Classic Yankees: Gil McDougald

Players come and players go. Time waits for no one. Sooner or later, everyone must retire. It helps a team immensely when you have a versatile player who can fill in where needed, and if that player is so good that he becomes an All-Star at three different positions, well you can see how valuable that player is.

The Yankees had that player in Gil McDougald. McDougald had one of the strangest batting stances in MLB history, but it worked for him. In 1951, McDougald made it to the Yankees at the age of 22 (he turned 23 in May of that year). If you ask people today the question “What Yankee won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1951?” you probably will get the answer back of Mickey Mantle, and that answer would be wrong. For the correct answer is Gil McDougald.

McDougald hit .306 in that rookie campaign, with 14 HR, 63 RBI, 14 SB and an OPS+ of 141. He played third and second, and finished 9th in the MVP voting. McDougald hit .261 in the WS, with a HR and 7 RBI. The HR was a grand slam in Game Five, making McDougald the first (and to date only) rookie to hit a WS grand slam.

McDougald made the All-Star team as a third baseman in 1952, hitting .263-11-78, OPS+ 100. He hit .200 with a HR and 3 RBI in the WS.

McDougald hit .285-10-83, OPS+ 112 in 1953. As in 1951 and 1952, McDougald played 3B but also got in time at second. He only went 4 for 24 in the WS, but had a triple, 2 HR and drove in four runs.

In 1954, the Yankees had the young Andy Carey to play 3B. Meanwhile, the Yanks had trouble up the middle. Jerry Coleman, who had lost most of 1952 and 1953 to military service in Korea, couldn’t regain his hitting stroke and hit just .217. McDougald wound up playing more 2B than 3B in 1954. SS Phil Rizzuto hit just .195. After three years and three WS Championships, McDougald found himself watching the 1954 postseason, even though the Yanks won 103 games. Ironically, it was the only year that Casey Stengel won 100 games as Yankees’ manager. But with Cleveland going 111-43, the Yanks finished second. There weren’t any wild card teams back then. Alas for the Indians, they were swept in the WS by the NY Giants (the Giants last WS title until last season). McDougald hit .259-12-48 in 1954, OPS+ 117.

With the 2B problems and the emergence of Carey, McDougald was the 2B in 1955. He finished 12th in the MVP voting after a season of .285-13-53. In the WS, McDougald hit .259 with 1 HR and 1 RBI. He was the runner doubled off first when Sandy Amoros robbed Yogi of a double in Game 7.

Also in 1955 came something which would have a major long-term effect on McDougald. He was struck in the left ear during batting practice by a liner off the bat of teammate Bob Cerv. According to Wikipedia, this was thought at the time to be a concussion and McDougald only missed a few games. Soon, however, McDougald would lose the hearing in that ear. Later, he would also lose the hearing in his right ear and would become deaf until a cochlear transplant restored some hearing in 1994.

1956 brought another position switch for McDougald. By this time, the “Scooter,” Phil Rizzuto, was on his last legs. The Scooter was relegated to a backup in 1955 and would be released in 1956. Billy Martin had missed most of 1954 and 1955 due to military service but was back for the 1956 season. Since the Yanks were set at 2B with Martin (Coleman backing him up) and at 3B with Carey, McDougald went to SS to take over from the aging Phil Rizzuto and the weak-hitting Billy Hunter. He was named an All-Star, and finished 7th in the MVP voting. He hit .311, marking the second and last time he hit .300 in a season. He had 13 HR and 56 RBI for an OPS+ of 127. Since McDougald was a righty hitter, the Old Stadium hurt his power numbers. In the WS, Gil was just 3 for 21 with an RBI but he made a key defensive play in Game 5 to preserve Don Larsen’s perfect game. Jackie Robinson hit a hot shot to third which ricocheted off 3B Andy Carey’s glove to McDougald. McDougald’s throw just nipped the aging Robinson (37 and in his last season) at first base.

In 1957, McDougald once again spent most of his time at SS. He finished 5th in the MVP voting and was once again an All-Star. He hit .289-13-62, OPS+ 120. He led the AL with 9 triples, and led the majors with 19 sacrifice bunts. As in 1956, he also saw time at 3B and 2B. He went 6 for 24 in the WS with 2 RBI.

But on 5/7/57 came an event which McDougald has become sadly famous for. In the first inning of the game vs. Cleveland that evening at Yankee Stadium, McDougald hit a line drive which caught Indians’ pitcher Herb Score right in the face. It struck Score in the right eye and broke his nose. McDougald stated that if Score lost his eye that he would retire right then and there. Score’s vision was saved, but the young phenom never was the same again.

McDougald changed his batting stance after that, and many thought that McDougald wasn’t the same player after that incident.

In 1958, McDougald was moved yet again. 1957 saw a couple of events that necessitated another move for the versatile McDougald. The Copacabana incident and eventual trade of Billy Martin opened up 2B. Bobby Richardson wasn’t quite ready. Meanwhile, Tony Kubek, versatile in his own right (SS, OF, 3B) could settle in at SS. So McDougald wound up back at 2B, and made the All-Star team. After being an All-Star at 3B in 1952 and at SS in 1956 and 1957, this marked the third different position that McDougald became an All-Star at.  He hit .250-14-65 and finished 20th in the MVP voting. His OPS+ though, which had averaged 117 from 1951-1957, dropped to a 98. In the WS, McDougald went 9 for 28 with 2 HR and 4 RBI.

McDougald last was an All-Star in 1959. It marked the sixth year that he made the All-Star team. By this time, playing time for him started to dwindle a bit. Richardson and Kubek were starting to become regulars, and Clete Boyer was now making his presence felt. McDougald hit .251-4-34 and had an OPS+ of just 85. He split time between 2B, SS and 3B.

McDougald’s last year was in 1960. He was just 32 when he decided to retire. As a result, McDougald’s whole career, 1951-1960, was spent under just one manager, Casey Stengel. McDougald hit .258-8-34 while playing 3B and 2B. In the WS, McDougald was 5 for 18 with 2 RBI. He scored the tying run in the top of the 9th of Game 7, setting the stage for Bill Mazeroski’s HR in the bottom of that frame.

With the 1961 expansion draft approaching, McDougald felt that he would be left unprotected by the Yankees and instead of risking going to an expansion team (L.A. Angels or the new Washington Senators), McDougald decided to retire.

He retired with a .276 batting average and an OPS+ of 111. In his ten years in the majors, the Yankees won eight pennants and five WS. McDougald’s 162 g. average was .276-14-70. He wore #12. In WS play, McDougald hit .237 with 7 HR and 24 RBI in 53 games.

After retirement, McDougald was a baseball coach for Fordham University. He died of prostate cancer last fall (November 28, 2010) at the age of 82.

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2 Responses to Classic Yankees: Gil McDougald

  1. Dan says:

    Hi Mike,
    Thanks for the article about Gil. See my small tribute to him on his baseball reference page.

    Cut and Paste above.
    Happy 4th of July!

  2. jim says:

    To be Irish and to start for the Yankees in the Bronx from 1951-1950—- life in America does not get better than that

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