Bill McGee (NATIONAL BASEBALL HALL OF FAME LIBRARY)

Bill McGee

This article was written by James McDonald

Bill McGee (NATIONAL BASEBALL HALL OF FAME LIBRARY)Fiddler Bill McGee is far better known as a musician in the Mississippi Mudcat Band organized by Pepper Martin than as a pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Giants from 1935 to 1942. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound righthander was a handsome guy with grey eyes, light brown hair, a ruddy face, and, according to Sporting News reporter Dick Farrington, “a set of pearly white teeth that look like a dental ad when he smiles.”1 But in the boisterous Gashouse Gang clubhouse, McGee was a modest man who turned down being on a baseball card.2

It is easy to see why his pitching achievements have been overlooked. The Cardinals kept him in the minors until he was 28, and his career fell just between the pennant-winning eras of the Gashouse Gang and the Go-Go Cardinals. He led National League rookies in WAR in 1938 while setting a franchise pitching record of nine consecutive losses. His picture appeared on boxes of Wheaties when he went 28-15 in 1939-40—until McGee mentioned he disliked the cereal’s taste.3 His performance then declined precipitously following a notorious 1941 trade to the New York Giants, and World War II brought his career to an abrupt end at age 32.

William Henry McGee was born November 16, 1909, in Batchtown, Illinois, a town of under 300 residents on the Mississippi River in Calhoun County, 40 miles north of St. Louis. Bill was the fourth of seven children born to Henry and Gesina McGee, who owned a 160-acre farm with a 15-acre apple orchard. But the family struggled financially, and after Henry died in 1919, Bill quit school to work at a neighboring farm for 50 cents a day.4

Bill’s brothers were talented pitchers. “Albert, he’s the oldest, was faster than I ever was,” Bill said. “He’d had a great chance up here, but he threw his arm away. So did Carl.”5 The brothers’ horseplay often involved apple-throwing battles, and Bill said, “You could have made apple sauce off me on the days that Albert had his control.” Albert persuaded the Batchtown semipro team he pitched for to add Bill to the roster, and when a sore arm prevented Albert from pitching one Sunday, Bill got the start and became Batchtown’s ace from then on, moving Albert to the outfield.6

In June 1930, Ben Todd, a pitcher for nearby Meppen, persuaded McGee to borrow $25, board a train to Iowa, and try out with Keokuk, the Cardinals’ Class D affiliate in the Mississippi Valley League.7 He won his first four decisions but left the team with three weeks to go in the season.8 The next two summers McGee played semipro ball for Batchtown and Old Monroe in the Eastern Missouri Baseball Association.9

In July 1933 McGee signed again with Keokuk, then an independent Class B team. Relying mainly on his fastball,10 he struggled to a 6-9 record with a 5.49 ERA. But he hurled three shutouts and a one-hitter that he lost when an outfielder misplayed a single into an inside-the-park home run,11 enough to convince Cardinal scouts to sign McGee. With their Class C affiliate in Springfield, Missouri, he was 23-13 in 1934 with a 3.30 ERA, as the Red Wings won the Western Association pennant.12 McGee continued playing baseball in Calhoun County, even after making the majors. Professional ballplayers regularly competed in local games there during the Depression. He was often matched against Pete Kamp, another Cardinal farmhand,13 and sometimes enticed major leaguers like Heinie Mueller to play in benefit games for the Batchtown Catholic church.14 Redbird teammates, including Pepper Martin, often joined McGee in games at Meppen on off days.15

In 1935 with Houston, the Cardinals’ Class A affiliate in the Texas League, McGee developed an effective curveball16 and was 15-13 with a 2.96 ERA. The Cardinals called him up to start the season finale against the pennant-winning Chicago Cubs. Wearing a uniform borrowed from the batboy, he pitched a three-hit/one-walk complete game and singled for his first major-league hit in a performance that reminded fans of Dizzy Dean’s debut in the final game of 1931.17

The following two springs, McGee competed for a place in the starting rotation and made the opening-day roster as a reliever,18 but was optioned to AA Columbus in May. He won consecutive ERA crowns for the two-time American Association pennant winners, with records of 13-8 in 1936 and 17-7 in 1937, and finished second in the league in strikeouts and strikeout rate in 1937.19 Cardinal owner Sam Breadon called him “the most effective pitcher in the American Association.”20

McGee’s 1936 demotion followed an injury to his hand in the season opener and a month of inactivity.21 But after a complete game in the bandbox of Philadelphia’s Baker Bowl,22 his demotion in 1937 came as a surprise. He was in his uniform for a scheduled start against Brooklyn when he was summoned to team president Branch Rickey’s office and told he would be heading to Columbus. “It’s ‘back to Columbus’ again—and I can’t understand why,” McGee growled. “What’s the use of trying to make good? The Cardinals insist on keeping you down.” He drove to Batchtown instead, refusing Rickey’s phone calls for three days amid rumors he might file a complaint with Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis,23 who, as Andy McCue writes, was known to want “players to have the fullest freedom to exploit their talent, and not get stuck in the minor-league systems of talent-rich organizations.”24

Breadon may have wanted to avoid a conflict with Landis over McGee. In a meeting with McGee, he promised to pay his major-league salary. “Then, sure enough, I went to Columbus,” McGee remembered.”25 Critics faulted Rickey for keeping McGee in Columbus for two years as Redbird pitchers struggled.26

Pepper Martin recruited McGee for his Mississippi Mudcat Band in 1937 after hearing him play guitar in the spring training hotel. Martin had decided to assemble a jug band after receiving a guitar from his wife that Christmas.27 The Mudcats quickly became a phenomenon, lining up concert dates in Florida28 and then performing pre-game shows from the dugout during the season, playing for fans during exhibition games, appearing at charity events and passing the hat at local bars. McGee was the Mudcats’ best musician, playing guitar, harmonica, mandolin, piano, even trumpet, in addition to his trademark fiddle,29 and he came up with the title of the band’s signature song, “Possum up a Gum Stump.”30 On difficult numbers, wrote J. Roy Stockton, Martin would give McGee his guitar and “turn to the harmonica, playing it lustily, while he glances enviously but grinning at Bill McGee.”31 “Fiddlin’ Bill has a technique all his own,” Stockton observed. “As the music gets hot the fiddle slowly but steadily drops from his chin, until it is resting against a middle rib, as Bill leans over, with a faraway look in his eyes, just a strokin’ and a strokin’ those strings.”32

Cardinal management profited from the publicity generated by the Mudcats, but they also saw the band as a distraction.33 According to Martin, most of the band believed McGee’s demotion was “because he was paying too much attention to his music.”34

McGee began the 1938 season with an assortment of pitches, including an overhand fastball and curve, a sidearm fastball and curve, and a change-up.35 His best pitch, according to Cliff Bloodgood, was “a side-arm sinker, that is natural for him and no strain on the arm. It is a wow of a pitch for making the batters beat the ball into the dirt and thus hit into double plays. He finds it especially effective against left-hand hitters and employs it frequently in the well-known clutch.”36 Catcher Mickey Owen compared McGee’s sinker to “a cannon ball when it comes into a catching mitt. When the heavy ball he throws is hit real good by a hitter it doesn’t carry like a light ball will. Look up the records and you’ll see he doesn’t give up many home runs.”37 McGee would have the lowest home run rate in the majors in 1938. Although he sometimes struggled with walks, Red Byrd wrote, “If he were wilder, his high, hard one would have the batters a bit worried up there at the plate.”38 McGee, in fact, hit only six batsmen in his big league career.

After opening 1938 in the bullpen, his season turned when he threw the best game of his career in Ebbets Field, a one-hitter with nine strikeouts.39 He lost his shutout and no-hitter when Goody Rosen singled and circled the bases after Joe Medwick misplayed a hop. McGee singled in the winning run in the seventh. Unbeknownst to his teammates, McGee’s mother was undergoing surgery as he took the mound. He learned from her surgeon’s telegram that she was “out of danger” only after the game.40 He did not win again for two months as he set a club record with nine consecutive losses.41 Yet his ERA was 2.98 when the streak ended. His game on Bill McGee Day, when fans from home presented him a DeSoto in a pre-game ceremony, was a typical game during this streak. He retired the first 24 batters but avoided a loss only when the Redbirds scored two eighth-inning runs to salvage a 2-2 tie. He finished the season at 7-12. The Redbirds scored two runs or fewer in eight of his losses.

McGee was the Cardinals’ best pitcher in 1938, but in the chaos of the Cardinals’ first losing season since 1931, his accomplishments went largely unnoticed. His 3.8 WAR led all National League rookies and was sixth among NL pitchers. He tossed 10 complete games with five saves and a 3.21 ERA. He led the majors in field-independent earned run average (3.30) and home runs per nine innings (0.167). He was third in the NL in pitching appearances (47) and ninth in adjusted ERA+ (123). He fanned 104 batters in 216 innings for the league’s fifth best strikeout rate. The one blotch on McGee’s record was his 78 walks, tenth highest in the NL.

And with McGee on fiddle, Martin on guitar and harmonica, Frenchy Bordagaray on a washboard, Bob Weiland on jug, and Lon Warneke on banjo, the Mississippi Mudcat Band was at the peak of its popularity. Max Lanier and trainer Doc Weaver often joined in, plus ex-Cardinals Dean and Ripper Collins when the Cards played the Cubs. The Mudcats performed at the ballpark, in hotel lobbies and trains when the Cardinals were on the road, and for various gigs and benefits. On trips to New York, the band booked national radio programs, including Ripley’s Believe It or Not!42 and even performed at the movie premiere of Rawhide starring Lou Gehrig.43 “I was perhaps the only manager who carried an orchestra,” manager Frankie Frisch recalled. “We traveled with more instruments than we did shirts or anything else.”44 The Mudcats played by ear and usually added jokey lyrics to bluegrass standards. “We never played the same number the same way twice,” remembered Collins. “We’d start out one way and finish another. Often we’d play one number and switch to something else right in the middle of it.”45

The Mudcats made good money for the Depression, earning fees as high as $750 on national radio. They signed an eight-week contract for a post-season vaudeville tour at $1500 a week but quit after three weeks.46 “We were going along fine and getting pretty good money,” Collins recalled. “But . . . Pepper got homesick and went back to Oklahoma.”47 The tour was the Mudcats’ swan song. Injuries and declining production caused Martin to give in to Rickey’s pressure to disband the Mudcats after the Cards’ losing season.48 “Mr. Rickey said I could continue with the Mudcats if I wanted,” Martin said in February, “but maybe I have given too much time to outside interests.”49

McGee missed his paydays with the Mudcats. Though he supplemented his $7,000 salary working offseason for North American Cold Storage in East St. Louis, he could not afford to marry his fiancé, Marcella “Sally” Kiel of Meppen, for five years after he proposed in 1936. He was supporting his mother and sisters Cora and Cecilia and paying off his mother’s medical bills while saving to buy a farm. “It runs into money,” McGee explained. “I’m the one that’s got to get it. My sisters can’t.”50

In 1939, McGee won 12 and lost 5. He finished fifth in the NL in winning percentage (.706), fourth in shutouts (4), tenth in WHIP (1.372), and eighth in average hits per nine innings (8.842). He was in the top 10 among National League pitchers in several recent metrics as well: base-out runs saved, base-out wins saved, and win probability added. But his ERA rose to 3.81, and he had only five complete games on a staff with fewer complete games than any NL team.51 Minor injuries limited him to 17 starts and 43 appearances,52 and his WAR fell to 2.7. Despite a new slider,53 McGee’s strikeout rate dropped significantly, and he walked more batters than he struck out.

The press speculated weight loss over the winter hurt his fastball. His season was streaky. He had a 5-0 record and an ERA of 2.06 on June 7 when he exacerbated an earlier hip injury on a home-run pitch to his nemesis, Babe Phelps, in a 7-3 win over the Dodgers.54 His ERA increased to 5.36 when he lost five of his next six decisions. Manager Ray Blades dropped him from the rotation, as the Cardinals fell 12 games behind the first-place Reds on July 30. But when the Cardinals won 10 in a row and surged back into the race, McGee returned to the rotation with a three-hit shutout over Pittsburgh and did not lose another game. In September, he shut out the Reds and defeated the Giants, 2-1, giving up two hits in 8 1/3 innings. In the biggest game of his career, he outpitched MVP Bucky Walters to defeat Cincinnati,4-0, on four hits, reducing the Reds’ lead to 2½ games with four games left. Cincinnati, however, pulled away to win the National League by 4½ games.

McGee, Farrington wrote, had “made the turn toward real stardom in 1939.”55 Reporters predicted a 20-win season in his future. He came close in 1940, with career highs in wins (16), innings (218), starts (31), and complete games (11). His winning percentage of .615 tied for seventh in the National League. He hurled three shutouts, facing only two batters over the minimum in his two best games. He grappled with control, however, leading the NL with nine wild pitches and finishing second in walks with 96. For a second straight season, he had more walks than strikeouts.

But 1940 was a frustrating season for the Cardinals. The pre-season favorites to win the pennant stumbled out of the gate, and Blades was fired when St. Louis dropped to 14-24. The Cardinals went 69-40 after Billy Southworth took the helm but still finished 20 games behind the Reds. The 31-year-old McGee was an established veteran of the staff, but Rickey and Breadon, impatient to get back to the World Series after six seasons, were pinning their hopes on youth. After the season, Martin retired, and Rickey traded 12 veterans, including Medwick, in deals that paid the Cardinals almost $350,000.56

Twenty rising young pitchers were brought to camp, and Southworth committed to playing the rookies.57 McGee threw just 14 1/3 innings in the first 20 games, with an ERA of 5.02, and was dropped from the rotation. He blew a save against the Dodgers in his final Cardinal appearance. A week later he was traded to the Giants for pitchers Harry Gumbert and Paul Dean plus $20,000 or $30,000. Bill Terry had long wanted to acquire McGee, who owned an 8-1 career record against New York.58

The trade came just as the “Batchtown bachelor” was ready to settle down. In March he had purchased a 225-acre farm on the Illinois River outside Hardin, Illinois, about 12 miles from Batchtown. Anticipating his long-awaited wedding to Sally over the All-Star break, McGee negotiated a raise. He later suspected that was why Rickey decided to trade him.59 He was buying a suit for the ceremony when he learned of the trade and retreated to Batchtown before deciding to report to New York.60 When the Giants next traveled to St. Louis, McGee unexpectedly announced wedding plans for the following day. He and Sally were married June 21 in St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, five blocks from Sportsman’s Park—at 8 am, so Bill could make the afternoon game.61

The trade soon became known as the worst in a series of bad deals made by Terry with the floundering Giants. Gumbert won 11 and lost 5 with an ERA of 2.74 for the Cardinals. Meanwhile, as Robert W. Creamer writes, “McGee was a bust with the Giants.”62 Willard Mullin of the New York World-Telegram and Sun captured fans’ frustration in a cartoon captioned “McGee Fiddles While Terry Burns,” a phrase sportswriters repeated with delight.63

After six starts climaxed by an 11-0 loss to Chicago, McGee was exiled to the bullpen with an 0-5 record and ERA of 6.19. He did not win his first decision until three months, to the day, after the trade. He won just once more after returning to the rotation, finishing with a combined 2-10 and 4.95 ERA, a horrendous ERA+ of 76, and -0.9 WAR. Poor control and conditioning were the causes of this collapse, McGee believed. “I have had as much stuff as I ever had. But, hang it, no control. . . . I didn’t get enough running and enough pitching, and I lost my edge, and, to make it worse, I got out of shape. I need a lot of work to stay in condition and keep my control.”64 Worsening back pain was the root cause. Doctors diagnosed his condition as vertebrae permanently “misshapen” from a past injury, with “a tendency to slip out of place when he pitches.”65

New manager Mel Ott hoped McGee would improve in 1942 with more work and conditioning.66 But after he failed to pitch beyond the third inning in two of his three starts, Ott sent him to the bullpen. He started just five more games and finished 6-3 with an ERA of 2.94. In almost two seasons in New York, he had pitched only 210 innings in 22 starts and 53 appearances. McGee had a career record of 46-41, including nine shutouts and 31 complete games. His ERA was 3.74. With the Giants, he was 8-12 with a 3.94 ERA and -0.04 WAR, compared to 38-29, 3.67, and 9.1 with St. Louis.

In March 1943 McGee announced he was retiring to “raise hogs for Uncle Sam.” He needed to protect his selective service classification as an essential agricultural worker for World War II, especially after his farmhands were all drafted. His back condition factored into his decision, he later said.67 He spent the rest of his life farming. When his hogs were infected with cholera one year, he had to slaughter them, burn their pens, and raise new livestock in an uninfected area of the farm. In 1950 he and Sally took in her nephews Bob and Jimmy Kiel and raised them for five years. They parented two other boys for another couple years.68

Bob Kiel describes his uncle as a religious, hard-working, and generous man who enjoyed pulling pranks. He hosted streams of visitors, often taking them atop a bluff on his farm to view the Illinois River.69 From time to time, he got out his fiddle, his father-in-law sometimes accompanying him on the piano. Every so often, he took the mound at a local game to show that his fastball still had some heat. McGee retired from farming in the 1980s. He died February 11, 1987, in Christian Hospital Northeast in St. Louis and is buried in St. Norbert’s Catholic Cemetery in Hardin, high on another bluff overlooking the river.70

The Cardinal Hall of Fame Museum held a “Sally McGee Day” in 2007, and in 2008, a year before she died, she was the Cardinals’ guest for Calhoun County Night in honor of McGee at Busch Stadium.71 Fiddler Bill’s Mudcat uniform is housed at the Calhoun County Historical Museum in Hardin. His fiddle is often on display with other Mudcat memorabilia in the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame Museum.

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Warren Corbett and Norman Macht and checked for accuracy by SABR’s fact-checking team.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources shown in the notes below, the author used Baseball-Reference.com.

 

Notes

1 Dick Farrington, “‘Fibber’ McGee Finally Makes a Believer of Cardinals,” Sporting News, February 17, 1939: 5.

2 Bob Kiel, phone interview, July 13, 2020.

3 Kiel interview.

4 Kiel interview and Terry Hillig, “‘Fiddler’ Still Has His Fans,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 11, 2008: 3D; Larry Underwood, “The Bill McGee Story,” Calhoun News (Hardin, Illinois), 1987. Underwood published a 14-part series on the life of Bill McGee in the weekly newspaper shortly after McGee’s death. A manuscript exists in the Dee Brown papers in the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies of the Central Arkansas Library System, in Roberts Library at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

5 Bill Corum, “McGee Tells of Sick Mother and Big Family and Says: ‘I Have to Stick in This League,’” International News, St. Louis Star-Times, May 18, 1938: 18.

6 Farrington, February 17, 1939: 5.

7 All articles about McGee since 1934 state that McGee’s professional baseball career began with Keokuk in 1933, sometimes representing facts from his 1930 season as taking place in 1933. That confusion causes problems in dating events about McGee in Keokuk. The story of McGee’s trip to Keokuk is more plausible if it took place in 1930 when he was 20 than if he was returning to Keokuk for a second minor-league season as a 23-year-old in 1933.

8 Baseball-Reference.com is the source for all of McGee’s statistics except the 1930 season. According to Mississippi Valley League statistics in the Davenport (Iowa) Democrat and Leader on August 17 (p. 32), he was 4-1 and had given up 32 runs, 50 hits, and 17 walks while striking out 15. This record may be his final statistics for 1930. McGee dropped out of the league’s weekly publication of players’ records after that, implying his departure. His final statistics do not appear in The Sporting News 1930 Pitching Records of Mississippi Valley League (October 16, 1930: 8).

9 “Bill McGee, Ex-Card, Calhoun Farmer,” Alton (Illinois) Evening Telegraph, July 27, 1949: 12; Underwood.

10 Lloyd Gregory, “Houston Leans Heavily on Its Young Material,” Sporting News, May 16, 1935: 3.

11 Charles J. Foreman, “Eight 1-Hit Games in Majors, 26 in Minors,” Sporting News, December 14, 1933: 5. The number of McGee’s shutouts is in “Lengquist and Piechota Top Valley Winners on Mound,” Sporting News, February 1, 1934: 8.

12 Lee Allen, “Cooperstown Corner,” Sporting News, November 16, 1968: 32.

13 “Former Brinkman Players Shine,” Alton (Illinois) Evening Telegraph, October 21, 1935: 13.

14 “McGee to Hurl in Calhoun Game,” September 28, 1940: 9.

15 Tina Pluester, Calhoun County Historical Museum, phone conversation, July 15, 2020.

16 “Minors Worth Watching,” Sporting News, June 13, 1935: 5.

17 “He Breezed in Like Dizzy,” Sporting News, October 24, 1935: 1.

18 Red Byrd, “Pitching and Punch Must Carry Cards,” Sporting News, April 2, 1937: 3.

19 “M’Gee Low in Earned Run Yield Second Straight Season in A.A.,” Sporting News, December 16, 1937: 8; Tom Swope, “Cincy Roster Delay Gives Hint of Deal,” Sporting News, January 27, 1938: 9; Fred C. Seely, “American Association Holds Batting Edge over the Other Two AA Organizations,” Sporting News, January 20, 1938: 6.

20 Chic Feldman, “Breadon Optimistic, But Won’t Say Flag,” Sporting News, January 14, 1937: 3.

21 “Cards Send M’Gee to Columbus Club,” St. Louis Star-Times, May 8, 1936: 25.

22 Dick Farrington, “Frisch on Carpet? Fans Speculating,” Sporting News, May 20, 1937: 2.

23 Farrington, “‘Fibber’ McGee”; Dick Farrington, “Diz Losing Friends by Tossing Duster,” Sporting News, May 27, 1937: 3; Ray J. Gillespie, “Si Johnson Takes McGee’s Pitching Turn and Gains First Victory,” St. Louis Star-Times, May 22, 1937: 6; “Bill McGee, Ex-Card.”

24 Andy McCue, “Branch Rickey,” in The Team That Changed Baseball and America Forever, ed. Lyle Spatz (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2012): 15-21, rpt. SABR, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/branch-rickey/.

25 “Bill McGee, Ex-Card.”

26 “Winsett Hits 21 Homers in Month for Red Birds,” Sporting News, July 9, 1936: 2; Sid Keener, “Sid Keener’s Column,” St. Louis Star-Times, June 28, 1937: 22; J. Roy Stockton, “Release of McGee Perplexes Cardinal Fans,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 22, 1937: 2B; Dick Farrington, “Card Recruits Hurl .600 Ball in Minors,” Sporting News, November 18, 1937: 3.

27 J. Roy Stockton, “Extra Innings,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 23, 1937: 15.

28 Bill Braucher, “Tales in Tidbits: What’s This? Cards Gone Sissy?” The Dispatch (Moline, Illinois), March 30, 1937: 16.

29 Stockton, “Extra Innings.”

30 Lorin McMullen, “Richards’ Drive Shows in White Sox Surge,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, July 19, 1953: 17.

31 J. Roy Stockton, The Gashouse Gang and a Couple of Other Guys (New York: A. S. Barnes, 1945), quoted. in Derrick Gould, 100 Things Cardinals Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die (Chicago: Triumph, 2012): 104.

32 J. Roy Stockton, “Extra Innings: Fiddlin’ Bill,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 18, 1938: 13.

33 Sid Keener, “Sid Keener’s Column,” St. Louis Star-Times, June 24, 1938: 20-21.

34 Ray J. Gillespie, “Rain Delays Resumption of Cardinal-Giant Feud Until Tomorrow,” St. Louis Star-Times, June 8, 1937: 22.

35 W. Vernon Tietjen, “Bill M’Gee Attributes His One-Hit Game to Perfect Control,” St. Louis Star-Times, May 18, 1938: 18; Underwood; Cliff Bloodgood, Baseball Magazine, September 1938, quoted in Bill James and Rob Neyer, The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers: An Historical Compendium of Pitching, Pitchers, and Pitches (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004): 301.

36 Bloodgood, quoted in James and Neyer: 301.

37 Edward J. Murphy, Baseball Magazine, July 1941, quoted in James and Neyer: 301.

38 Red Byrd, “Blades Works Hard on Cards’ Morale,” Sporting News, March 16, 1939: 3.

39 Tietjen.

40 Sid Keener, “Sid Keener’s Column,” St. Louis Star-Times, May 17, 1941: 5.

41 Neal Russo, “Vukovich a Beacon in Cards’ Dark Season,” Sporting News, September 23, 1978: 10.

42 “Programs Previewed,” Time, vol. 32, issue 10, September 5, 1938; “Rosen Sorry He Got Only One Hit Off Fiddler Bill McGee,” St. Louis Star-Times, May 18, 1938: 18.

43 Henry McLemore, “Pepper Martin’s Mud-Cat Band Is Hit of Show as Lou Gehrig’s Movie Has Its World Premiere,” United Press, Oklahoma News (Oklahoma City), March 24, 1938: 10.

44 Doug Feldman, St. Louis Cardinals Past & Present (Beverly, Massachusetts: Voyageur Press, 2008): 108.

45 James Enright, “Mudcats Rode ‘Em All into Ground,” Sporting News, September 5, 1964: 8.

46 Enright.

47 “Mudcat Band’s Tour Halted by Pepper’s Homesickness,” Sporting News, Jan. 25, 1956: 12.

48 “Song of the Mudcats Is Ended—But the Melody Lingers On,” Associated Press, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 5, 1939: 51; “Cardinals Quit Old Ways; Now Efficient, Quiet,” New York Daily News, United Press, March 12, 1939: 90; “Surrender of the Mudcats,” Sporting News, March 23, 1939: 4. There are conflicting accounts of the breakup of the Mudcat band. One story is that they decided as a group to end the band when they quit the vaudeville tour (Paula Holman, Cardinals Museum Curator (“Meet the Mud Cats Band,” MLB.com, September 4, 2014, https://www.mlb.com/cardinals/video/meet-the-mud-cats-band/c-35945967); Brian Finch, Manager of Busch Stadium Tours and Museum Operations, “The Mudcat Band,” YouTube, May 16, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKD3Jl9kbRI; Jonathan Fraser Light, The Cultural Encyclopedia of Baseball, vol. 2 [Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2016]: 606; and Enright). Another story is that Rickey or Breadon shut the Mudcats down in anger because the Cardinals were overshadowed by the band in publicity for an exhibition game in Rochester, New York, against the Redbirds’ AAA affiliate. “There were posters on all the telegraph poles and fences and there wasn’t a store window without one. But they didn’t say anything about the Cardinals. All they announced was that Pepper Martin’s Mud Cats would play before the game,” Cardinals traveling secretary Leo Ward said in 1965 (Jimmy Cannon, “A Wake for Pepper,” Oneonta New York] Star, March 10, 1965: 19). Ward claimed Breadon was responsible for shutting down the band. Sid Keener in 1940 wrote that Rickey made the decision (“Sid Keener’s Column,” St. Louis Star-Times, Oct. 7, 1940: 26). In Bob Broeg’s version of the story, Frisch phoned Breadon to complain about the billboards, but Broeg did not connect Frisch’s complaint to the breakup of the band (“‘68 Redbirds Blend of Best of Past,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 29, 1968: 3J). The Rochester game took place July 25, 1938 (“Martin’s Famed Band to Entertain; Baugh to Peg ‘Em Tomorrow,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, July 24, 1938: 3C), seven months before the breakup was announced. Neither of these explanations appeared in 1939 newspaper stories about the end of the Mudcats.

49 Martin J. Haley, “Clift Signs Browns Contract at Big Increase in Salary: Martin Still Out of Cards’ Fold,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, February 2, 1939: 8A.

50 Corum; Jill Thurston, “Fond Memories of Days Gone By,” Calhoun Herald-News (Hardin, Illinois), Nov. 30, 2005: A3.

51 Dick Farrington, “Card Staff Far Off in Complete Games,” Sporting News, September 28, 1939: 3; Herman Wecke, “Ray Blades, Pitcher-Switcher Pilot of the Cardinals, Let Hurlers Go Route in Only 45 Games—They Won 44,” Sporting News, November 9, 1939: 5.

52 Martin J. Haley, “Warneke to Hurl Brooklyn Finale Today,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, June 9, 1939: 3B; W. Vernon Tietjen, “Home Run Barrage Enables Cardinals to Beat Phils, 4-3, Here,” St. Louis Star-Times, September 13, 1939: 20.

53 J. Roy Stockton, “Cards Beat Dodgers in Night Game, 7-3, Before 33,299,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 8, 1939: 2B.

54 Stockton, June 8, 1939; Franz Wippold, “33,299 See Cards Win Night Game from Dodgers,” St. Louis Stars-Times, June 8, 1939: 30. McGee said Phelps was the toughest out he ever faced in “Bill McGee, Ex-Card.”

55 Dick Farrington, “Brown-Toledo Pact Awaits Landis Okay,” Sporting News, January 18, 1940: 3.

56 J. G. Taylor Spink, “‘Mass Production’ of Pitchers Behind Cards’ Rise,” Sporting News, May 29, 1941: 1.

57 Robert W. Creamer, Baseball and Other Matters in 1941 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991): 141-2.

58 Joe King, “‘Cousins’ Keep 20-Game Hurlers on Top,” Sporting News, January 11, 1956: 3; King, “Clouting ’Em: Demise of First-Year Rule Forward Step,” Sporting News, February 26, 1966: 22. Although the deal was essentially a trade of 31-year-old pitchers McGee and Gumbert, newspaper articles about the trade inaccurately state McGee’s age as 28. This error is consistent with other references to McGee’s age during his career. These errors seem connected to the fact that all articles about McGee after 1933 incorrectly state that his minor-league career began in 1933, omitting his season with Keokuk in 1930. It appears that there was a decision to lie about McGee’s age after he signed a contract with the Cardinals’ Springfield affiliate in 1934. Terry probably thought he was trading for a 28-year-old pitcher, not a 31-year-old—whether or not Rickey knew McGee’s real age.

59 Kiel.

60 Underwood.

61 Hillig; “Bill M’Gee Marries Illinois Girl Here,” St. Louis Star-Times, June 21, 1941: 5.

62 Creamer: 142.

63 King, “Clouting ‘Em.”

64 Joe Trimble, “McGee Blames Southworth for Loss of ‘Edge,’” New York Daily News, June 19, 1941: B61.

65 “Bill McGee, Ex-Card.”

66 Ken Smith, “Ott Takes Look-See at Socker from ‘C’,” Sporting News, April 2, 1942: 15.

67 “Home Front Hurler,” Associated Press, Rock Island (Illinois) Argus, March 4, 1943: 20; Edward S. Kitch, “Fiddler Bill McGee Will Stay on His Illinois Farm,” Moberly (Missouri) Monitor-Index, March 5, 1943: 2; “Fiddler McGee Farmed Out for War’s Duration,” Daily Chronicle (DeKalb, Illinois), March 4, 1943: 8; “Players Ratings in Draft,” Sporting News, November 14, 1942: 2; Dwight Ringhausen, Famous People of Calhoun County, Illinois (Hardin, Illinois: Calhoun County Historical Society, 1999). Bob Kiel recalled McGee’s “hogs for Uncle Sam” statement in a phone interview.

68 Kiel.

69 Kiel

70 “Bill McGee Dies; Pitched for Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 12, 1987: 8D.

71 Hillig; “Marcella ‘Sally’ McGee,” Alton (Illinois) Evening Telegraph, July 20, 2009, https://www.thetelegraph.com/news/article/Marcella-Sally-McGee-12695325.php.

Full Name

William Henry McGee

Born

November 16, 1909 at Batchtown, IL (USA)

Died

February 11, 1987 at St. Louis, MO (USA)

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