SABR

Eddie McGah

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

Eddie McGah’s first visit to Fenway Park was on June 22, 1939. He was there at the invitation of the Boston Red Sox, who gave him a number 15 jersey. He was just 17 at the time, but had made the three-day train trip across the country to join the team and get a feel for life in the big leagues. The Red Sox had signed McGah on his graduation from Roosevelt High School in Oakland, California, on the recommendation of scout Earl Sheely. He had hit .428 for the varsity in his senior year. During the visit to Fenway, McGah caught batting practice and then took some swings himself and hit one to the fence. Coach and veteran catcher Moe Berg was present and he said, “Somebody has been teaching that boy how to catch. He squats in back of that hitter better than any young catcher I’ve ever seen. Have you noticed how most young receivers stand stiff-legged, bent over at the waist? Well, look at McGah. He has good style back there and he’s just out of high school.”i

Berg asked McGah about his background, and Eddie said he’d played four years at Oakland High and Roosevelt because they had let him play during his freshman year, and that he’d played winter ball around Oakland and also on Sundays. Red Sox general manager Eddie Collins said that McGah would spend some time with the club before being assigned to one of the team’s farm clubs. Where he might have spent time in 1939 is not known. McGah’s pro career began with his assignment to the Red Sox’ Class C club in the Middle Atlantic League, the Canton Terriers, in 1940. He lasted just five games before a knee injury sent him home for an operation.

In each of the next two years, McGah started with one club and then wound up elsewhere. In 1941 he started with Class C Oneonta but was bumped up to the Eastern League’s Scranton Red Sox, in Class A. Combined, he batted.329 in 114 games with 31 doubles, 10 triples, and 11 home runs. His 1942 season began with Scranton again but he appeared in only 11 games (hitting .212) before developing some serious knee problems. And with World War II on, he wound up in the US Navy. He started off being stationed in his hometown, and on the team of the Oakland Naval Air Station, which ran up a record of 28-2 playing in the fall and into the early winter. Specialist First Class McGah could have drawn worse duty in the war; he was stationed in Hawaii and played ball as catcher for the Base 8 Hospital team.

The top five players in the voting for 14th Naval District MVP in 1945 were Billy Herman, Johnny Pesky, Charley Gilbert, Eddie McGah, and Bob Lemon. He was, The Sporting News reported, “the leading swatsmith in the loop, according to the latest unofficial marks, as well as being at the top in total bases, number of hits and near the lead in home runs and runs-batted-in. Unquestionably, McGah was the best young star in the loop.”ii By the end of the season Herman had taken the honors for batting average, .408 to McGah’s .385 and Stan Musial’s .380. McGah was named first-string all-star as catcher. Because he’d had only two years of pro ball, he was consider the most promising rookie, and none other than Ted Williams (who’d joined the league for the final four games of the season) said, “He can’t miss. He’s got it.”iii

The month after leaving the service, McGah married Barbara Cameron, on January 15, 1946.

He trained with the Red Sox at Sarasota, Florida, in the spring of 1946. Manager Joe Cronin singled him out as someone he was looking forward to having the opportunity to see in person. “They tell me he’s really fast, which is really something for a catcher,” Cronin said, adding, rhetorically, “How would you like to see the Red Sox with a catcher leading off, like Roger Bresnahan did with the old Giants? We might have a good leadoff man in this McGah kid.”iv Cronin knew he already had two established catchers in Hal Wagner and Frankie Pytlak, but McGah looked like a prospect. Red Sox publicity man Ed Doherty added that McGah had made a lot of friends in the Pacific during wartime ball.

Cronin was impressed, and raved about McGah in early March. Unfortunately, McGah didn’t get in as much work as he would have liked, due to an injured finger. The plan was to send him back to the minors for further seasoning, but he stuck with the club.

The 1946 Red Sox got off to a tremendous start and McGah was lucky to get playing time. He made his debut on April 26 in Philadelphia and he called a 7-0 shutout by Boo Ferriss, the first win of the season for Ferriss. McGah was 0-for-4 at the plate, but collected his first big-league hit (a single) and his first RBI two days later, another win against the Athletics, 5-1, thanks to Mickey Harris on the mound. It proved to be the only run McGah batted in all year.

He didn’t play at all in either July or August; the Red Sox were on such a roll all season long that there simply weren’t the openings there might have been. McGah was on the eligible list for the World Series, but saw no action.

In the spring of ’47, McGah was with the team throughout the exhibition season, even traveling north to Boston and playing in the City Series against the Braves, but on April 17 both he and infielder Sam Dente were optioned to Louisville. They still had high hopes for McGah, and Ed Rumill of the Christian Science Monitor said he might be the team’s first-string catcher in 1948.v

There had been one amusing incident with Louisville, on June 8. McGah was pinch-hitting in a game against Kansas City and after umpire Bob Hicks called a strike on him, and then another, he spoke up and became sufficiently agitated that he was thrown out of the game. Al Brancato came in to bat for McGah, fouled off the first pitch he saw and then was called out on a third strike. The strikeout was officially charged to McGah.vi In his time with the Colonels, he hit. 218 with six homers.

Before the end of July McGah was back with the Red Sox, with whom he finished the season. Eddie got into nine games, but achieved a somewhat remarkable record: he was .000 at the plate in 14 at-bats, but he scored one run and drove in two. His final game was on September 21, 1947.

The team proffered McGah a contract for 1948 and he trained in Sarasota, no doubt hoping for another shot at proving his worth. Birdie Tebbetts was tagged as the main man but Matt Batts, Babe Martin, and McGah were all hustling hard in Sarasota. Rumill wrote that McGah had seemed to get a little “down” earlier on, but “now sees the chance before him and is going all out to grasp it.”vii

But McGah was sent to Scranton again – this time playing third base. He appeared in rather few games, having suffered serious knee troubles, and he went on the voluntarily retired list on May 2, but was reinstated on July 3. His name cropped up in another unusual story, involving a game on August 15 against Binghamton. Scranton won, 4-3, but Binghamton manager Buddy Hassett – who had been thrown out of the game – protested the game on the grounds that the disabled McGah was seated on the Scranton bench in civilian clothes. The league president ruled that McGah’s presence “in no way contributed to the outcome of the game.”viii

That’s how he ended his baseball career – sitting on the bench in civilian clothes and subject to a ruling that he had in no way contributed to the team’s success that day. In 35 games, he had batted .248 but his fielding was poor, an .845 percentage.

After baseball McGah worked as a contractor living in Orinda, California. He turned his attentions to another sport and became a minority partner of the Oakland Raiders. He and his father are both listed as original partners in the Oakland Raiders franchise.

McGah died in Oakland on his 81st birthday: September 30, 2002. Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis said, “Ed McGah's friendship and counsel will be deeply missed by the Raiders.”

 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed McGah’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.

i Christian Science Monitor, June 22, 1939.

ii The Sporting News, October 25, 1945.

iii The Sporting News, November 22, 1945.

iv Christian Science Monitor, February 7, 1946.

v Christian Science Monitor, May 24, 1947.

viThe Sporting News, June 18, 1947.

vii Christian Science Monitor, March 4, 1948.

viii The Sporting News, September 8, 1948.

 

Individual Memberships start at just $45/year

Become A Member Today

When you join SABR you are making a statement of support for baseball history. You are joining a worldwide community of people who love to read about, talk about and write about baseball.