January 23 - George McQuinn was once considered a potential heir to Lou Gehrig, but the St. Louis Browns snapped him up in the Rule 5 Draft in 1937 when it looked like the man known as the Iron Horse may never relinquish his post at first base for the New York Yankees.
After five years in the minor leagues - the last two or three of which would likely have been spent in the Major Leagues with most clubs - McQuinn’s dream of suiting up in Yankee pinstripes looked to be crushed. Meanwhile, in 1939, Gehrig’s record consecutive games streak ended when he was forced to retire due to the disease that is now named after him.
While New York’s first basemen struggled during the early- and mid-1940s - never hitting higher than .293 - the 1929 graduate of Washington-Lee High School went on to make four All-Star teams in his eight seasons with the Browns, who in 1953 moved to Baltimore and became the modern-day Orioles. The left-handed swinging first baseman hit over .300 twice with the Browns, had a 34-game hitting streak in 1938, hit for the cycle on July 19, 1941, and in 1944 led them to their lone American League pennant.
He hit .438 during a six-game loss in the World Series to the crosstown Cardinals that October, capping a season he played while carrying a heavy heart as two of his brothers were serving overseas in World War II. One of them, Kenneth, was killed in the Normandy invasion that June.
After a down year while battling back pain with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1946, Hall of Fame manager Connie Mack told the 36-year-old McQuinn he was done and it might be time to consider becoming a coach. He wasn’t convinced, and upon reaching out to new Yankees manager Bucky Harris, told him he could help the club regain its perch as the best team in baseball after missing the postseason the previous three seasons.
McQuinn was granted an invitation to spring training, and not only did he finally realize his dream of playing with the Yankees, he was named an All-Star in each of what would be his final two seasons. Harris later recalled, “Now I know McQuinn, and have known him for several years. I figured if he had enough confidence in himself to come to me like that I couldn’t lose trying him.”
In 1947, he hit .304 with 18 home runs and 80 RBI and teamed with the likes of Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra and Phil Rizzuto to lead the Yankees to a seven-game win over the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series. DiMaggio later said he was the key to that team’s success.
Last Friday, nine decades after McQuinn - who also starred for the school’s basketball team - was named the program’s first captain and led the Generals to three consecutive Northern Virginia championships, he was inducted into Washington-Lee’s Athletics Hall of Fame. He was joined by Harry Thomas, a 1972 graduate who is the father of current Lake Braddock coach John Thomas, in a six-person class that pushes the school’s Hall of Fame membership to 43.
McQuinn, who passed away at the age of 68 on Christmas Eve in 1978, was represented at the induction ceremony by his two daughters, Gina and Vicki, along with his grandson, Alex, and his family. His daughters were born at the end of his playing career and don’t recall much from McQuinn’s playing days. Their memories instead centered around the likeable man who spent his post-playing career as a minor league manager and scout and as the owner of a sporting goods store in Arlington.
“I know that from the time be grew up, he wanted to be a Yankee from the beginning,” Gina said. “And there are some great stories that my husband [Bill] talks about with things that happened. He was sort of kept back in the minor leagues.”
When he opened McQuinn’s, Gina recalled several of his former teammates made the trip into town for a promotional event at the store, which was located on Highland Street in Clarendon. “When he had it opened, he had a bunch of the Yankees come down,” she said.
“He was an easygoing, wonderful man. To us, he was just dad.”
After a year off from baseball, McQuinn would spend nine seasons as a manager in the Boston/Milwaukee Braves’ farm system, and his 1950 Quebec team was named one of the 100 greatest minor league teams of all-time in 2001 by the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues. That team went 97-40 and won the Class C Canadian-American League title. In spring training during the early 1950s, he helped work with future Hall of Famers Eddie Mathews and Hank Aaron while they were coming up in the Braves’ system.
Vicki recalled taking the train to Idaho for a summer after school ended when her father was managing the Boise Braves, Milwaukee’s Class C Pioneer League club. “My strongest baseball memories of him were when he was managing [in Boise] because it was a whole lot different than Arlington,” she said. “It was just wonderful, we got to meet the players. Before that, we were just too young to be around it.”
One of his catchers in Boise was Bob Uecker, who would catch in the big leagues for six years but is known better as the longtime radio broadcaster for the Milwaukee Brewers who played the colorful Harry Doyle in the Major League movies.
After spending nine seasons managing in the Braves’ system, McQuinn would serve as a scout with the Washington Senators and Montreal Expos from 1959-71, when he retired after 42 years in professional baseball. He continued to operate his sporting goods store and sponsored numerous Arlington youth league teams, including Thomas’ Little League team in the late 1960s.
“He was such a nice man,” Gina recalls of her father. “He was very modest. He didn’t really talk much about himself or his career.”
Photo of George McQuinn, pictured at left along with Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, courtesy of McQuinn Family