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Sunday 28th May 2017

I don't know what made me connect the two, other than that they were names I associate with my youth, but both Gil McDougald and Leslie Nielsen passed away since last time I wrote.

McDougald's career was pretty much over when I really became interested in baseball, around 1960, but, the infielder still had a mystique about him for a few reasons.

For one, he was a Yankee, and as much as I hated the Yankees when I was young, he was still a Yankee. Of course, I hated the Yankees because they were good. They always won, especially during most of those first years I followed baseball. But, 20 years ago, I went to a card signing, where I had paid to get Mickey Mantle’s autograph. Along with the Mick's signature on one ball, I also got McDougald's signature on another ball, along with Tom Tresh, Hank Sauer, and John Blanchard. And, well, he played with those guys plus Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra, and for Casey Stengel.

Second, McDougald was of the Ray Chapman/Dizzy Dean school of good players being associated with tragedy that at least haunted me. Chapman was a player who, in 1920, was hit in the head by a pitch thrown by Yankees pitcher Carl Mays. Obviously, this was before the advent of the batting helmet, and after Chapman died, the rule was changed forcing the ump to change the ball when it was dirty, although helmets would not be embraced for another 30 years.

Dean, during the 1937 All Star Game, was hit on the foot by a line drive hit by Earl Averill, and that injury put an end to the career of the colorful southpaw, who tried to come back from the injury too soon, and thus compounded the issue.

And, it was McDougald who hit a liner off the head of Score, an Indians pitcher, who a season before had led the league in strikeouts, and as a result put an end to Score's effectiveness as a pitcher in the majors.

As for Nielsen, who cut most of his chops as a TV heavy, doing shows like The Untouchables, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Route 66, Dr. Kildare, Bonanza, Cannon, The Streets of San Franscisco, and dozens more regular series. And, those "serious" roles go back to 1950, if you check the Independent Movie Data Base.

Then, in 1980, Nielsen was cast in the deadpan role as Dr. Rumack in Airplane, and from there on Nielsen finished life as a comedic actor, starring in films like The Naked Gun, and as the cartoon blind man, Mr. Magoo.

Thus both of them who I am sure are a point of reference in more lives than mine, and linked in leaving the planet on the same day.

So odd, life is. By the toss of a pitch, or the chance selection of a role, everything can change. Which, I suppose is a good reason to keep one's options open.

 

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