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.
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.”
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.
Joe Guzzardi belongs to the Society for American Baseball Research as well as the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org