1951 NL vs. AL Rookie of the Year battle: Willie Mays and Gil McDougald
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There is not much to debate here about Willie Mays, but less is known about his American League counterpart. While he questionably beat out the White Sox’ Minnie Minoso for Rookie of the Year, Gil McDougald had a fine 10-year career for the New York Yankees, winning five World Series championships in the Bronx. He is the first of eight ROTY to wear pinstripes. McDougald was also a six-time All-Star and a versatile player who could play the entire infield with the exception of first base. These rookies would face each other in the 1951 Fall Classic.
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American League: INF Gil McDougald, New York Yankees
McDougald was 23 as a rookie from San Francisco. After attending the University of San Francisco, he signed a contract with the Yankees prior to the 1948 season. He played well in his three years in the minors, playing for Twins Falls (Class C), Victoria (Class B), and Beaumont (double-A), and showed he could hit for both average (.340) and power (42 home runs).
When McDougald broke in with New York in 1951, Joe DiMaggio was in his last season and Mickey Mantle was in his first; a rookie like McDougald. Although both Mantle and McDougald finished with similar numbers in regards to home runs and RBIs (Mantle hit 13 home runs with 65 RBIs, while McDougald hit 14 home runs with 63 RBIs), the fact is McDougald had a better all-around rookie season. His slash line (.306/.396/.488) is a bit better than Mantle’s (.267/.396/.488).
McDougald’s versatility was also huge asset for manager Casey Stengel — he played 82 games at third and 55 games at second. In 1951, he had a .981 fielding percentage at second base. On May 3, 1951, McDougald tied a then-American League record for RBIs in an inning with six (Fernando Tatis currently holds the Major League record with eight after hitting two grand slams, while Alex Rodriguez holds the American League record with seven). In that ninth inning versus the St. Louis Browns, he hit a grand slam and a triple.
In his first of eight World Series appearances, he became the first rookie to hit a grand slam in the Fall Classic. The home run came in game five versus the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds. McDougald’s .306 regular-season average led the club, and he finished ninth in 1951 MVP voting. Minoso was more of a threat for ROTY than Mantle. The first African-American to ever play for the Chicago White Sox, Minoso captured 11 first-place votes to McDougald’s 13. In 146 games between Cleveland and Chicago, Minoso hit .326/. 422/.500. His batting average was second in the American League and he led the majors in triples with 14. Minoso was fourth in MVP voting.
McDougald made the American League All-Star team for four consecutive years between 1956 and 1959. Though he is perhaps is best remembered for, or rather forever linked with 1955 Rookie of the Year Herb Score. In 1957, McDougald hit a sharp line drive off the eye of the Cleveland Indian southpaw. It hastened an early ending to what may have been a promising career for Score.
In his last World Series appearance in 1960, McDougald scored the tying run in the ninth inning of game seven between the Yankees and the Pirates. The tie was short lived, however, as Bill Mazeroski hit his famous World Series-clinching walk-off homer in the bottom of the inning. He finished his career hitting .276 with 112 home-runs and 576 RBIs.
National League: CF, Willie Mays, New York Giants
Mays is often in the discussion for the all-time best ballplayer. He is inarguably regarded as the consummate five-tool player. Mays was a 24-time All-Star, two-time MVP, and winner of 12 Gold Glove awards. He could do it all: hit (lifetime .302/.384/.557), hit for power (660 home runs; fourth all-time behind Bonds, Aaron, and Ruth), run (338 steals, first player ever to steal 300 bases and hit 300 home runs), play defense and throw (a career .981 fielding percentage, with 195 outfield assists). His 7,095 outfield putouts remain a major-league record. He is also 10th all-time in career hits with 3,283. Finally, lest we forget to mention it here, there was “The Catch.”
Growing up in segregated Westfield, Alabama, athletics was in Mays’ genes. His father, who was named after President William Howard Taft, played ball for a Negro team at his steel mill, while his Mother played basketball and was a sprinter in track and field.
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