Gil Coan (THE TOPPS COMPANY)

Gil Coan

This article was written by Jack Zerby


Gil Coan (THE TOPPS COMPANY)Gil Coan was heralded as a speed merchant who could hit for average with some power after two spectacular minor-league seasons as World War II wound down. But beyond baseball, his life was and always remained rooted in his family and his community.

An unusual skin allergy significantly hampered his rookie season. Injuries bedeviled him afterward and he refused to alter what he knew to be his most productive hitting approach when pressured to hit for power. That created friction with the Washington Senators organization, which had brought him to the majors in 1946. Still, Coan had back-to-back seasons in 1950 (despite a midseason head injury) and in 1951, demonstrating his talent. But he was injured yet again in 1953 and still not delivering the power the Senators wanted from him. That led to an offseason trade to the brand-new 1954 Baltimore Orioles. Coan had brief tenures with two more organizations before a solid 1956 season back in the high minors put a bookend on his professional career.

As baseball took him through highs and lows, Gil Coan looked to the future in Brevard, North Carolina, the adopted hometown where he had settled as a college student — and where he had fallen in love and married in 1941. Funded with what he had reaped from his baseball career through 1951, he bought a cattle farm near Brevard. The hard work he put into the farm and other enterprises acquired after his retirement from baseball brought rewards, permitting him to devote decades of service to the Brevard community and share a fulfilling marriage to his college sweetheart that lasted 78 years. As a legacy, his sons and grandsons are maintaining what he, with his wife’s steady support, started and sustained.

Gilbert Fitzgerald Coan was born in Monroe, Union County, North Carolina, on May 18, 1922.1 His parents, George Phifer Coan and Florence Price Coan, were Union County natives. The family descended from the Scotch-Irish emigration which flowed into the North Carolina Piedmont region beginning in the late eighteenth century. Gil was the second of George and Florence’s four children — he had a brother two years older, George Pruitt Coan. A sister, Dixie Myers Coan, was born two years later; Roger Phifer Coan, the youngest child, was born another three years later.

In 1922 the family lived on a farm outside Monroe that George Coan had acquired with the help of his World War I veteran’s pension. Around 1933, when Gil was approaching his teens, the Coans moved to the Union County hamlet of Mineral Springs. There, George ran a Depression-era service station and country store.2

Mineral Springs was small, but had a high school where Gil honed his baseball skills in abbreviated seasons of eight to 10 games each spring. The school didn’t offer football, but he played basketball as well as baseball.3 Coan grew into a lithe, quick, 6-foot, 180-pounder. The left-handed hitter threw right-handed and started as a second baseman. He played the summer of 1939 in a Rotary Club teen league in Monroe.4

Coan suffered the first of many physical setbacks — one that directly affected his baseball career — at the age of 10. It happened while he was playing sandlot football. Looking back in 1996, he recalled, “I cracked a joint [in his left thumb] and the bone came loose at the middle joint and they had to remove the bone.” The result was the loss of most of his left (glove hand) thumb.5

Coan came to be regarded as one of the better defensive outfielders in the American League despite a throwing arm that diminished from strong to merely average. His outfield prowess later in his career primarily stemmed from positioning and speed. However, the loss of his thumb was “a definite liability catching a baseball,” he said when interviewed at the age of 91. He was never able to adapt to using a prosthetic.6

The Coan family were devout Methodists. Their home was next door to the Mineral Springs Methodist Church; Gil was baptized at Central Methodist Church in Monroe and was “very proud of his Methodist heritage.”7

His faith remained a running theme after high school. Coan traveled 150 miles west to Brevard, the county seat of Transylvania County in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, to enroll at Methodist-affiliated Brevard College. Brevard was then a two-year school with a baseball program that was and still is well-regarded.8 There he played the 1941 season.9

He also met a coed who was to become his wife, Dovie White of Rosman, North Carolina. In addition to graduating from Brevard College, she became one of the first women to obtain a private pilot’s license in the college’s aviation program in 1941.

Coan told the Brevard College newspaper in 1988, “I got out in the spring of 1941 and I went to work in Spartanburg [South Carolina, just across the nearby state line] and came back and worked for Ecusta [a paper mill in Brevard] and we got married in September [22], 1941.”10

The Ecusta mill was a major employer in Brevard and had a team in the semipro Western North Carolina Industrial league. When interviewed in 2013, Coan recalled the level of competition as equivalent to Class A minor-league baseball. While he was playing for Ecusta, Coan said, “a scout saw me and offered me a contract for Class B ball, [but] I was in love and not going to leave Brevard.”11 That scout was Zinn Beck, who’d played for the Cardinals and Yankees in the 1910s.12

Coan had a 4-F deferment from World War II service because of his thumb. He settled in Brevard with Dovie and the couple’s first child, Gilbert Jr. (born December 21, 1942, and called “Gilly”). He continued to work at Ecusta, and even stopped playing baseball for a while.

But the game was in Coan’s blood. Early in 1944, the 22-year-old contacted Beck, who was then general manager of the Chattanooga Lookouts of the Southern Association, a club loosely affiliated with the Washington Senators. Coan signed for $275 a month, went to spring training with Class A Chattanooga, and was “the talk of the workout” on April 4.13 Out of spring camp he was posted to Chattanooga’s feeder club, the Kingsport (Tennessee) Cherokees in the Class D Appalachian League. Scouted and signed as an infielder, Coan “played all over the place but primarily second base” for Kingsport and blazed to a .367 average through 72 games. In July he was promoted to the Lookouts.14 He got into 48 games there and continued his excellent hitting with a .335 average in the faster company.

The 1944 season had been a whirlwind of success, but Coan topped it in 1945. He played that season as Chattanooga’s right fielder and had the sort of season that aspiring major leaguers dream of. In 540 at-bats he had 201 hits (.372), with 40 doubles, 28 triples, 16 home runs, and 37 stolen bases. Yet he was unassuming about it: “I know I haven’t any special batting technique. I just step up to the plate and do my best. No pitcher is going to bother me.”15 The Sporting News was impressed, naming him its minor-league Player of the Year for 1945.16

Outfielder George Case17 had been an integral part of the Senators for eight seasons, winning five consecutive American League stolen-base titles from 1939 through 1943 and garnering All-Star selections in 1939, 1943, and 1944. Coan appeared to be so ready to step right into the Washington outfield, though, that owner Clark Griffith traded Case to the Cleveland Indians on December 14, 1945, for steady hitter Jeff Heath.

Case had speed but had never hit for power. The same was true of José Zardón, an outfielder who’d played a good deal for Washington in 1945. In early January 1946, the Senators announced that Zardón would go back to Chattanooga as partial payment for Coan, who had beaten the Cuban in a race when both were members of the Lookouts the previous year.18 That also paved the way for Coan, whose 1944 and 1945 seasons in the minors showed potential for the long ball as well as on the basepaths.

Others agreed. Veteran Washington sportswriter Shirley Povich wrote from 1946 spring training in Orlando on February 21 that Griffith had refused a reported $100,000 offer for Coan’s contract.19 Povich noted that Coan had hit “the longest drive of the training sessions to date,” and praised the batting stroke he brought to camp as “a fluid swing that packed a pronounced wrist action.” Senators manager Ossie Bluege agreed: “Between those wrists and his 198 pounds, he’s got a lot of power.”20

By late March, however, Coan was out of action with blistered, infected feet caused by an apparent skin allergy to something in the Florida sand. “He hasn’t had on a uniform for three days, what with both feet raw from a form of blister that looks like a fungus. He doesn’t know when he can literally, get back on his feet.”21

Still limping badly, the rookie went north with the team for the 1946 season. He sat on the bench for the first 10 days, then made his major-league debut at Griffith Stadium on April 27 as an eighth-inning pinch-hitter for pitcher Mickey Haefner. After grounding out to second base, Coan sat for another 10 days until he again appeared as an unsuccessful pinch-hitter for Haefner. He played in the field for the first time as a last-inning defensive replacement in right field on May 19 in Chicago.

The rookie’s first major-league starting call came in the 47th game of the season, on June 8. Bluege slotted Coan second in the batting order as the Senators’ right fielder at Griffith Stadium against the White Sox. He worked two walks in four plate appearances, then gave way to pinch-hitter George Binks. Coan had 26 more starts in 1946 and legged out his first major-league hit on June 16 — a leadoff bunt single in the top of the seventh inning off Al Benton that keyed a three-run Washington rally in a win at Detroit.

Coan’s 1944 and 1945 production at Chattanooga had propelled him to the majors. By contrast, his 1946 season for Washington, disrupted by the foot infection, was disappointing. He mustered only 28 hits in 147 plate appearances for a .209 average. He hit his first major-league home run on June 30 at Fenway Park in Boston, but had only a total of eight extra-base hits. His speed on the bases produced an inside-the-park home run in the eighth inning at Detroit on July 18; the Senators won, 1-0. Otherwise, his speed wasn’t an offensive factor as he attempted only four steals and was caught twice.

None other than Ted Williams, though, liked the “little” he had seen of Coan as a rookie. In a column syndicated by the Boston Globe, the slugger, back with the Red Sox from World War II, assessed 1946 American League rookies and called Coan “the most promising prospective big league star. I mean a real outstanding player. He has impressed me more than the rest. What I’ve seen him do has been terrific. He’s fast and he can throw. And it looks to me like he’s going to be a good hitter.”22

Coan did have a brief time in the spotlight in 1946. Griffith and the ever-entrepreneurial Bill Veeck, owner of the Cleveland Indians, cooked up a 100-yard sprint match race between Coan and Case as a pregame attraction when the Indians visited Washington on August 21. A sizable Wednesday-night crowd of 24,123, including war hero General Dwight Eisenhower, turned out. Coan lost “by approximately six feet,” as Case “covered the distance over soggy ground in the surprising time of ten seconds flat,” as reportedly timed by “six local AAU officials.”23 Each contestant received $500 for their effort; Case went hitless in five at-bats in the game; Coan met General Eisenhower but didn’t play.24

For 1947, Washington had penciled Coan in as the regular left fielder, but another medical issue — this time appendicitis — slowed his spring preparation to the point that he spent most of the season back at Chattanooga.25 He thrived in the old surroundings, hitting .340 with 22 home runs in 151 games. The average carried over; Coan was recalled to Washington, and from September 17 through the end of the season started 11 games in right field and batted .500. But once again there was little power. Of his 21 hits, only five were for extra bases and he drove in only three runs from the third spot in the order.

Coan, by then 26, stayed healthy and got into a career-high 138 games with the 1948 Senators as the regular left fielder under new manager Joe Kuhel. His batting average fell to .232, but he tied for the team lead with seven home runs and drove in 60 runs, second-best for the seventh-place (56-97) club. He also showed some of the speed from his minor-league days with a major-league career-best 23 steals (also the team high that year) in 32 tries.

Opening Day 1949 (April 18) was among Coan’s all-time favorite experiences. As recounted in Coan’s obituary, President Harry S Truman was at the ballpark. A photo Gil’s son, Gil Jr., will always cherish shows his father handing a ball to President Truman in the stands. Coan recalled, “Oh, that was a big day. First I got to meet President Truman before the game and also Connie Mack. Then I went 3-for-5 in the game. Mack asked me to go to dinner with him after the game, which, of course, I did.”26

Coan went 3-for-4 the next day at Yankee Stadium and carried a .300 average into early May. Although he stayed healthy and got into 111 games as an outfielder and pinch-hitter for the 1949 Senators, by season’s end he had regressed to a .218 average, three home runs, 25 RBIs, and nine successful steals. Washington lost 104 games, seven more than in 1948, and dropped to eighth place.

Kuhel was out in 1950, replaced by Bucky Harris. According to Povich, “Making a big leaguer out of Coan, the former Southern Association batting champion who flopped three times under managers Ossie Bluege and Joe Kuhel, is Harris’ chief mission” in spring training.27 Griffith held out hope. “If anybody can make a good man out of Coan, [Harris] can, and that’s what I’m asking him to do this year. I won’t admit I’m wrong on Coan until Harris is through with him.”28

Coan had a good spring. He hit his first career grand slam against Ned Garver of the Browns on May 3 and was still hitting .306 after play closed on May 14.29 Over the next 15 games, though, he batted .196 with only two extra-base hits. The slump dragged him to .252 by June 2, when an injury derailed him again — he suffered a head injury in a collision with St. Louis second baseman Owen Friend.30 Returning on July 13, he came back strong. He started 59 of 73 games through the end of the season and hit .324 with 18 extra-base hits, 32 RBIs, and 8 stolen bases. The surge boosted him to a .303 finish for the 1950 season.

Harris was back in 1951 and Coan continued to progress. He was off to a good start with two triples in the same inning on April 21 and three doubles on May 12. He celebrated the Fourth of July with a pair of home runs and a career-high six RBIs in the first game of a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. By early August he was hitting .338, third in the American League. Although Harris was using him primarily against right-handed pitchers, Jimmy Powers of the New York Daily News ventured to call him “a good bet to take the batting crown.”31 Coan acknowledged Harris: “He let me pick my own pitches to hit,” and said Harris helped restore his confidence in himself.32 There was some punch showing as well, and Povich was still in Coan’s corner. “Even if he doesn’t achieve any batting title, he can claim at least one distinction in the American League this season. With that power he can generate, he’s the most dangerous second-place hitter in the league.”33 From August 3 through the end of the season, though, Coan hit .245. It left him at .303 and eighth in the 1951 American League batting race.

With Harris’s help, Coan now had two straight .303 seasons to his credit. But back in Brevard over the offseason — “keeping in shape by working on his newly-acquired farm”34 — he was “resentful over accusations that he was more interested in his own batting average than the welfare of his team.” He said he would welcome a trade.35 Although he had told Griffith he expected a raise, Washington sent Coan a 1952 contract for the same amount he was paid in 1951.36 The Senators were looking favorably at Frank Campos, an outfield prospect who had hit .423 in an eight-game call-up at the end of the 1951 season.

Coan had received “in the neighborhood” of $13,000 in 1951 and ultimately signed for a reported 15 percent raise (to approximately $15,000).37 But his displeasure with management boiled over before the Senators left 1952 spring training. “Gil Coan and owner Clark Griffith don’t see eye to eye. Griff has been after Gil to get a little more power in his hitting.” Coan responded that he wasn’t going to change his batting style. “Any batter who tries to turn on power at Griffith Stadium is insane. All you hit are magnificent outs.”38

The continuing discord simmered into the season. Coan went 0-for-16 in his first four games and was hitting .183 with three doubles and one RBI through 28 games when he fractured his left wrist diving to make a catch in left field on May 25. He didn’t start again until June 22 and struggled to get his average above .200. The wrist injury dragged him to a .205 finish; the power numbers Griffith craved were nearly nonexistent: five home runs and 20 RBIs in 365 plate appearances.39

Griffith’s reaction was a proposed $2,000 salary cut for 1953.40 Coan held out but reported to camp and signed for an unreported amount on February 26.41 He seemed to have put 1952 behind him and was “at the peak of his game this spring, apparently ready for the stardom which always had seemed to elude him.”42 On April 6, however, he suffered a fractured right ankle in an exhibition game in Charlotte, North Carolina.43 He wasn’t able to play at all until May 17 and finally started and played a full game on July 5. By July 28 Harris resumed using him with some regularity in left field, but the promise Coan showed in the spring was gone. For the year, he batted 195 times in 68 games and hit .196; he had only 17 RBIs and only seven of his 33 hits were for extra bases.

If Coan had been ready for a trade before the 1952 season, Griffith was now actively pursuing one. The Tigers and Indians showed interest. Meanwhile, there was a report that Washington might make a different swap of outfielders, sending Jackie Jensen to the Baltimore Orioles for Johnny Groth. Jimmy Dykes, hired to manage the new Orioles club as the St. Louis Browns franchise shifted during the 1953-54 offseason, scoffed at the rumor. Said Dykes, “[Griffith] is a shrewd bargainer. He’s more likely to offer me Gil Coan and a couple of broken bats.”44 But Griffith did manage to work a deal with Baltimore — trading Coan for Roy Sievers, the 1949 American League Rookie of the Year with the Browns who had fallen into disfavor there but had the potential for power Griffith was seeking. The Baltimore press liked Coan for his speed and defense.45

Dykes installed Coan as his Opening Day center fielder in 1954. Coan responded with the first hit in Orioles history — a first-inning single off Detroit’s Steve Gromek. Coan, who turned 32 in May, started regularly until mid-June; his average had sunk to .192 and he was slugging at an anemic .212 rate. But in 36 more starts over the final 58 games of the season, he brought his batting average back nicely, hitting .331 to finish at a respectable .279.

Paul Richards took over as Baltimore skipper in 1955. Coan “had had his troubles playing defense” in 1954. At least Richards was of that opinion and also saw what he considered “a weak throwing arm” which he believed hampered Coan in the outfield.46 On July 16, 1955, with Coan batting .238 through 61 games, Baltimore waived the veteran to the Chicago White Sox. The Baltimore Sun gave him a warm sendoff, describing him as a “well-liked” veteran for whom “bad luck had been an old companion.” He was also characterized as having been an especially close adherent to training rules wherever he played.47

As it turned out, Coan played in only 17 games for Chicago before being traded to the National League’s New York Giants on August 26 for outfielder Ron Northey. Coan finished out the 1955 season with New York, getting into nine games.48

The Giants brought him back for four games as the 1956 season opened, then optioned him to their top farm club, the Minneapolis Millers. There, Coan recaptured some of the high-minors magic he had produced at Chattanooga with a .286 average, 12 home runs, 54 RBIs, and 13 stolen bases.

On Appreciation Night, August 28, 1956, at new Metropolitan Stadium in Minneapolis, Coan joined the Millers’ pregame festivities with a race somewhat reminiscent of his Case matchup 10 years earlier. This time the opponent was a thoroughbred from the Woodhill race track. Still described as “fleet-footed” at 34, the ballplayer got a 20-yard head start from the right-field wall to home plate. Although the horse “was gaining on me,” Coan eked out a win and received a check for $25 from the Minneapolis Fire Department.49

Although the Detroit Tigers drafted Coan as a minor-league free agent over the 1956-57 offseason, he sought a $15,000 contract and Detroit refused.50 The Charlotte Observer reported his retirement from baseball on January 12, 1957.51 Thus, Coan returned home after 918 major-league games over an 11-year career.

The Coans had welcomed their second son, Kevin, on November 4, 1955. With his baseball travels over, Gil settled into life in Brevard with Dovie and his family. In 1962, he acquired the Brevard Insurance Agency and also started a real estate business. In the early 1970s he acquired more cattle farm land in Penrose, North Carolina, near Brevard, which became GFC Penrose Angus Farm. Gil Jr. ultimately took over the insurance agency — his son Jay now operates it. Gil taught Kevin the cattle business, now K&G Farms, which Kevin and his son Tyler oversee.52

Throughout, Gil was tirelessly active with the Brevard First United Methodist Church and served on the Brevard College Board of Trustees. He helped form the Transylvania County Cattlemen’s Association and was a longtime supporter of Transylvania Regional Hospital. He served terms as president of both the Brevard Chamber of Commerce and the Brevard Board of Realtors. His grandson Jay remembered that Gil had “endless energy” managing the farm and gardening but still had time for “multiple rounds of 18-hole golf every week.”53

Gil coached baseball at Brevard College for five years and was one of the five members of the first class inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2004. Brevard’s baseball team plays on Gil Coan Field, dedicated in 1994.54

Among Jay Coan’s special memories are ballpark trips with Gil using his MLB lifetime Gold Pass. He accompanied Gil, honored as an original Oriole, to the last major-league game in Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium on October 6, 1991. “I was in the dugout standing next to Cal Ripken Jr. for the national anthem. Then we got to go on the field with Gil and the other old-timers and the players to transfer home plate to Camden Yards. Nobody gets to do that as a teenager.” He also enjoyed trips to the Masters Tournament at Augusta National using Gil’s admission badges. “He had those for about 45 or 50 years.”55

Gil and Dovie celebrated their 78th wedding anniversary on September 22, 2019. Dovie died at age 97 in Brevard on November 18, 2019.56 A few months later, on February 4, 2020, Gil followed her. He was also 97 and was the third-oldest living former major-league ballplayer at the time of his death.57

Gil Coan had described himself as someone who “got to travel all over the country and meet great people just because I could hit a ball and run fast; I was a pretty decent player, nothing special.” The profile in his memorial service bulletin summed it up this way: “He was a successful ballplayer and businessman, but he was truly the happiest feeding his cattle and working outside on the farm, digging post holes and throwing hay bales into his 90s.”58

 

Author’s note

I grew up in the 1950s following National League teams and was aware of American Leaguers like Gil Coan mainly through their baseball cards. When my wife and I retired to Brevard, North Carolina, in 2005, however, I quickly learned of his prominence in the community and his journeyman baseball career. Gil graciously appeared as a guest speaker in a class I organized on baseball history and research for the continuing-education program at Brevard College in the summer of 2005, and I had brief conversations with him over the ensuing years. As a newer resident of Brevard, which Gil Coan helped to greatly enrich during his nearly 80 years in the community, I’m honored to add his story to the SABR Baseball Biography Project archive.

 

Sources and acknowledgments

In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, I used the Baseball-Reference.com, Retrosheet.org, Baseball Cube.com, and Baseball-Almanac.com websites for player, team, and season data, daily logs, and other information. Cassidy Lent, manager of reference services at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, provided material from Gil Coan’s Giamatti Library file. Jay Coan took time from his busy family and work life to provide some recollections of his grandfather.

This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and Len Levin and fact-checked by Alan Cohen.

 

Notes

1 Gil Coan’s player contract cards in the Baseball Hall of Fame files record his date of birth as May 18, 1924. As a result, throughout his career many newspaper accounts mentioning his age inaccurately report him as two years younger that he was. At the time of his retirement from baseball in 1957, Coan arranged for a correction of the record in connection with his application under the 1947 baseball pension plan. See: Vrechek, Note 2. Coan’s player pages at both the Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org websites both correctly report May 18, 1922, as his birth date.

2 George Vrechek, “An Interview with Former Ballplayer Gil Coan,” Sports Collectors Digest,” October 1, 2013, Sports Collectors Digest.com, accessed February 14, 2020.

3 Rich Marazzi, “Former Senator Gil Coan Was a Base Stealer Long Before It Was Fashionable,” Sports Collector’s Digest, December 27, 1996: 90.

4 Marazzi.

5 Marazzi.

6 Vrechek.

7 “A Celebration of Life and Resurrection for Gilbert Fitzgerald Coan,” memorial bulletin from service held February 22, 2020, at the First United Methodist Church in Brevard, North Carolina.

8 Brevard College was then a junior college. The school became a four-year institution in 1996, joined the NCAA (Division II) in 2005, and transitioned to Division III in 2018. It maintains its affiliation with the United Methodist Church.

9 “Wayne Kernodle Stars as Brevard Beats Mars Hill,” Asheville (North Carolina) Citizen-Times, May 14, 1941: 13.

10 Jeff Turner, “A Talk with Brevard’s Mr. Baseball,” The Clarion (Brevard College, Brevard, North Carolina), March 30, 1988.

11 Turner.

12 Marazzi.

13 Wirt Gammon, “Bill Ebranyi to Come Here,” Chattanooga Daily Times, April 5, 1944: 8.

14 Marazzi.

15 Bill Weisner, “Nice Things About Young Gil Coan,” Charlotte (North Carolina) News, September 14, 1945: 13.

16 Wirt Gammon, “Gil Coan Rated as No. 1 Minor Performer,” The Sporting News, November 22, 1945: 15.

17 George Case’s son, George W. Case III, served as executive director of SABR for 18 months from 2000 through 2002. Dick Thompson and Tom Hufford, “A History of SABR: Executive Director,” SABR.org, accessed March 1, 2020. https://sabr.org/history/executive-director/.

18 Shirley Povich, “Griff Scissors Nats’ Lengthy List,” The Sporting News, January 10, 1946: 8. Wirt Gammon, “Nats Get Nifty Prospect in Lookouts’ Bat Champ,” The Sporting News, November 22, 1945: 15.

19 Washington was paying the rookie $5,000. “In 1946, the Senators called me up and now I was making some serious dough — $5,000.” Ed Attanasio, They Were There blog, Gil Coan entry, ThisGreatGame.com.

20 Shirley Povich, “Gil Coan Shows Stick Power, Hits Longest Ball of Drills,” Washington Post, February 21, 1946: nonpaginated clipping copy from Gil Coan file, National Baseball Hall of Fame. Coan’s playing weight is reported by Baseball-Reference as 180 pounds. An undated clipping copy from Coan’s Hall of Fame file notes that he reported to 1946 spring training overweight by 10 pounds. Tom Siles, Chicago Sun.

21 Unattributed clipping copy dated March 29, 1946, from Gil Coan Hall of Fame file.

22 Ted Williams, “Ted Williams Says,” Boston Globe, September 6, 1946: 24.

23 United Press International, “Case Beats Coan as He Runs 100 in 10 Seconds,” Herald-News (Passaic, New Jersey), August 22, 1946: 22.

24 Always interested in anything that would put fans in the seats, Veeck had reserved the right to another Case-Coan match in Cleveland when the Senators were scheduled to visit in September 1946. Those games were in midweek, however, and Veeck instead arranged a race for a Sunday in Cleveland Stadium. On September 8, 1946, with the St. Louis Browns in town, Case raced 1936 Olympic Gold Medal champion Jesse Owens over 100 yards between games of a doubleheader. Veeck got an attendance of 20,532. Case again finished in 10 seconds — but Owens, running in a baseball uniform and spikes, was a tenth of a second faster, at 9.9 seconds. “Jesse Owens Beats George Case in Baseball Sprint,” Troy (New York) Record, September 9, 1946: 13.

25 Unattributed clipping copies dated March 31, 1947, from Gil Coan Hall of Fame file.

26 Dean Hensley, “Brevard Baseball Legend Gil Coan Passes Away,” Blue Ridge Now.com, February 5, 2020, accessed May 6, 2020. Coan hit leadoff that day and had three singles and a run scored. The Senators had a good Opening Day as well. They beat Mack’s Philadelphia A’s 3-2, but then lost seven games in a row.

27 Shirley Povich, “This Morning” column, Washington Post, March 29, 1950: 17.

28 Povich, “This Morning,” March 29, 1950.

29 Coan was on somewhat of a roll. He hit his second, and last, career grand slam four days later, on May 7, 1950, against Bob Lemon of the Indians. Both slams were in Washington wins at cavernous Griffith Stadium.

30 Initial reports called the injury a skull fracture. The Washington team physician, however, said, “I am not convinced he has a fracture. If he has, it’s trivial, but just the same he can’t play for at least a month.” Unattributed clipping copies dated June 2, 1950, from Gil Coan Hall of Fame file.

31 Jimmy Powers, “The Powerhouse” column, New York Daily News, August 2, 1951: 60.

32 Eddie Allen, “Sports Asides” column, Charlotte (North Carolina) Observer, August 2, 1951: 20.

33 Shirley Povich, “This Morning” column, Washington Post, July 17, 1951: 12. Coan was slugging .523 with 31 extra-base hits in 68 games at this point in the 1951 season.

34 “Gil Coan Leaves Tomorrow for Spring Training Camp,” Asheville Citizen-Times, February 28, 1952: 21.

35 “Washington’s Gil Coan Would Welcome Trade,” Chattanooga Daily Times, January 15, 1952: 11.

36 “Gil Coan Still Holdout; May Go on Trade Block,” Asheville Citizen-Times, January 18, 1952: 24.

37 “Gil Coan Leaves Tomorrow.” Coan’s 1952 salary would be worth approximately $146,000 in 2020.

38 “Gil Coan Rebels Against Changing His Batting Style Despite Suggestion by Owner Griffith,” Knoxville News-Sentinel, March 9, 1952: 17. Griffith Stadium was configured in an irregular shape measuring 388 feet down the left-field line, 421 to center, and 320 along the right-field line. The Senators were last in the American League in home runs from 1950 through 1953.

39 Campos got into 53 games with the 1952 Senators and hit .259. His power, however, was no better than Coan’s, with no home runs and 8 RBIs in 117 plate appearances.

40 “Coan Returns Pact Unsigned to Senators,” Asheville Citizen-Times, January 15, 1953: 16.

41 Orlando Sentinel, February 27, 1953: 8.

42 Herb Altschull (Associated Press), “Gil Coan’s Leg Injury Not as Bad as First Believed,” Asheville Citizen-Times, April 7, 1953: 17.

43 AP, “Gil Coan Is Out After Big Spring in Exhibitions,” Reno (Nevada) Gazette-Journal, April 6, 1953: 15.

44 James Ellis, “Call Jimmie Anything, but Don’t Call Him Dull,” Baltimore Sun, November 13, 1953: 40.

45 Louis M. Hatter, “New Outfielder Veteran of Eight Seasons in Major Leagues,” Baltimore Sun, February 19, 1954: 17.

46 James Ellis, “New Leaf Turns in Gil Coan Story,” Baltimore Sun, July 19, 1955: 26.

47 Ellis, “New Leaf.”

48 Coan recorded his first of two National League hits on September 11, 1955, as a sixth-inning pinch-hitter against Warren Hacker of the Chicago Cubs. He got the other a week later, pinch-hitting in the ninth inning against Clem Labine of the Brooklyn Dodgers. More often, the Giants used Coan as a pinch-runner and late-inning outfield replacement. In a 2005 conversation with the author, he said he had been “Willie Mays’s caddy.”

49 Vrechek; Sam Gazdziak, “Obituary: Gil Coan (1922-2020),” RIP Baseball.com, accessed June 13, 2020; Photo, “Gil Coan with Racing Rival at Home Plate,” Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), August 28, 1956: 16.

50 Gazdziak.

51 Wilton Garrison, “Sports Parade” column, Charlotte Observer, January 12, 1957: 10.

52 “A Celebration of Life and Resurrection;” Author’s telephone conversation with Kevin Coan, February 24, 2020.

53 Jay Coan email to author, June 25, 2020.

54 Jay Coan remembers: “I had to work my tail off in high school and many of my friends got worked to the ground by my granddad on Gil Coan Field. The college named the field after him and at the acceptance speech he looked around and said, ‘I appreciate this honor, but since you put my name on it this field is not going to look like this.’ We spent countless hours of manual labor in which I couldn’t keep up with granddad who was probably in his early to mid-70s. Many of my friends would not show up again after a few days of field maintenance with Gil Sr.” Jay Coan email.

55 Jay Coan email.

56 Dovie Elma White Coan obituary, Transylvania Times.com., November 21, 2019, accessed February 14, 2020.

57 Hensley.

58 “A Celebration of Life and Resurrection.”

Full Name

Gilbert Fitzgerald Coan

Born

May 18, 1922 at Monroe, NC (USA)

Died

February 4, 2020 at Hendersonville, NC (US)

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