Bill McGilvray

This article was written by Niall Adler

Bill McGilvray's major-league career lasted two months and 11 days, but for seven years he was at the top of his game in the minors (1906-12) spanning Denver to Birmingham.

He crossed paths with some of the game’s greats – finishing second to Shoeless Joe Jackson in batting in 1910, but leading the league in steals, playing against young center fielder Casey Stengel, batting against the likes of Cy Young and Babe Adams, and, in his last year, hanging on and playing against player-manager Joe McCarthy.

He was a two-time minor-league batting champion (1906, 1909), ranked in the top 10 in league batting for a stretch of six of seven years and hit .297 over 12 minor-league seasons and 1,451 games. He was a corner outfielder (and later first baseman) who led off and then hit cleanup, who could hit for average with above-average speed.

According to family records, the McGilvray clan of Duff and McGilvray worked in the rock quarries in Dundee, Scotland. Between 1847 and 1859 seven children were born in Scotland or Ireland to Jessie Duff and Alexander McGilvray. Widowed at 34, Jessie moved her six surviving children to the United States about 1870, via New York City to Chicago, where they witnessed the Great Chicago Fire of October 8, 1871. As four children married, the ever growing clan pulled up roots and by 1880 had moved to Denver, where Jessie’s son William B. McGilvray, a stone mason, married a fellow Scot, Margaret Wilson.1

In June 1880 William, Margaret, and their young son, Albert, moved to Portland, Oregon. Three years later, on April 29, 1883, William Alexander, was born. By the 1900 Census, they were back in Denver.

There is some confusion as to William Alexander's affiliation with Stanford. Bill's uncle, John D., was a stone contractor in the Bay Area. Among his projects were buildings on the Stanford campus. Alexander Beacon Carey McGilvray, one of John's sons, played on Stanford's first Rose Bowl team, in 1902, and was a catcher on the baseball team in 1902 and 1903. In many record books A.B.C. McGilvray and Bill McGilvray became one. In fact they were cousins.

At West Denver High School, Bill was listed as a left fielder in 1901-02,2 at first base in 1902-033 and likely on both the baseball and football teams again in 1903-04, despite no yearbook existing for that year. Bill as a junior, at the age of 18 weighed 160 pounds. He was listed as a left end for the 1902 football team, and as “manager” of 1903 football team.4 It is likely that he met his future wife, Pearl Pate, in high school. (East and West High merged in 1902; Hayes and McGilvray Stone Contractors were credited with the building of East High in 1872. William Alexander, known as Big Bill, used the Hayes surname early in his pro career, apparently in an attempt to preserve his amateur status.

Early in the 1903 season, “William Hayes” played for Rock Island of the Three-I League. By mid-July he was playing right field for the Denver Grizzlies of the Western League.5 In September Hayes was the team’s center fielder and leadoff hitter, and at season’s end had a .419 batting averagein 16 games (74 at-bats). In 1904 “William A. Hayes” patrolled right field for the Grizzlies, mostly batting seventh and playing for manager-second baseman William Hallman, formerly of the Philadelphia Athletics.

Denver was not an easy place to play in, especially for the visitor. In May, “an order (was) issued by the owner of the team that ‘rooting’ must stop, and policemen (were) stationed in front of the various stands to re-force the rule.” So much for the “time-honored privilege of the rooter to howl himself hoarse if the exigencies of the situation demanded it.”

Featuring four men (including Hayes) with 100 hits but none over .300, Denver and its state rival Colorado Springs battled for the pennant in midseason.6 As Denver and Colorado Springs closed out the season 5-5-1, Omaha won 11 of its last 12 and overtook both to finish with 90 wins (.600), ahead of 87-win Denver (.588) and 85-win Colorado Springs (.594). The “novice William Hayes”7 finished batting .274 (147-for-537) in 149 games with 47 runs and 18 steals, behind fellow Grizzly outfielders Bob McHale (.301) and Frank Ketchum (.287). Both had had prior short cups of major-league coffee. Denver’s inept scoring led to a league-high 12 shutouts.

In 1905 “McGilvray, otherwise known as Hayes”8 played for half of the Western League’s six teams. From the start of the season until early July he was the first baseman and right fielder for Denver, batting .318. Traded to last-place St. Joseph (30-75) in late July, McGilvray was released in early August and “kicked at being docked three days’ pay for illness.”9 In late August he joined Des Moines, playing right and some center and leading off for manager Herman Long. During one stretch from September 16 to 22, McGilvray hit .355 (11-for-31) with nine runs over a 7-1-1 streak. “Des Moines ... it was almost a foregone conclusion that the Underwriters would win the rag. They are a hard hitting aggregation, fair on fielding, a scrappy lot led by an unscrupulous manager and in possession of a fine lot of pitchers.”10 The skipper was former star shortstop Herman Long, who garnered Hall of Fame consideration in its first vote in 1936. Long also was a “back number” for owning (and going broke on) a saloon. As the Arkansas City Daily Traveler put it, “the saloon business and ball playing do not go together.” Des Moines (95-52) took the pennant followed by Denver (94-59).

In 1906 McGilvray signed with Seattle of the Pacific Coast League. His Coast League career lasted 15 games as the team’s 23-year-old left fielder (9-for-46,.196), before he took his talents back to the Western League and joined Pueblo, managed by future Hall of Famer Frank Selee, and proceeded to win the league hitting crown, batting .373 (198-for-531) in 139 games for last-place Pueblo.

As noted in Sporting Life on more than one occasion, “some of the major league managers overlooked a good thing last year in McGilvray, the fast outfielder of the Pueblo team”11 who “pounded the ball for Selee’s Indians. The fact that Mac was with a tail end team last season is about the only reason that he was not looked after by some of the big league managers.”12

Back at Pueblo in 1907, McGilvray batted.309 (174-for-564) in 146 games, ranking fifth in the league in batting and leading in hits (174) and runs (94). In September he was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds.13 The big leagues had come calling.

McGilvray wrote to Reds president August Hermann, telling him that he’d make his way to St. Augustine, Florida, for the start of spring training on March 8.14 He asked Hermann for $2,400 for “season and transportation.”15 On February 1 Hermann sent McGilvray a contract. McGilvray replied that the terms were “satisfactory.”

As one spring-training observer noted, the “Bald Eagle of Colorado (was) a versatile athlete, willing to fill any position where he may be needed. He would pitch a few innings if requested.”16 The “sanguine and friendly” Bill was likely to “slip in when he’s needed to fill an outpost for the regulars.”17 He won the roster battle over 23-year-old Tom Daley and 29-year-old former major leaguer Michael Joyce O’Neil as the team’s extra outfielder18 and understudy to John Ganzel at first base.19 A preseason stint against Cy Young and his Boston Americans, likely highlighted his spring-training appearances.

After the Reds lost their first two games to the defending World Series winner Chicago Cubs (and endured a rainout in between), McGilvray made his debut in game three of the series, pinch-hitting in the ninth inning against Chick Fraser with the Reds losing 1-0.

It was 10 days before McGilvray got off the bench again. In a 9-2 loss at St. Louis he pinch-hit for reliever Bob Spade in the ninth against Fred Bebee.

McGilvray remained with the Reds until June 25, earning $350 a month for a total of $828.26 for his two months and 11 days of major-league service.20 In late May, McGilvray was waived by the Reds and was slated to go to Harrisburg, but first was loaned to Milwaukee to take the place of Danny Green, whose “arm is so bad that it takes high class sticking quality to keep it in fray.”21 In 20 games McGilvray made four errors (for a .909 fielding percentage in 40 chances) and hit just .209 (14-for-67) with four steals. He spent the rest of the 1908 year in Harrisburg22 after earning $250 a month for 20 days with Milwaukee from June 3 to 23, for $166.66 plus the cost of a sleeper train ticket from Milwaukee to Harrisburg for $24.92.23

With a renewed optimism as Harrisburg’s center fielder starting on June 25, McGilvray was “doing splendid work in the field and at the bat (and had) become a general favorite.”24 At 25, he was sandwiched between 34-year-old Frank Huelsman and 36-year-old Kip Selbach in the outfield and all three were hitting over .300 in late July.25 Continuing to hit the ball hard, he finished the year hitting .318 (81-for-255) in 74 games, and likely in the top 10 if he’d qualified with enough at-bats.

Writing to August Hermann after the season, McGilvray told the Reds president, “Wish to state that I do not desire to go back to the Tri-State again if it can be helped.”26 On March 9 McGilvray and Pearl Pate were married in Denver.27 He started 1909 spring training back with Denver before being sent by the Reds in late April to Birmingham, where he would spend some of his most successful years.28 Birmingham secured the versatile player for $750.29

McGilvray’s Birmingham career almost ended, if not for a position change. In August, with the signing of “sensational outfielder” Hogan Yancy from the New York State League for $800, McGilvray was slated for release.30 Instead he switched from right field to first base, moved from third to the cleanup spot in the batting order, and “slugged himself to the leader of the team and looks like a contender for the league leadership ... a change that has proven very beneficial.”31

McGilvray wound up leading the league in batting with a .291 average, ranked fifth in hits (138-for-478) and added 42 runs and 16 steals. He played 51 games at first (with a .987 fielding percentage) and 92 games in the outfield (.971). The Barons finished in sixth place at 60-79 after losing 16 of their first 26 games. Yancey hit a respectable .270.

The next season, 1910, was the start of even better adventures. Rick Woodward, the 33-year-old son of an iron magnate and an MIT graduate, purchased the Barons. He would build a new ballpark, Rickwood Field, and usher in new riches for the club. The 28-year-old McGilvray and Woodward built a special bond, noted in yearly correspondence from Woodward’s estate, until their deaths in the early 1950s.

Concrete Rickwood Field was much different than 600-seat wooden West End Ballpark, nicknamed the “Slag Pile” for its steel “slag” product behind the outfield wall on which freeloaders perched to watch a game.

Woodward, a former amateur player, was a character, “a true fan of the game in every way,”32 who actually would throw the first pitch of the game (in uniform) and who “got into fistfights with umpires.”33 Later in life, Woodward chased a grizzly bear on horseback and chased a mountain lion in Wyoming.34 He likely gave manager Carlton Molesworth fits.35 The showman also instituted a brass band to “cheer up the Barons and fans before a game.”36

The new Rickwood Field had a scoreboard in right, the top half dedicated to the game at hand and the bottom half to the rest of the league’s scores. Center field was over 400 feet away, “almost impossible for anyone to hit a home run” over the wooden fence.37 The steel and concrete structure cost $75,000.

The ballpark, named from a newspaper contest, opened for business on August 18, 1910.38 By 2:30 a “steady line of streetcars delivered fans to the park; there literally (were) not enough street cars to meet the demand” for the 4 P.M. game. With a capacity of 5,000, “never has a crowd this large (12,000) viewed a Southern League baseball game.”39

The Barons featured two of the league’s top hitters, manager Molesworth (.323 as of August 20) and McGilvray (.317), who were both trailing a “natural batsman” and “athletic recruit,”40 Shoeless Joe Jackson of New Orleans, at that point hitting .368.

It was a cracker of a game, 3-2, with the Barons scoring two runs in the bottom of the ninth to leave Montgomery on the field with one out. First baseman McGilvray, batting fifth, went 1-for-3, scoring one of the team’s three runs.41 The Barons, despite losing the next two to Montgomery, went 12-3 in its first 15 games at Rickwood. The new ballpark ignited the team. Starting on August 22, four days after the opening, with four of its next five series at home, Birmingham won 13 of 15 games, including seven in a row, as McGilvray hit safely in 13 games and hit .340 (17-for-50) over that stretch. By September 10 Birmingham (77-57) was keeping pace with an New Orleans (84-49), but the Barons ran out of time, finishing eight games back (79-61) behind Jackson’s New Orleans club (87-53).

All season the Barons were known as “a team without a star. ... That is the kind of base ball that means victory.”42

McGilvray (.325) finished second to the 22-year-old Jackson (at .354) for the batting title. McGilvray led the league in steals43 and ranked fifth in hits (147 to Jackson’s 165). He made 26 errors at first base for a .970 fielding percentage. The Barons had a successful season at the gate, with 132,170 paid admissions in 65 home games.

Converted to a full-time first baseman in 1911, and batting in the cleanup spot for the Barons, McGilvray for the third straight year finished with a .301 average (144-for-478) with 23 steals and 63 runs. Birmingham (76-62) finished in third place behind champion New Orleans (78-55) and Montgomery (77-58). Unfortunately for league coffers, just New Orleans and Birmingham made money, while the rest broke even or lost money.44 The Barons were averaging about 2,000 per game.45

The 1912 season began with a tornado (literally) and ended with champagne. With the season a week old on April 22, news of the tragic sinking of the Titanic overwhelmed the front pages of American newspapers. A week after the great ship sank, a tornado hit Birmingham. As newspapers wrote, “[C]hurches were lost. Houses vanished. A stunned people struggled to understand what knocked them flat.”46 The tornado also knocked down Rickwood’s wooden fence. The Barons were in New Orleans for the weekend. After a 16-13 start to the season, the Barons won 14 of their next 18 and by late May were in front for good. Birmingham was bolstered by star Cuban infielder Raphael Almeida, and McGilvray, at 29, finished third in the league in batting with a .314 average (142-for-452) and added 20 steals and 68 runs over 137 games for the Southern League champions. The Barons (84-61) feasted on the lesser teams, going 15-5 against last-place Atlanta and 15-4 against seventh-place Chattanooga, to win its first pennant since 1907 over Mobile (78-58) and New Orleans (71-64). Except again for Birmingham, the league lost money, and abandoned the double-umpire system it had implemented at the start of the year.47

McGilvray’s final season in Birmingham, 1913, was not kind to him or the team. After a slow start, the Barons finished 74-64 as Atlanta (81-56) and Mobile (81-57) decided the pennant on the final day. In 141 games at first base, McGilvray hit just .251 (115-for-459), and was dropped from fifth in the batting order to sixth by late July. Still showing some speed at 30 years old, he ranked third on the team with eight triples.

In October 1913 the Barons entered a three-team tournament with Habana and Almedares in Cuba. Referred to by El Figaro reporter Guillermo Pi as “los rubios” (the blond ones), the Barons went 8-5-2. It was the last time McGilvray wore a Barons uniform.48

In 1914 McGilvray was off to Troy in the New York State League for his final pro season. He batted.230 in 126 games (100-for-434). No specific information could be found as to whether he was released or retired.

McGilvray settled back in Denver with Pearl and their two children, William (1909-1985?) and Margaret (1917-99). Eventually he became an executive with Continental Oil (now Conoco). In 1926 McGilvray received a letter from Woodward that said: “I often think of you and the good old days when we use to line them over the infielders and make the pitchers unhappy.”49

In July 1944, McGilvray wrote to Woodward, “I don’t swing as fast and accurately as it was in the days when I was with you in Birmingham, so I am following the laws of nature and slowing up as I grow older.” Adding that his son Bill (an Army major and combat engineer) and son-in-law Gay Campbell (a first lieutenant in chemical warfare), were both in England as he waited to be a grandfather again, he wrote, “They have me up to the bat 3 & 2 with the bases loaded.”50

Son Bill became a POW in Germany; a 1945 letter by McGilvray to his “dear friend (Woodward) of 32 years” told of Bill missing in action for six months, but home from Belgium and able to see his 16-month-old for the first time.51

Woodward, who in later years would don spectacles and wear a bow tie, died on November 23, 1950. His creation, Rickwood Field, was still in use a century after its opening. Under Woodward’s ownership the Barons won five pennants and finished in the first division 20 times.52 In the Depression year 1938 Woodward was forced to sell the team, and “he wouldn’t go back” for its 40th birthday in 1950. 53

McGilvray died two years later, May 25, 1952, of cancer. His wife, Pearl, an elementary-school teacher, lived to 106 and died in July 1990, seeing the birth of four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. Much of the family is buried the Riverside Cemetery in Denver, but Bill’s gravesite is at Fairmount Cemetery in Denver, with his wife and daughter.54

 

Notes

1 McGilvray and Duff Family Histories, http:// freepages.folklore.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~bldr/mcgilfam.html..

2 The Heraldo Annual: 1901, 1901-02.

3 The Heraldo Annual: 1902, 1902-03.

4 The Heraldo Annual: 1902, 1902-03.

5 “Denver Doings,” Sporting Life, July 25, 1903.

6 “Western Winnowings,” Sporting Life, September 3, 1904.

7 “Western Winnowings,” Sporting Life, September 24, 1904.

8 “News Notes,” Sporting Life, August 12, 1905.

9 “News Notes,” Sporting Life, August 26, 1905.

10 “Events of the Season,” Sporting Life, October 7, 1905.

11 “Western League News Notes,” Sporting Life, April 13, 1907.

12 “Western League News Notes,” Sporting Life, May 11, 1907.

13 Sporting Life, September 7, 1907.

14 Letter from McGilvray to Herman, February 8, 1908, August Hermann papers, National Baseball Hall of Fame, Folder 34, Box 26, February 8, 1908.

15 Letter from McGilvray to Hermann, January 24, 1908, August Hermann papers, National Baseball Hall of Fame, Folder 34, Box 26.

16 Cincinnati Enquirer, March 30, 1908.

17 “The coming of Bill M'Gilvray,” Sporting Life, February 15, 1908.

18 “The Leftfield puzzle,” Sporting Life, April 4, 1908.

19 Ben Mulford Jr., “Mulfordisms,” Sporting Life, April 4, 1908.

20 Letter from McGilvray to Hermann, June 29, 1908, August Hermann papers, National Baseball Hall of Fame, Folder 34, Box 26.

21 “American Association News,” Sporting Life, June 13, 1908.

22 “The Cincinnati Nationals and Harrisburg Clubs Make a Deal,” Sporting Life, June 27, 1908.

23 Letter from Chase Havenor to Hermann, June 24, 1908, August Hermann papers, National Baseball Hall of Fame, Folder 37, Box 54.

24 “Tri-State Tidings,” Sporting Life, August 1, 1908.

25 Ibid.

26 Letter from McGilvray to Hermann, October 20, 1908, August Hermann papers, National Baseball Hall of Fame, Folder 34, Box 26.

27 McGilvray questionnaire, National Baseball Hall of Fame.

28 Sporting Life transactions,, March 20, 1909, and April 24, 1909.

29 Letter from R.M. Braugh to August Hermann, August Hermann papers, National Baseball Hall of Fame, Folder 46, Box 64, January 14, 1909.

30 “Southern Sayings,” Sporting Life, August 7, 1909.

31 “Southern Sayings,” Sporting Life, August 21, 1909.

32 “Rick Builds a Real Ballpark,” in Clarence Watkins, Baseball in Birmingham (Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2010).

33 Whether any of Woodward’s pitches were in Southern League competition could not be determined. His name does not appear on any of the Barons’ rosters from 1910 to 1915 as listed on baseball-reference.com.

34 Lucia Giddens, “Rick Woodward Likes His Sports,” Birmingham Post, March 3, 1934.

35 “Rick Builds a Real Ballpark.”

36 “Southern Sayings, Sporting Life, September 21, 1912.

37 “Rick Builds a Real Ballpark.”

38 “Rickwood Field Shines in ’42,” Birmingham Buff, April 16, 2013, http://thebirminghambuff.com/tag/rick-woodward/.

39 Clarence Watkins, Rickwood Times, June 2, 2010, http://rickwood.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/rickwoodtimes-10_rickwood-ti....

40 “News notes,” Sporting Life, June 11, 1911.

41 Sporting Life, August 27, 1910.

42 “Southern Sayings,” Sporting Life, May 7, 1910.

43 A Sporting Life story the next season (March 18, 1911) noted that McGilvray led the league in steals.

44 “A poor season financially,” Sporting Life, September 30, 1911.

45 Letter from Woodward to Stanley Lawson, June 17, 1911, August Hermann papers, National Baseball Hall of Fame, box 61, folder 64.

46 John Archibald, “Forgotten Jefferson County Tornado Reminds Us That Pain Is Timeless,” Al.com, April 22, 2012.

47 “Southern Sayings, Sporting Life, August 17, 1912

48 Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria, The Pride of Havana: A History of Cuban Baseball (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 134.

52 “Woodward, Ex-Baron Owner, Dies at 74,” Birmingham Post-Herald, November 24, 1950.

53 Bob Carlton, “Birmingham Baseball Through the Years,” Al.com, April 10, 2013, al.com/sports/index.ssf/2013/04/birmingham_baseball_through_th.html..