McDougald Family History

By Connor O’Gara

It was a moment Gil McDougald wouldn’t soon forget.

The Yankees All-Star infielder of the 1950s and 1960s had the honor of catching the ceremonial first pitch from President Dwight D. Eisenhower at Opening Day of the 1956 season. After Eisenhower threw the first pitch, McDougald got the president to sign the ball. How could it get much better than an autographed baseball from the president?

There was just one problem. The President signed the ball, “To Joe McDougald, Best Wishes. President Eisenhower.”

The historic baseball and an original picture from that afternoon were donated to the National Hall of Fame and Museum on Sunday by the McDougald Family. The two items were presented to the Hall of Fame by Gil’s daughter-in-law Lori and his grandson, Nathan, both of whom visited the Museum on Monday.

When McDougald passed away in 2010, artifacts from his playing days were distributed throughout his family. Gil’s wife and family decided that the Museum would be the best place to preserve the two historic pieces.

Hall of Fame President, Jeff Idelson, and Gil McDougald’s grandson, Nathan, with the recently donated artifacts. (Milo Stewart, Jr./NBHOF Library)

The ball and picture will join the Museum’s collection of nearly 40,000 artifacts among pieces of history from the greats like McDougald’s teammates Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra. It was those same two guys whom McDougald hit in front of in the Yankees’ lineup throughout his big league career.

While President Eisenhower couldn’t remember McDougald’s name, the rest of the league did. McDougald won AL Rookie of the Year honors in 1951 playing alongside Hall of Fame outfielder Joe DiMaggio, who was in his final season.

The ’51 campaign marked the first of three straight World Series titles for McDougald and the Yankees. He went on to win five World Series and eight American League pennants in his 10-year career.

McDougald, who developed a reputation for coming through in the clutch, delivered when the Yankees needed it most in 1958. Down three games to two to the Milwaukee Braves in Game 6 of the 1958 World Series, McDougald hit a game-winning homer off of Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn in extra innings to even the series.

McDougald’s heroics fueled the Yankees’ comeback from down 3-to-1 to win the ’58 Fall Classic. By the time McDougald retired in 1960, he was a six-time All-Star and a main cog in Casey Stengel’s Yankee dynasty of the 1950s.

Now, McDougald’s grandson Nathan will try to follow Gil’s footsteps on the diamond. While Nathan admitted he and Gil didn’t share too many baseball stories, there is one thing the duo shares: Nathan wears No. 12 for one reason – to honor his late grandfather.

Connor O’Gara is the 2012 public relations intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development

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