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Original Issue

The New York Time

The New YorkTimes.

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

The ballplayersalways said that Bill McGowan was the best umpire in the American League. Nohigher praise ever could be given an umpire and perhaps that can serve asMcGowan's epitaph. He'd have liked it that way because he was as devoted to hisprofession as Bill Klem had been. The American League had retired the ailingMcGowan earlier in the week on a handsome pension. But Bill died before he hadan opportunity to enjoy it.

The proudestmoment of his life was in 1948 when the American League virtually admitted thathe was its best arbiter. Once upon a time World Series assignments were thesupreme accolade but they are on a rotating basis now and thereforemeaningless. However, the junior circuit had the first and only play-off in itshistory in 1948 when the Indians and Red Sox tied for the championship. It wasimperative that only the best of the Men in Blue handle that game. Significantindeed was the fact that Bill McGowan was named umpire-in-chief.

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


When McGowanentered the American League in 1925, he even brought his job into the hotelroom with him, so unceasing were his efforts to improve himself.

"Y'reout!" Bill would bellow, jerking his thumb peremptorily in front of themirror. Then he'd try it again with a different inflection and a differentgesture, experimenting with his techniques. Pretty soon his roomie, Roy VanGraflan, was doing the same thing.

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

"Shutup!" howled a complaining nonsleeper. "Hey, don't you guys ever callanyone safe?"

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

"It'seasy," one of them said. "We lead lonely lives, apart from theballplayers. But we're constantly coming in contact with traveling salesmen. Sojust butter up to a few of them, entertain them a bit and you'll be able to getshirts, suits, shoes and everything you need for wholesale prices. Sometimesthey'll even give you samples for free."

McGowan cased thelobby 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 pickup a tab. McGowan wined and dined him, carefully avoiding even a hint of thenefarious purpose behind his hospitality.

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

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

"The BaldwinLocomotive Company," said the stranger.

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


Technicallyspeaking, the call was none of McGowan's business. But Paparella was a new manon the job and Bill rushed to his rescue. But in taking the heat off his fellowworker, he set himself ablaze. Words were spoken that should never have beenspoken. So McGowan was suspended to cool off. But that was why he got even morethan the normal satisfaction out of being named umpire-in-chief a few monthslater in the play-off game. It was a vindication of sorts.

The othersuspension resulted primarily from a run-in with players and then erupted inthe 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 ridingof Satchel Paige. He furiously ordered them to stop and cleared off part of theDetroit bench. The baseball writers asked for details of the still-seethingMcGowan.

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

"We didn'tknow you could write," was the unnecessarily rude message he received inreturn.

"If you guyscould write, you'd be in New York," was McGowan's final insult. The pressbox tenants took umbrage and filed formal protest with President Will Harridgeof 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 theballplayers who always affectionately called him "Willie."

Occasionally SPORTS ILLUSTRATED will reprint anoutstanding sports column from a daily newspaper. The writer will receive aprize of $250.