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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: December 2, 2022 5:45 am PDT
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Marshall McDougall probably deserved better when it came to his baseball career. The former Florida State star was one of college baseball’s most dominant players as the millennium dawned and, based on what he did in school, appeared to be headed to a solid, if not spectacular, pro career.

Circumstance, timing and injuries proved to be the main culprits behind the NCAA record holder’s being limited to 18 Major League games over a 13-year career that included stops in Canada, Mexico and Taiwan. McDougall, who was drafted four times in five years before signing with Oakland in 2000, just wanted to play baseball. If only it were that simple.

“I really don’t know what I could have done,” McDougall, 43, said. “Scouts see what they want to see. That aspect of the outside baseball world, I don’t know what I could change. I couldn’t tell you one thing to make someone draft me higher or pay me more money.”

While being in that right place at that time wasn’t a position in which McDougall found himself often during his professional career, he did set the baseball world spinning one sunny Sunday afternoon when he was a junior at Florida State. McDougall set NCAA records with six home runs, 16 RBIs and 25 total bases against Maryland on May 9, 1999. It was an effort that contributed to his winning the Atlantic Coast Conference Triple Crown and Player of the Year honors as well as being named a consensus All-American.

It was a memorable performance but one that McDougall doesn’t let define who he is.

“I don’t think about that game that much,” said McDougall, who works as an instructional assistant and baseball coach at a Florida high school. “I don’t walk around wearing a shirt that says I hit six home runs in one game. It’s a positive thing, but there is only so much you can talk about it.”

McDougall’s effort continues to have plenty of other people talking, though. He was inducted into the FSU Hall-of-Fame in 2011 and the records he set haven’t come close to being touched. And it all began because he simply loved playing baseball.

IT’S GETTING DRAFTY AND THAT BIG, BIG GAME

The Jacksonville native was a star at Buchholz High School, the same school that would produce Andrew Miller in 2003. And, like the future MLB hurler, McDougall eschewed signing out of high school after the White Sox made him a 41st-round selection in 1996.

“At the time, I just played,” McDougall said. “Now, it’s totally different. Kids have all these scholarship offers by the time they are five. Back then I just played. There was no hype or any publicity, especially in college ball. It’s not as public as it is now.”

McDougall was then selected after his freshman season at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Fla., going to the Yankees in the 37th round. Once again, that was a no. He enjoyed his time at Santa Fe and was dominant, leaving as the school’s all-time leading hitter [.428]. He also had 12 homers and drove in 85 runs [sixth overall] while scoring 87 runs in two seasons under legendary JUCO coach and American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Harry Tholen.

“I didn’t sign the first three times because there were really no offers,” McDougall said. “The first time I was drafted, the scout got fired and we never talked. My freshman year, the scout with the Yankees told me to go to Florida State because they couldn’t give me that much money.

“I was very lucky, though, because I got to play in junior college for my best friend’s dad. I got to play junior college four miles from my house and stayed home my freshman year. I lived with my mom so it was just like another year of high school baseball. I just played ball and didn’t worry about the extra stuff. I was fortunate to be around some special coaches that just let me play. I wasn’t always textbook but I made sure the plays were made and I always tried to have a good at-bat.”

Those good at-bats and workmanlike approach, not to mention McDougall’s numbers at Santa Fe, landed him at top-ranked FSU for his junior season under the guidance of Mike Martin, another legendary coach who is the NCAA’s all-time winningest skipper. He also found himself in a lineup that included future 13-year Major Leaguer Matt Diaz, future Yankees first-rounder John Ford Griffin and current Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash.

“That was the exciting part, seeing my teammates’ reactions. It was cooler to watch them than actually doing it.”

McDougall and that talent-laden lineup squared off against Maryland in the finale of a three-game ACC series at Shipley Field, the Terrapins bandbox of a ballpark, on May 9, 1999. His day started like most others that season, with a hit, a single to left field. There was nothing typical, however, about his next six at-bats, which came in the second, fourth, sixth, seventh and eighth and ninth innings.

He blasted a solo homer to left-center in the second and followed that up with a three-run homer to center [which was a relatively close 355 feet] in the fourth and a then two-run homer to left, begging the question, why did Maryland pitch to him with a base open in the seventh.

“I was very fortunate that day,” said McDougall, whose oldest son, Mason, will be playing for FSU next season. “We were ranked No. 1 in the country and the whole lineup was stacked. I guess as a pitcher you’re thinking I’m not going to hit another one so they pitched to me instead of pitching to Diaz behind me. They took their chances with me and the game turned into a blowout.”

He also deposited one over the center field fence in the seventh and completed the home-run cycle with an eighth-inning grand slam to left. McDougall finished his day with a three-run blast to center in the ninth.

“I was trying to hit a home run on the fifth and sixth ones,” McDougall said. “I was just up there hacking. The first three or four at-bats, the game was still pretty close and you just can’t swing out of your shoes.”

McDougall broke the NCAA single-game, home-run record [five] set by Campbell’s Henry Rochelle, who hit five homers in a 38-0 victory over Radford on March 30, 1985. He also broke the previous NCAA record for RBIs in a game set by Louisville’s Jim LaFountain on March 24, 1976 against Western Kentucky. LaFountain set an NCAA record that day with three grand slams. McDougall also set the NCAA record for hits in a game [seven].

Overall, the Seminoles hit nine home runs in the 26-2 victory.

“I knew what was going on the whole time,” McDougall said. “Matt Diaz was hitting behind me and he had hit four in a game the year before. One I got to three, the whole team started talking and joking around about it. It wasn’t like a no-hitter where you don’t talk to the guy. They were having fun with it; it wasn’t hush hush.

“When I hit the sixth one, I didn’t think it was gone. There is a short porch in center and the wind was barely blowing in and the ball landed two feet on the other side of the fence. It hit me when I rounded third and saw the whole team going crazy. That was the exciting part, seeing my teammates’ reactions. It was cooler to watch them than actually doing it. As a baseball player, you always expect to do well and you say to yourself, this is what I am supposed to do. But if you see someone else do it, it’s holy crap.”

Florida State's Marshall McDougall in action vs Charleston Southern, Tallahassee, FL 2/29/2000 (Photo by Bob Rosato/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

McDougall said that when the team flew home from Maryland that evening, there were close to 500 people at the airport waiting to cheer for him. He was written about in newspapers around the country and was a frequent guest on sports talk radio thereafter. He believes the bat he used resides in the Louisville Slugger Hall of Fame.

McDougal hit five homers over his final 18 games that season to finish with a .419 batting average, 28 homers and a nation-leading 106 RBIs. He was also tops in the country with 126 hits and was named as a finalist for both the Golden Spikes Award and the NCBWA/Dick Howser Player of the Year Award [both of which went to Baylor’s Jason Jennings]. He helped lead FSU to the final game of the College World Series, which it lost, 6-5, to Miami and became just the third person in NCAA history to have 100 hits, drive in 100 runs and score 100 runs in the same season. He was also named the College World Series MVP.

“I only had two homers in high school,” McDougall said. “I graduated when I was 17 and that’s kind of young but I developed. My freshman year as a JUCO I hit three then nine then 28 then 15. I had four multi-homer games my junior year. Before that I only had two. They changed the balls and bats my senior year [at FSU] and the ball wasn’t flying like it used to. That was my excuse.”

The Red Sox drafted McDougall following his monster 1999 season in 26th round but he returned to FSU for his senior season and was grabbed by Oakland in the 9th round [2000].

“I didn’t hit below .400 until my senior year in college,” said McDougall, who hit .346 with 15 homers and 67 RBIs as a senior. “I didn’t feel like I had anything to prove at that point. I just played and whatever happened, happened. I didn’t expect to be back for my senior year but the chance to sign with the Red Sox never arose. They didn’t offer me anything. I signed with the A’s and because it was a senior signing, I was not going to get a lot there, either.

“I guess when I played in high school, junior college and then went to FSU, I don’t think I looked into the pro scenario. I just played. I didn’t have an agent or advisers. I was just a normal person; I never thought about the draft. I didn’t get talked to by a ton of scouts. I don’t think I talked to any team that drafted me before the draft. I just played and kind of dealt with what happened afterwards.”

THE LONG AND WINDING PROFESSIONAL ROAD

What happened was that Oakland sent him to Vancouver of the Rookie-Level Northwest League, where he hit .275 with 11 RBIs. McDougall only appeared in 27 games, though, after suffering a stress fracture in his vertebrae while swinging a bat. That particular injury, coupled with the long bus rides that are a trademark of rookie-level ball, proved to be impactful.

“You’re riding a bus 10 to 16 hours and then you have to play three nights in a row, it’s not as glamorous as people think,” he said. “The travel wasn’t as nice as you hoped it would be and back then you were playing for $850 a month and just hoping for the best.”

McDougall got bumped up to the Class-A California League in 2001 and had a much better experience, hitting .257 with 12 homers and 84 RBIs, which was good enough for 10th in the league. The A’s liked him enough to send him to Midland of the Double-A Texas League in 2002 and he was hitting .303 with nine homers and 56 RBIs through 84 games when he was dealt to Cleveland for Ricardo Rincon at the end of July.

“I had hurt my hamstring and it was hurt when I got traded,” McDougall said. “Cleveland made a lot of trades that year but I just couldn’t play. I tried to beat out a grounder and I pulled my hamstring again and they shut me down. They sent me down to Instructional League and I was picked up by Texas in the Rule 5 Draft [ninth selection]. My hamstring never healed over the winter though. But Texas ended up trading for me [rather than returning him to the Indians] so I stayed with the Rangers.”

McDougall had two productive years [2003-04] in the Texas system while shuttling between Frisco of the Texas League and Oklahoma City of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. He combined to hit .261 with 15 homers and 78 RBIs in 2003 and followed that up by combining to hit .288 with 21 homers and 83 RBIs the following year.

He began the 2005 season back at Oklahoma City and was one of the league’s best players when he was called up to the Major Leagues at the beginning of June. McDougall made his debut on June 7 at Citizen’s Bank Park in Philadelphia against Billy Wagner and proceeded to line out to right on a 1-2 pitch. His first Major League start came on June 22 in Anaheim and he went 1-for-3, picking up a fifth inning single off Jarrod Washburn for his first hit.

College World Series, Florida State Marshall McDougall in action, making diving catch vs Stanford, Omaha, NE 6/18/1999 (Photo by Damian Strohmeyer/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

McDougall shuttled between Oklahoma City and Arlington for the second half of the season and finished the year by appearing in 18 games for the Rangers, hitting .167 [3-for-18]. He struck out swinging in what would be his final big league at-bat on Oct. 2 against the Angels. McDougall hit .341 with 11 homers and 64 RBIs in 57 games for Oklahoma City.

“I felt that if I had stayed with Oakland that I would have gotten there and stayed longer,” McDougall said. “The Rangers had Hank Blalock, Mark Teixeira and Mark DeRosa as a backup. As a backup, you don’t get many opportunities in the American League and I was pretty much cheap insurance. I was having a pretty good year when I was called up. But they also had Ian Kinsler [at Oklahoma City] and he was pretty much looked at as the future at second base so I didn’t have an opportunity.

“Injuries cost me more than anything. But being behind a bunch of All-Stars hurt as well. It was all about being in the right place at the right time if you weren’t a high-money guy coming out of the draft.”

One of those injuries was to McDougall’s wrist [he had a pair of surgeries] that cost him virtually all of 2006 though he did get to play winter ball in Mexico. The Rangers, however, released him in December of 2006 and he spent the next two seasons with the Dodger and Giant organizations as well as in Mexico. McDougall’s stint with affiliated ball would end in 2008.

“I went to winter ball in Mexico with the Rangers in 2005 because I needed to make money,” McDougall said. “I already had a wife and kids by that point. I was trying to prove what I could still do but I was pretty much down there on my own. I learned a lot about myself and decided that if I did well I would stay and if not I would go home.”

Third baseman Marshall McDougall of the Texas Rangers bats during the game against the Minnesota Twins at Ameriquest Field in Arlington on August 28, 2005 in Arlington, Texas. The Rangers defeated the Twins 2-1. (Photo by John Williamson /MLB Photos via Getty Images)

McDougall played independent ball in Pensacola, went to Taiwan and then back to Mexico, continuing to search for a team through the end of 2012. He was 33 years old at that point and decided he had had enough.

“Taiwan was very interesting,” he said. “I was coming off knee surgery from winter ball and I went over there without having run yet [after the surgery]. I was kind of nervous about that but Spring Training in Taiwan it was pretty much just do what you have to do to get ready.

“There was also a 6.4 magnitude earthquake the third day after I go there and my whole building shook for a minute. It gave me a sleeping disorder the rest of the time I was there. You never know how many earthquakes there really are until you do some research on them. I’m on a video call with my wife and you can see the curtains shaking in the background.”

When McDougall finally walked away from the game it wasn’t because of lack of interest or desire or even earthquakes – he simply wished to spend more time with his family. He was tired of traveling around the globe, particularly alone, and wanted to be a dad.

So, he began coaching baseball in Florida and says he probably spends more time at the field now than he ever did when he was playing. And while people will still ask about that one game long ago, McDougall is quick to point out there is more to him and his career.

“I don’t want one game to define me,” he said. “I’ve done a lot more, a lot of cool things and that’s what I tell all my players. If there is anything that anyone can say about me is that I was a good teammate. I tried to be a good teammate to everyone. As long as your teammates know you are there and giving your best, they know you are a good teammate.”

Covered a Mets-Astros doubleheader in 1987 and never looked back. Spent eight years at MLB.com, more than half of that as the Mets beat writer. Had one beat writer from another newspaper threaten to kill him in an elevator at the winter meetings. The other half was as MiLB.com’s staff historian. Worked three years in Philly at Comcast covering the Phillies’ minor leagues and doing weekly TV spots. Author of the popular blog The Bobblist, which covers everything A to Z in the world of bobbleheads. Really.

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