Jack Maguire

This article was written by Greg Erion

Jack Maguire signed a minor-league contract to play in the New York Giants system at the age of 18. Although he eventually ended up playing only 45 games for the Giants, mostly as a pinch-hitter or pinch-runner, Maguire brushed against baseball history. In May 1951 the Giants sent Maguire on waivers to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Maguire’s uniform number became available for the taking by a young rookie called up from the minor leagues. That number – 24 – became the most revered in Giants franchise history.

Maguire was born on February 5, 1925, in St. Louis, the third child of Gordon and Reta Sarah Maguire.1 His father, a salesman, had played in the minor leagues for several years, and scouted for the St. Louis Cardinals before joining the Giants organization. Gordon scouted mostly American Legion baseball in the St. Louis area. Scouting for the Giants, he was responsible for signing several players including Don Mueller, who, in an odd twist of fate, became a major factor in son Jack’s career.2

One who “got away” from Gordon was Lawrence Berra. Maguire recommended him to Cardinals general manager Branch Rickey, but Rickey for some reason did not, and Berra eventually went to the Yankees. But not before young Jack and some friends bestowed on fellow American Legion ballplayer Berra one of the most famous nicknames in sports. 3

As the story goes, Maguire and fellow future major leaguer Bobby Hofman went to the movies with Berra and saw a travelogue on India. In the film was a yogi (one who practices yoga) who either looked like Berra, or who sat with crossed legs, as Berra did on occasion. Whatever the case, from then on Berra was Yogi.4

Young Maguire excelled in basketball and baseball, playing shortstop for Beaumont High School and for the St. Louis Stockhams American Legion team. In 1942 the Stockhams went into tournament play with a roster that included five players who later had professional careers, including Berra, Hoffman, and Roy Sievers.5 After Jack graduated from Beaumont, his father signed him to a minor-league contract with the Giants.6

Maguire was initially assigned to the Jersey City Giants in the Double-A International League (until 1946 the equivalent of today’s Triple-A), where he played shortstop and second base in 26 games and hit .281. He was 18, which in 1943 meant he was eligible for the World War II military draft. At the end of the season, he went into the Army Air Corps. He was eventually sent to India, where he worked in communications, handling Morse code transmissions, and played in various service leagues.7 He was discharged in 1946, and resumed his professional career.8

In 1946 Maguire hit .308 in 123 games with 11 home runs for the Trenton Giants of the Class B Interstate League. Shortly after the season ended, Gordon died unexpectedly at the age of 48. From 1947 through 1949 Jack played mostly for the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association, batting a high of .281 in 1947. He split the 1948 season between the Millers, where he batted .264, and the Jersey City Giants, where he hit a modest .231 while playing second base, shortstop, and third base. At this point, his career seemed headed toward a dead end. His hitting was a question mark, his fielding inconsistent.

In 1949, however, Maguire’s game came together. Playing for the Millers, he hit .348, third in the league, and showed extra-base ability with 26 doubles and 12 home runs. He began playing the outfield, a fortuitous move as the Giants made an offseason trade to obtain second baseman Eddie Stanky and shortstop Alvin Dark from the Boston Braves. With Hank Thompson seemingly settled at third base, cracking the infield would have been extremely difficult. Further, Maguire’s defensive ability improved in the outfield.9 His work ethic, potential, versatility, and obvious improvement earned him a spot on the 1950 Giants roster. Not only was his career moving along, his personal life was as well. During that year, he married Dorothy Galvin, whom he had met while she was a student at St. Louis University.10 Their marriage lasted until Maguire died in 2001.

Maguire joined a team that was on the upswing under manager Leo Durocher. Durocher was rebuilding a team that had finished fifth in 1949. With the exception of first baseman Tookie Gilbert, who hit a powerless .220, the Giants put a solid team on the field in 1950 and finished third, just five games behind the pennant-winning Philadelphia Phillies. Maguire, unable to crack the starting lineup, appeared in just 29 games, mostly as a pinch-hitter or pinch-runner. He played the outfield in nine games, and first base twice.

Maguire’s first major-league appearance came on April 18, 1950, when he flied out as a pinch-hitter for Sal Maglie in a game at the Polo Grounds. His second appearance, three days later, was more profitable as he smacked a pinch-hit double off the Dodgers’ Preacher Roe, the only extra-base hit the Giants could muster in a contest they lost. Maguire’s appearances throughout the year were sporadic; he often appeared in games well out of hand. He ended up hitting just .175 with two doubles in 40 at-bats. Inauspicious to be sure, but Maguire faced a more serious challenge in making good with the Giants.

During spring training of 1951, in an article in The Sporting News, Ken Smith offered “advice” to Giants players. The advice was in turn humorous and insightful: Sal Maglie – “Keep cutting those corners close”; Don Mueller – “Look up Eddie Roush. … He’ll teach you a lot of outfielding in five minutes.” Smith’s advice to Maguire seemed enigmatic: “Get mad at somebody.” 11 Maguire’s file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library contains what almost seems a scouting report on his abilities. While mostly lauding his accomplishments, one comment states, “Maguire, however, has always been something of a problem child. Always looked like he had tremendous ability but never steady.”12 No further explanation was given from the report, which appeared to have been written in November 1949.

What these somewhat vague observations may have been referring to was an article about the Giants during spring training in 1950. The undated article, also in Maguire’s file, discusses several rookies attempting to make the club. It notes that while Durocher was initially impressed by Maguire, he had soured on the rookie. The article says, “Maguire has been playing creditably but his attitude doesn’t suit Durocher. The boy is too matter-of-fact, and Leo has been unable to needle him into a display of aggressiveness that would give the lie to the scouting reports.”13 Durocher coveted assertive, hard-playing individuals and Maguire was not measuring up in those departments. It was a precarious situation to be in for a reserve player as the 1951 season started.

Various accounts of the Giants’ play during the early part of 1951 indicate that Durocher was trying to find the right combination of players to make a run at the pennant. Monte Irvin’s play at first base left a lot to be desired; he soon moved to the outfield with outfielder Whitey Lockman moving to first.14 Durocher was concerned about Hank Thompson’s play at third, although correcting that situation would not come until July when Bobby Thomson took over the position. Additionally, Don Mueller got off to a slow start, hitting under .200 through May.

Maguire got into several games and at one point seemingly challenged Mueller for the right-field position. It seemed ironic that Mueller had signed his first professional contract with Maguire’s father, Gordon. Although Mueller had hit .291 the year before, he had not yet earned his nickname, “Mandrake the Magician,” as his prowess with a bat was temporarily in question.

Maguire started the year off as before, and was used almost exclusively for pinch-hitting and pinch-running chores. He made his first appearance in the field against the Boston Braves’ Warren Spahn on April 27 at the Polo Grounds, starting in right field. In the fifth inning he hit his first major-league home run, putting the Giants ahead, 2-1, although they went on to lose 7-3. Several days later, Maguire, after replacing Mueller, tripled in two runs to highlight a six-run outburst in the fifth inning of an 8-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs. The next day he pinch-hit for Mueller, who was then hitting .160, and later in the game produced a RBI single in a losing cause. Over the next few weeks, Maguire started several games in right field against left-handed pitching. By May 23, after limited appearances, he was hitting .400.

On that date Maguire replaced Clint Hartung in the ninth inning against the Cubs in Chicago. It was his last game as a Giant. The next day, the team announced that it was bringing Willie Mays up from the Minneapolis Millers. Mays was hitting .477 with the Millers, and Durocher wanted him in the lineup. Although Mays was technically replacing infielder Artie Wilson on the roster, he was really replacing Maguire as well. With the addition of Mays the Giants had too many outfielders, with Clint Hartung, Irvin, Spider Jorgensen, Mays, Mueller, Thomson, and Maguire vying for three spots. Maguire, perhaps because of Durocher’s assessment of him, perhaps because he was not seen as having enough power, was placed on waivers.15

Within a few days the last-place Pittsburgh Pirates claimed Maguire.16 The Washington Senators had expressed an interest in Maguire as well but Pittsburgh, with a worse record, had priority in the waiver process.17

Maguire’s departure and Mays’ arrival spurred another development, inconsequential at the time but generating iconic repercussions over the years. Maguire’s number with the Giants was 24. He was still on the roster when Mays was called up, and cleared waivers on May 28. Mays played May 25, 26, and 27 wearing number 14.Then, as The Sporting News noted, “Willie Mays, rookie outfielder up from Minneapolis, switched uniform numbers when Jack Maguire went to the Pirates, taking Maguire’s No. 24 and discarding 14.” Number 24 was associated with Mays for the rest of his career and was retired after he left the Giants.18

Maguire was going from a pennant contender to a team that was in the midst of eight consecutive seasons in which it finished last or next to last. In 1951 the Pirates finished seventh as GM Branch Rickey shuffled 47 players onto and off the roster. Maguire was part of this parade, and he lasted with the Pirates for a little over a month. He played in nine games, mostly as a pinch-runner or pinch-hitter, and got no hits in five at-bats. On July 7 he was claimed off waivers by the St Louis Browns and had gone from bad to worse. The Browns were in last place and finished there.

Bill Veeck had just taken over the Browns and was determined to shake things up. His first day on the job, he made 14 calls to other clubs seeking new players, and got Maguire in the process.19 Veeck had been impressed by Maguire's performance with the Millers in 1949 and hoped he would fit in well with St. Louis.

Maguire was able to increase his playing time, appearing in half of the Browns’ remaining games. He started fast – in his first month with the Browns he batted over .300 as the regular left fielder – but he tailed off in August and lost his position to Ken Wood, barely seeing action the balance of the season. Maguire did appear as a pinch-hitter against the Detroit Tigers on August 19, in the game that witnessed midget Eddie Gaedel making his lone major-league appearance.

A little over a week later, Maguire came to bat in a game with far more serious undertones. On August 28, in the bottom of the fifth inning of a game against the Yankees at St. Louis, Maguire walked with the bases loaded to force in a run with Yogi Berra behind the plate. Berra went berserk over the ball-four call, wheeling on plate umpire Ed Hurley and grabbing his arm. Quick thinking by other Yankees separated Berra from Hurley before the matter escalated. Berra was ejected, and his apology to Hurley after the game minimized what could have resulted in serious disciplinary action. Berra biographer Allen Barra described the incident without being able to explain Berra’s uncharacteristic loss of temper but wondering if somehow Maguire’s presence at the plate and acquaintance with Berra in his youth had anything to do with the occurrence.20

Maguire made his last major-league appearance on September 9, entering a contest in the ninth inning as a defensive replacement. He ended the season having appeared in 41 games, with St. Louis and hitting .244 with one home run. For his career, he played in 94 games with a .240 average and two home runs.

A week after the season ended, new manager Rogers Hornsby recommended that the Browns obtain infielder Leo Thomas from Portland of the Pacific Coast League. To obtain Thomas’s services the Browns gave up pitcher Fred Sanford, Maguire, and cash.21 As if being sent to the minors was not bad enough, the same week the National League champion New York Giants announced player shares from revenue generated during the World Series. Maguire, possibly because he was still a major leaguer, received nothing. 22

Maguire played the infield and outfield for Portland in 1952, appearing in 72 games and batting .258. That season was his last in Organized Baseball. He did not seem to have much of a future in the game. Travel was onerous, and as he told his son Jack years later, having spent much of his time on the bench while with the Giants after being a starter in the minors took much of the luster off the game.23 During the winter, Portland traded Maguire to San Antonio of the Texas League, but Jack decided to retire and spend more time with his family. At 27, his baseball career was over.

During the winter of 1952-53, Maguire worked for South Grand Motors in St. Louis. He later worked as a salesman for Fred Broeg Chevrolet before moving to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he continued selling cars until he retired. He took up golf and became quite proficient at the game.

Suffering from Parkinson’s disease, Maguire moved to be near his daughters in the San Antonio area where he died on September 28, 2001. His wife, Dorothy; two daughters, Maureen and Deborah; a son, Jack Michael; and five grandchildren, survived him.24

Maguire’s career in the majors was brief. He helped give one American icon his nickname and his uniform number went to another. One wonders how his career might have gone if he, like so many of his generation, had not been called to serve his country during World War II. That he did serve his country in a time of need, and successfully raised a family, however, puts baseball in its proper perspective.

 

This biography appears in "The Team That Time Won't Forget: The 1951 New York Giants" (SABR, 2015), edited by Bill Nowlin and C. Paul Rogers III.

 

Notes

1 Family data from Ancestry.com, thanks to Barbara Erion.

2 “Necrology,” The Sporting News, November 13, 1946, 19.

3 Allan Barra, Yogi Berra, Eternal Yankee (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009), xxiii, xxiv.

4 Barra, 17-18. Some sources credit Maguire solely with coming up with Berra’s nickname. Son Jack Michael said it was a combination of boys, including his father, who came up with Yogi. Phone interview August 25, 2013.

5 “Necrology,” The Sporting News, October 3, 1951, 38; “Few of Big Time’s Legion Stars Ever Gained Finals,” The Sporting News, July 22, 1959, 20.

6 Maguire’s file at the Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, New York. His obituary, “Former Browns Player Maguire Dies,” St Louis Post-Dispatch, October 1, 2001, notes he served in the Army Air Corps.

7 Phone interview with Maguire’s son, Jack Michael, September 2, 2013.

8 Hall of Fame file on Maguire.

9 “Thomson, Maguire Signed by Giants,” New York Times, January 11, 1950, 36.

10 Maguire phone interview, September 2, 2013.

11 “Giants Urged to Remember Their Comeback Late in ’50,” The Sporting News, March 28, 1951, 23.

12 Undated article in Hall of Fame file on Maguire.

13 Ibid.

14 Ray Robinson, The Home Run Heard ‘Round The World, The Dramatic Story of the 1951 Giants-Dodgers Pennant Race (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1991), 118-119.

15 Robinson, 140.

16 “Jack Maguire Awarded to Pittsburgh Pirates, Hartford Courant, May 27, 1951, 14.

17 “Bloom Off the Rose – Nats Fade, The Sporting News, June 6, 1951, 6.

18 “Major Flashes,” The Sporting News, June 13, 1951, 21.

19 “Browns Find a Doctor in the House,” The Sporting News, July 18, 1951, 12.

20 Barra, 148-149.

21 “Browns Get Thomas Back for Sanford And Maguire,” The Sporting News, October 17, 1951, 5.

22 “Yankees Cut Up Fourth Highest World Series Player Pool, Hartford Courant, October 19, 1951, 23.

23 Maguire phone interview, September 2, 2013.

24 “Former Browns Player Maguire Dies,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 1, 2001.