves were my favorite team back then and it would be a number of years before the Senators became the Minnesota Twins who would become my new home team. It was always easy to hate the Yankees, they were always winning and had such great players, Gil McDougald was one of them. Back then not many games were on TV and without a home major league team I did not get to see a lot of baseball but what I did see has stuck with me for these many years. I really enjoy hearing about the “old guys” in baseball. RIP Gil McDougald.

  2.    Charles Simone on December 4, 2010 10:36 am      

    While I don’t disagree with the sentiment about appreciating underrated team-oriented players, if playing whatever position your team asks is a criterion, I offer the following current examples:

    Marco Scutaro: http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/scutama01.shtml

    Mark DeRosa: http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/d/derosma01.shtml

    Michael Young: http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/y/youngmi02.shtml

  3.    stratobill on December 4, 2010 11:47 am      

    I checked my database to find all the players since World War II who have played at least 270 games each at 2nd, 3rd, and Short, and who had at least 4000 career PA. I found 3 besides McDougald, two of whom are still active.

    Tony Phillips : 777 at 2nd, 428 at 3rd, 294 at short.

    Mike Young : 415 at 2nd, 293 at 3rd, 782 at short.

    Craig Counsell : 549 at 2nd, 368 at 3rd, 451 at short.

    I was surprised that there weren’t more such players, and that Counsell is the only one with at least 300 games at all three positions.

  4.    carybreeze on December 4, 2010 3:27 pm      

    Thanks Joe. Very nice article about McDougald. I appreciate your perspective.

  5.    Dennis Corcoran on August 5, 2014 10:26 pm      

    I enjoyed reading about Gil McDougald, Graham. I grew up in the 1950′s in the Bronx as a Yankee fan and he was my favorite player. I met him and his wife a number of years ago when he was signing autographs at a Firehouse in New Jersey. I enjoyed him and his wife Lucille.

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