MCGUNNIGLE BOOK MAKES MORE NEWS IN BROCKTON
Lee, Noddle Leave ‘Em Laughing Out Loud
By Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON—After a no-holds barred, free-wheeling stand-up talk by former Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee and Brockton Rox coach Ed Noddle about their days in pro and minor league baseball, organizers have nearly met its financial goals for a plaque in honor of Brockton’s Bill McGunnigle—a pioneer and innovater during the early years of baseball.
“I think it put us over the top,” said West Bridgewater resident John McGunnigle, great-grandson of McGunnigle, who as manager/player led the legendary Dodgers franchise, then known as the Brooklyn Bridgegrooms, to an at-the-time unprecedented back-to-back pennants in 1889 and 1890.
The Lee-Noddle inside-baseball discussion, held at Joe Angelo’s Café Sept. 22 and attended by nearly 100 people, featured the two-longtime ballplayers and friends sharing stories from their days in the baseball world, including Lee’s desire to punch out Bill Buckner when they were rising stars in California and Noddle’s memories of former Red Sox manager John McNamara, who beat out Noddle for skipper of the Pawtucket Sox and, who as Manager of the Year, went on to lead the Red Sox to the ill-fated World Series in 1986.
John McGunnigle said he and other supporters are close to having raised the estimated $4,000 toward installing a plaque in Bill McGunnigle’s honor at Campanelli Stadium—home of the Brockton Rox.
About $2,000 of the plaque’s cost was donated by MetroSouth Chamber of Commerce and Brockton 21st Century Corp.
The plaque is estimated to cost about $4,000 to manufacture and install.
John McGunnigle said he will not know the total cost of the plaque until he contacts Rox management to find out the actual cost to install the plaque, but either way, the Sept. 22 event made a large dent in fundraising efforts.
“It was a really fun and great night,” McGunnigle said.
Along with city officials, residents and baseball lovers from near and far, the crowd included Ronald G. Shafer, a 38-year reporter-editor for the Wall Street Journal, who has written a recently published book, “When the Dodgers were Bridgegrooms: Gunner McGunnigle and Brooklyn’s Back-to-Back Pennants of 1889 and 1890.”
Shafer, a resident of Williamsburg, Virginia, is married to Stoughton High School graduate Mary Lynch Rogers, the great-granddaughter of McGunnigle, whose connection to McGunnigle helped turn him on to the pioneering ideas McGunnigle implemented, and tried to implement, into baseball during the game’s formative years. “He really was ahead of his time,” Shafer said. (Pictured below signing book and with wife Mary at Cooperstown-Correction: Dodger Stadium)
Among Gunner McGunnigle’s (pictured, right) many accolades include being the first manager to win back-to-back pennants in 1889 and 1890. Not only did McGunnigle win the two championships, he did it in two different leagues. The Bridgegrooms were in the American Association in 1889 and then moved to the National League for the 1890 pennant.
It is still a feat that has not been repeated, Shafer said.
Shafer said McGunnigle was also the first manager to use hand, bat and other signals to direct players on base to steal or send messages to players identifying pitches the opposing hurler might throw—an advancement that is as much a part of today’s games as those more than 100 years ago.
Shafer said McGunnigle believed alerting his players to opponents pitches was so important he wanted to run electrical lines from the dugout to the batters box to essentially “wire” his players for signals from the bench.
Shafer said while the idea was ahead of its time, it was nixed by an electrician who said there was a chance players could be electrocuted.
McGunnigle is also a disputed inventor of the catcher’s mitt.
Shafer has unearthed a copy of Reach’s Official Baseball Guide from 1875 (below) that cites McGunnigle as using the first catcher’s mitt as a player for the Fall River team.
The guide states McGunnigle cut off the fingers of a brick layer’s gloves and used the glove to protect his hand in a game against a team from Harvard.
One of the Harvard players followed McGunnigle’s example and the catcher’s mitt caught on everywhere except in baseball’s hallowed Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y. where Joe Gunson is credited with wearing the first catcher’s mitt in 1888—13 years after McGunnigle—while playing for a Kansas City team.
Part of the problem surrounding who invented the catcher’s mitt is a distinction between the so-called “pillow mitt” and McGunnigle’s innovation.
“Gunson claimed to have invented what is the modern big ‘pillow’ mitt, and some at the Hall of Fame agree. Other experts say it was Brooklyn Bridegrooms catcher Albert “Doc” Bushong,” Shafer said in an email.
“My book shows that Bushong was already using such a glove when Gunson claimed to have invented his. Doc had a degree in dentistry and wanted to protect his hands for a future career as a dentist, which he became in Brooklyn after retiring,” Shafer said.
Either way, McGunnigle used a glove in 1875–padded or not–to protect his hand from the steam of a pitcher’s velocity.
Shafer said it is too bad McGunnigle doesn’t get the credit he deserves and should have a place at Cooperstown highlighting his innovations because he did so much for the game.
“It was such a long time ago, and the game was changing so quickly and the Hall of Fame came so much later,” Shafer said. “McGunnigle should really have his own place,” Shafer said.
(Top photo, Lee, Joe and Sheila Angelo; McGunnigle photo courtesy Shafer and Hall of Fame; Reach’s Guide page courtesy Shafer)