Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Gil McDougald 1928-2010

One of my favorite trivia questions of all time is this.

"How many times did Mickey Mantle win Rookie of the Year and why not?"

Since you can only win this award once in your career at most, the obvious answer to the first part is zero. The second part is that his teammate Gil McDougald had a much better year in 1951. Mantle struggled some and was sent down to the minors for a while. McDougald became a regular in the Yankees' line-up that year, alternating between second and third base and batting .306 with 14 homers in the regular season and one in the World Series.

For all his talent, bad luck followed McDougald around. In 1955, he was struck by a ball during batting practice and lost much of his hearing, which is at least part of the reason he retired young in 1960. In 1957, he hit a line drive that broke the skull around the eye of Cleveland pitcher Herb Score, who had been Rookie of the Year in 1955. Score missed the rest of the 1957 season and much of 1958 as well, and never returned to his dominant form before the injury. McDougald promised to retire if Score went blind, but fortunately for both men, that didn't happen.

The idea of "the rule of threes" is popular superstition when it comes to celebrities dying, but in the past news cycle, there were five people who died whose claims to fame I knew: McDougald, Leslie Nielsen, congressman Steven Solarz, famous for investigating the corruption of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, and two film directors, Irvin Kershner, who was a professor of George Lucas' at USC and later directed The Empire Strikes Back, and the Italian comedy writer-director Mario Monicelli.

Best wishes to the family and friends of all these men, from a fan.

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