Summary

Birth:
18 Jan 1896 1
Wilmington, Delaware 1
Death:
09 Dec 1954 1
Silver Spring, Maryland 1
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Full Name:
William Aloysius McGowan 1
Also known as:
Bill McGowan 1
Birth:
18 Jan 1896 1
Wilmington, Delaware 1
Male 1
Death:
09 Dec 1954 1
Silver Spring, Maryland 1
Cause: Heart Attack 1
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Occupation:
Umpire 1

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BILL M'GOWAN, 58, UMPIRE 41 YEARS Dean of American League Arbiters Dies in Maryland — In Majors 3 Decades

SILVER SPRINGS, Md., Dec. 9 (UP) — Bill McGowan, who retired recently after having served as an American League umpire for thirty years, died here today at his home. He had suffered two heart attacks in less than a week. He was 58 years old.

Surviving are his widow, Magdalein; a son, William A., Jr.; a foster son, Airman 2/C William A.; a brother John, and two sisters, Mrs. Jane Weaver and Mrs. Dan Buckley.

Started Career at 17

William Aloysius McGowan was an official in baseball for forty-one years. He made his debut in 1913 at the age of 17, when he joined the Tri-State League. He was appointed to the majors in 1925 and his ability to "call 'em right" was quickly recognized. He was accepted as the No. 1 umpire in the circuit. His nickname, in fact, was "No. 1." He officiated in eight world series and five All-Star games.

Mr. McGowan conducted an umpire school in Florida for years. Many young umpires now in organized baseball were tutored by him. He was a stickler for hustling and physical fitness.

Although Mr. McGowan believed an umpire should always have "tact in dealing with difficult siutations," he, himself, was not immune to suspensions. Twice during his major-league career he was suspended by the president of the American League.

Until 1942, when plagued with arthritis, he did not miss working in a game to which he had been assigned. By working in some 2,600 consecutive contests, he was stamped as the "Iron Man" of the umpires.

However, in 1948, Mr. McGowan was suspended for ten days without salary. He was charged with having thrown baseball and his ball-strike indicator at Washington players and also with having used offensive language.

In 1952, he ejected a player from a game at St. Louis. The press asked the umpire to identify the banised man. He refused and a protest was made to Will Harridge, president of the American League. Mr. Harridge suspended Mr. McGowan for his action.

But the events soon were forgotten and at no time was his ability or honesty questioned. Only last week, when Mr. McGowan's request for retirement was granted, and a life pension voted to him, baseball men here for the major-league winter meetings, were referring to him as "the best."

 

Ted Williams, in My Turn at Bat (1988), said that during the final day of the 1941 season he had a memorable run in with Bill McGowan. The excerpt reads:

"Now it was the last day of that 1941 season, and it turned up cold and miserable in Philadelphia. It had rained on Saturday and the game had been rescheduled as part of a Sunday doubleheader. They still had 10,000 people in Shibe Park, I suppose a lot of them just curious to see if The Kid really could hit .400. I have to say I felt good despite the cold. And I know just about everybody in the park was for me. As I came to bat for the first time that day, the Philadelphia catcher, Frankie Hayes, said, 'TedMr. Mack told us if we let up on you he'll run us out of baseball. I wish you all the luck in the world, but we're not giving you a damn thing.'

Bill McGowan was the plate umpire, and I'll never forget it. Just as I stepped in, he called time and slowly walked around the plate, bent over and began dusting it off. Without looking up, he said, 'To hit .400 a batter has got to be loose. He has got to be loose.'

I guess I couldn't have been much looser. First time up I singled off Dick Fowler, a liner between first and second. Then I hit a home run, then I hit two more singles offPorter Vaughan, a left-hander who was new to me, and in the second game I hit one off the loudspeaker horn in right field for a double. For the day I wound up six for eight. I don't remember celebrating that night, but I probably went out and had a chocolate milk shake."

 

William Aloysius McGowan Sports Illustrated

 

The New York Times.

Columnist Arthur Daley pays tribute to hustling Bill McGowan, who died last week after earning the ultimate in praise—the admission by hard-bitten ballplayers that he was the best umpire in the American League

The ballplayers always said that Bill McGowan was the best umpire in the American League. No higher praise ever could be given an umpire and perhaps that can serve as McGowan's epitaph. He'd have liked it that way because he was as devoted to his profession as Bill Klem had been. The American League had retired the ailing McGowan earlier in the week on a handsome pension. But Bill died before he had an opportunity to enjoy it.

The proudest moment of his life was in 1948 when the American League virtually admitted that he was its best arbiter. Once upon a time World Series assignments were the supreme accolade but they are on a rotating basis now and therefore meaningless. However, the junior circuit had the first and only play-off in its history in 1948 when the Indians and Red Sox tied for the championship. It was imperative that only the best of the Men in Blue handle that game. Significant indeed was the fact that Bill McGowan was named umpire-in-chief.

Bill was always an eager beaver, a hustler. And his enthusiasm never waned during his 30 seasons in the big leagues. But that's why he was so good though his overenthusiasm twice drew him suspensions, a rarity in itself. Even then, the ballplayers never said grumpily, "Served him right." Instead they said softly, "Too bad about Willie, isn't it?"

IN THE MIRROR

When McGowan entered the American League in 1925, he even brought his job into the hotel room with him, so unceasing were his efforts to improve himself.

"Y're out!" Bill would bellow, jerking his thumb peremptorily in front of the mirror. Then he'd try it again with a different inflection and a different gesture, experimenting with his techniques. Pretty soon his roomie, Roy Van Graflan, was doing the same thing.

"Y're out!" Van would scream, as the two of them practiced for hours on end. Finally a booming voice came echoing up from the hotel courtyard.

"Shut up!" howled a complaining nonsleeper. "Hey, don't you guys ever call anyone safe?"

It also was in a hotel that McGowan had one of the most soul-shattering experiences of his career. It happened when he was a young and green umpire. He'd noticed how well dressed his fellow-arbiters were and asked for an explanation. After all, umpirical salaries were stringently modest in those days.

"It's easy," one of them said. "We lead lonely lives, apart from the ballplayers. But we're constantly coming in contact with traveling salesmen. So just butter up to a few of them, entertain them a bit and you'll be able to get shirts, suits, shoes and everything you need for wholesale prices. Sometimes they'll even give you samples for free."

McGowan cased the lobby and picked on a likely prospect. He struck up a conversation with him, learned that he was a salesman and buttered him up. The stranger couldn't pick up a tab. McGowan wined and dined him, carefully avoiding even a hint of the nefarious purpose behind his hospitality.

"It's been a wonderful evening, Bill," said the stranger as they parted.

"By the way," said Bill, "you never did mention what firm you're traveling for. Which one is it?"

"The Baldwin Locomotive Company," said the stranger.

McGowan's two suspensions deserve mention. The first was the outcome of an incident at home plate in a game between the Senators and Indians in Washington. Joe Paparella ruled that Eddie Stewart was out at home with the winning run and the Washington players came storming out of the dugout in violent protest.

NEW MAN ON JOB

Technically speaking, the call was none of McGowan's business. But Paparella was a new man on the job and Bill rushed to his rescue. But in taking the heat off his fellow worker, he set himself ablaze. Words were spoken that should never have been spoken. So McGowan was suspended to cool off. But that was why he got even more than the normal satisfaction out of being named umpire-in-chief a few months later in the play-off game. It was a vindication of sorts.

The other suspension resulted primarily from a run-in with players and then erupted in the wrong direction, toward the press box. It was a Tiger-Brown game in St. Louis and McGowan thought the Tigers were unnecessarily rough in their riding of Satchel Paige. He furiously ordered them to stop and cleared off part of the Detroit bench. The baseball writers asked for details of the still-seething McGowan.

"Tell 'em I'll write a letter," snapped His Nibs.

"We didn't know you could write," was the unnecessarily rude message he received in return.

"If you guys could write, you'd be in New York," was McGowan's final insult. The press box tenants took umbrage and filed formal protest with President Will Harridge of the American League. McGowan was suspended.

For all of that, though, he was a fine umpire. The fellows who'll miss him most will be the ballplayers who always affectionately called him "Willie."

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