Amid this chaotic time of pandemic, rightgeous outrage over the brutal murder of George Floyd and the petty bickering over money by MLB and the players union, I’d like to call attention to a milestone moment of one of my all-time favorite Giants players. It happened on this day 50 years ago on June 7th 1970. On that day “Dirty Al” Gallagher stroked his first career home run in Chicago at Wrigley Field. “Dirty Al” hit his maiden long-ball off lefthander Ken Holtzman of the Cubs, a pretty good pitcher.
Al Gallagher had a special place in the hearts of Giants fans, the city of San Francisco and me. Gallagher was the first San Francisco native to play for the Giants since they moved to the City by the Bay in 1958. Not only that, he was also the first ever draft choice by the Giants in the inaugural MLB draft in 1965. “Dirty Al” was taken with the 14th pick out of Santa Clara University where he was an All-American third baseman. Giants super scout Eddie Montague, who signed Willie Mays, had scouted Gallagher since his high school days at Mission High.
Fans respected the way he always hustled and was never afraid to dive for balls. His scrappy hard-nosed play harkened memories of Ty Cobb and Pepper Martin to old timers, like my grandfather’s.
Besides admiring his scrappy play, his lofty place in my heart was due to his being born in the Mission district, as I was. In addition, he was living my dream of playing for the Giants – and with Willie Mays! Ever since my first Giants game at Seals Stadium in April 1958 when I was 6, my dream was to play for the Orange and Black. Gallagher WAS truly living my dream!
My grandpa, dad and I were watching the game that Sunday morning when “Dirty Al” was chosen by Giants skipper Charlie Fox, who had recently replaced Clyde King, to pinch hit for pitcher Jerry Johnson to lead off the 7th. I excitedly told my grandpa and dad that this was the kid from the Mission. The wind at the “friendly confines” was blowing out that day. There had already been five homers hit in the game, including one by Willie Mays. Gallagher’s swat was deep into the centerfield bleachers, the longest of the day. When he connected I said instantly, “That’s gone!”, and jumped up with joy.
Power was never part of Gallagher’s game. He only hit 11 home runs in over 1400 plate appearances. His game was making contact and not striking out. He struck out a paltry 164 times in his too brief four-year career. In 1971 “Dirty Al” helped the Giants win their first NL West title as the regular third baseman, hitting a solid .277 with 57 RBI’s.
Gallagher’s home run narrowed the Cubs lead to 4-3. Later in the inning Mays tied it up with an RBI single. But the bullpen couldn’t hold and the Cubs won 8-4. The loss ended a miserable 2-6 road trip and dropped the fourth place Giants 15 games behind the Cincinnati “Big Red Machine” Reds. 1970 would end the frustrating string of five consecutive second place finishes for the G-Men.
Al Gallagher was a classic old-fashioned baseball lifer. Let’s cover his journey through life and baseball. Alan Mitchell Edward George Patrick Henry Gallagher (yes he had SEVEN names!) was born at St. Mary’s hospital on October 19, 1945 to Joseph and Viola Gallagher. His parents had tried to start a family for years. When they finally had their only child, they gave him all the male names they had selected over the years. “Dirty Al” owns the record for the longest name, by letters, in baseball history.
Years later Gallagher was quoted about his birth and early life thus, “That’s where I’m from. I was born at St. Mary’s Hospital, where all good little San Francisco Catholics are born. I grew up near Sanchez Street. My father had me out in the yard swinging a plastic bat at a whiffle ball when I was one year, eight months old. I’m a lucky man. My father wanted me to do the only thing I ever wanted to do—play major‐league baseball. That’s something. He pushed me and I went. I’m not sorry, because I love baseball.”
He had a hard-scrabble life growing up in the Mission. His friends and him played ball all over the sandlots in The City. By the time he was ready for high school he wanted to go to the private Jesuit St. Ignatius High, but couldn’t gain a scholarship. The baseball coaches didn’t think he was good enough to make the varsity. Instead he went to Mission High, where my mother graduated.
Alan was a star at Mission High, leading all San Francisco players in batting average his junior and senior seasons. Santa Clara University offered Gallagher a scholarship, which he accepted.
Gallagher in his junior year he led the Broncos in hitting (.395), hits (60), triples (5) and RBI (42). During the season Alan had a 25-game hitting streak. His insistence on wearing the same dirty jock, socks and uniform during the streak tagged him with his “Dirty Al” nickname for the rest of his life.
This outstanding season led the Giants to select him with their first ever draft pick at the first professional baseball draft in June 1965. The first ever professional baseball draft pick was Rick Monday by the Kansas City Athletics. Gallagher went to the Giants with the 14th pick.
“I wasn’t exactly surprised at the Giants drafting me because I played for three seasons for their team in the Peninsula Rookie League. But, I was rather surprised that they drafted me first.”, was Gallagher’s reaction to being drafted by his hometown team.
When asked if he expected to sign if the terms were OK he said yes. When asked what figure he had in mind he replied, “Oh, around $50,000 and the rest of my college education. I definitely intend to complete that.”
The Giants sent the 19 year-old to Tacoma, their Triple A affiliate where he struggled. Later in 1965 he was demoted to Springfield, the Giants AA affiliate. The struggles only worsened for the youngster, by hitting under .200.
The next three years in the minors was up and down for Al. This slow progress reached a crisis point after the 1969 season when the Giants pulled his major league contract. Determined to improve his hitting Gallagher requested to play in the Arizona Fall League and was allowed to.
Once there he had another surprise. Gallagher explains, “Hank Sauer was the manager and he said he didn’t want me to play. He said, ‘This is the Instructional League and you don’t take instruction. Now if you want to come out at 8 in the morning I’ll work with you, but you can’t play.'” Gallagher accepted those terms. “About a week later Sauer called the Giants and said, ‘I see a change in Gallagher.’ So I got to play.”
After a solid Arizona Fall League and a good Spring Training, “Dirty Al” Gallagher made the Giants in 1970. His Opening Day was eventful and exciting for the kid from the Mission. Here’s how Gallagher described his first game in the big leagues in a 2003 article in the San Francisco Chronicle, “Opening Day, 1970,” the 57-year-old former third baseman said from his home in Kansas City, his voice still bursting with youthful gusto. “I was batting second, and Willie Mays was batting third. I remember Mays patting me on the butt and saying, ‘Go get ’em kid.’ I don’t remember my first two at- bats. I think I got a hit my third one — I wasn’t on Cloud 9. I was in heaven. I will never forget that day. . . . It was quite a thing for the kid from the Mission.”
Gallagher’s Giants career lasted only a little more than three seasons. His rookie season was good enough to be named to the Tops All-Rookie team. The 1971 season was his high point. He hit a torrid .471 in August helping the Giants to win the NL West. His .277 batting average was the best of his four year major league career. The Giants lost to the Pirates in the playoffs with Gallagher going one for ten in three games.
Here’s what Alan said in that 2003 article from the San Francisco Chronicle. “That was the highlight,” said Gallagher, who hit .277 that season. “You hear all this garbage from players that winning isn’t that important. But playing in the World Series is what it’s all about, getting a chance to prove you’re the best. I never got that chance, but we had an opportunity in the playoffs that year against the Pirates, who went on to beat the Orioles.”
His playing time dropped in 1972 and he found himself in manager Charlie Fox’s doghouse. Fox thought Gallagher was a flake that didn’t take the game seriously enough. Here’s what Gallagher said about it in 2003, “It was just a couple of stubborn Irishmen. . . . I was a streak hitter; he knew that. I wanted to play every day and he wanted to platoon me.” Gallagher only hit .223 as a ‘platoon’ player. Most concerning, his OPS plummeted to .588, an unacceptable OPS for any position player.
He was benched early in the season when the Giants wanted more power at third base. Dave Kingman was installed at third until McCovey got hurt and Kingman moved to first. Fox kept Gallagher on the bench with an aging Jim Ray Hart playing third. Here’s Fox on his benching of Gallagher, “He has some problems with his throwing. He doesn’t always think before he throws. He likes to do funny things. That’s his business. But it’s my ball club to manage and he just has to look at the serious side.”
In spring training in 1973 Gallagher demanded the Giants ‘play me or trade me’. On April 14, 1973 “Dirty Al Gallagher, the kid from the Mission, was traded to the California Angels for minor league utility infielder Bruce Miller. Years after Gallagher regretted that decision, “Biggest mistake I ever made was demanding a trade from the Giants.” The San Francisco kid had left his heart in his hometown.
In Anaheim another horrible decision cut short his career. On May 30th in a game at Fenway Park Gallagher led off with a double off Louis Tiant, moved to third on an infield hit then got caught off third on a comebacker to Tiant. He was caught in a rundown between third and home plate. To his lifelong regret he decided to try to take out the catcher. Here’s Gallagher on what happened, “”I tried to knock over Carlton Fisk and blew out my shoulder. I hurt him so bad he played 21 more years. I could have had surgery, but they said it would take two years to get over. They didn’t have arthroscopes back then. They would take you apart and put you back together.”
The shoulder injury cost Gallagher his already meager power stroke. “I was never a home run hitter or anything, but I couldn’t drive the ball at all. I lasted a couple of years in the minor leagues after that, but that was it.”
The Angels released him after the 1973 season. In the off seasons Gallagher had completed his degree and worked as a substitute teacher in Fresno. After bouncing around for a few years in the minors with Atlanta, he got an offer to manage in the Mexican League by Henry Aaron, the minor league director for the Braves. He accepted immediately!
His tenure as the manager of the 1976 Alacranes de Durango lasted only 26 games. He didn’t get along with the owner and the citizens disliked a gringo as manager. Gallagher moved his family back to Clovis California where he had settled.
Over the next 35 years Gallagher’s life consisted of half managing and half teaching. He had gotten his master’s degree and was now teaching elementary school when not managing. His most notable stops as a baseball lifer was managing the Durham Bulls of Bull Durham movie fame and the San Jose Bees.
He was in Durham for the 1980-1 seasons. Here’s a few colorful stories about “Dirty Al” in Durham where he was credited by the mayor for saving baseball in the town.
During a Sunday afternoon televised game in 1980, Gallagher was ejected by the home-plate umpire. “Then it hit me,” Gallagher recalled years later. “I remembered the game was being televised, so I figured I’d put on a show.” He walked to home plate, removed tobacco from his mouth and deposited the remains on home plate. “Family entertainment,” he said.
Here’s a short video that shows “Dirty Al” managing the Durham Bulls. He’s wearing number 24 in honor of his idol (and mine) Willie Mays and demonstrating the fiery passion he brought everyday on a baseball diamond.
Former Giants outfielder Brett Butler was managed by Gallagher on the 1980 Durham Bulls. One game Butler was heading home and the catcher was waiting for him with the ball. Brett decided to launch himself into the catcher headfirst. The collision knocked the ball free and Butler scored to the roar of the home crowd. His manager was roaring too for a different reason!
Gallagher raced out on the field and lit into Butler. A baffled Brett was told by Gallagher that he should never ‘take out’ a catcher when he’s out by a mile. Butler remained flummoxed by his skipper’s reaction. Then Gallagher pulled his collar down to reveal a nasty post career surgical scar on his shoulder from his career-ending collision with Carleton Fisk.
“Dirty Al’s” last managerial season was 2012 with the independent league McAllen Thunder. He passed away in Fresno on December 6, 2018 after a long battle with diabetes. I mourned the death of ‘the kid from the Mission’ that lived out my dream. Every now and then, when I see the number 10 on the back of Giants coach Ron Wotus, I wistfully conjure up memories of “Dirty Al” Gallagher, number 10, diving for balls and getting his uniform DIRTY!
Here’s a few photos of Alan Gallagher during his later managing days.
I’ll end this piece with a fitting quote by Al Gallagher:
“There are three things in my life which I really love: God, my family, and baseball. The only problem — once baseball season starts, I change the order around a bit.” ~Al Gallagher, 1971
RIP Alan Mitchell Edward George Patrick Henry Gallagher
You will forever live in the heart of this ‘kid from the Mission’!
Thank you to the San Francisco Giants for the use of the photos in this post.