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Mudville: April 15, 2024 5:47 am PDT

Dave Gallagher

"He was a guy where if I got a hit off him, I almost wanted to send an apology note."

As young baseball fans, we often dreamed of what it would be like to make it to the Big Leagues one day. We spent so much time playing in the sandlots and wiffle ball courts, mimicking our favorite players’ stances and daydreaming of playing in the Majors ourselves.

As kids, we don’t realize that our favorite Major Leaguers were once kids like us with those same dreams.

Dave Gallagher had those dreams growing up as a kid in New Jersey and he shares them with us, along with his baseball stories, in this week’s Spitballin’.

New Jersey might be the home of Mike Trout, Ducky Medwick and Don Newcombe, but it isn’t the baseball hotbed that warm-weather states are. You can understand when Gallagher looks back incredulously that a kid from a state that is known for many things besides baseball got to play alongside so many Hall of Famers.

Gallagher played nine years in the Majors and finished fifth in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1988. A lifetime .271 hitter, Gallagher was known as a hard-nosed player who always hustled and played very good defense at all outfield positions. He could always be counted on to do the little things to help his teams win.

Perhaps an even better legacy is that he has spent most of his post-retirement giving back to the youngsters enjoying the game today.

In talking with Gallagher, you can tell that all he wants is for young kids to fall in love with baseball the way he did and to learn the game the right way.

Gallagher is involved with Centercourt Club & Sports as the Senior Advisor to Centercourt Baseball and is incredibly active on Twitter, sharing his baseball knowledge and stories with fans.

The man flat out loves baseball, and you do too, so let’s go Spitballin’ with Dave Gallagher.

Thanks for joining us, Mr. Gallagher. We have a lot to talk about, so let’s jump right in. As a kid, what got you started playing baseball?

I was in a church league at seven years old. It was a really relaxed rec league run by the church we belonged to. I’m sure the field was terrible, but as kids you don’t think about that. The very first pitch that was thrown to me, I swung and missed. The kid that was pitching smiled and that triggered something in me. Even at seven years old I was like, “He’s trying to embarrass me!” The next pitch I lined a ball to left field and got one of those Little League home runs. The left fielder tried to dive and it went past him. There was no fence so I got all the way around the bases. That was my first taste of what it was like to compete and I knew I was good at it.

That’s a great memory to have. Did you have any favorite teams growing up in New Jersey?

When I was a little boy I used to ask my father to tell stories about when he was in the Navy. I used to ask him if he ever killed anybody and he always beat around the bush on that one. He also used to tell me stories about Willie Mays. He had seen him play at the Polo Grounds. He used to describe this guy who played the game different than anybody he had ever seen. I would make him tell me stories about Willie Mays. Because of that, the Giants became my favorite team. I learned all the players and batting stances for when I played wiffle ball. Downtown Ollie Brown, Hal Lanier, Jim Davenport, Jim Ray Hart, of course McCovey and Mays.

“For at least the last 20 years I have felt that it’s important to leave something behind that is better than what I had. Unfortunately, I don’t feel that’s what the game is now.”

Those are some great guys to develop a love of the game as a kid. When you were in the Majors, did you run into a lot of them?

I have a great story about Willie Mays. I had all of that love for Willie Mays as a kid. Years later playing for the Mets, we went into San Francisco to play the Giants. Bobby Bonilla started in right field. I went in in the seventh inning for him and there was a right-handed hitter who tended to drive the ball the other way. I’m in right, so I’m ready. He did exactly what I envisioned and hit it to right. At Candlestick Park, from the foul line to the padded wall is extremely narrow. I was on a dead run, caught the ball and pulled my arm in because I knew I was gonna slam into the wall, which I did. I went down to the ground, held up the ball and jogged in because it was the last out.

The next day, I checked in with the trainers to say hello. I was about to leave when one of them said, “Hey Gally, you got a compliment from a pretty big name.” I thought they were playing with me and trying to put the bait out there. The other trainer said, “Yeah, Willie Mays came in and asked who the right fielder was.” They told him it was Bobby Bonilla. He said he knew who Bonilla was but wanted to know the guy who went in for him. They told him it was Dave Gallagher. He said, “Well tell him he’s a really good outfielder because good outfielders make hard plays look easy.” I’ll never forget that. I can’t understand how a little boy in New Jersey who idolized Willie Mays, so many years later would be complimented by that man. That doesn’t seem possible!

Dave Gallagher #12 of the Atlanta Braves looks on during batting practice of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies on June 1, 1994 at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

That’s so awesome and you’re right, really unbelievable. Did you have any more moments like that in your career?

You know, there’s one with Nolan Ryan, who was like a baseball God to me. I was with the White Sox and we faced the Rangers when Nolan pitched. I was actually underwhelmed. He was getting towards the end of his career, but I still expected so much, but he was throwing maybe 92 or 93. It just wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. It must have just been that one day he didn’t have his best fastball, but being tough as nails, he just pitched through it. Then the next time we faced him, he went out and threw a one-hitter. Ron Kittle had a broken-bat blooper over the second baseman’s head otherwise it would have been another no-hitter for him. Just dominated.

Can you take us into the box and tell us what it’s like facing him?

Here’s a good example. There was one at bat where he had two strikes on me. He went outside with a fastball and I fouled it off. He didn’t appreciate that, so the next fastball was directly at my face. I had that happen a couple of times. Roger Clemens did that to me too. I leaned in with my upper body to get to the outside corner and the pitcher doesn’t want you to do that, so they straighten you up a little bit. But yeah, Nolan threw a fastball and I think I shit my pants. It was directly at my face. I barely got out of the way and stepped out of the box with one foot, trying to look like it didn’t bother me. I remember thinking that he had a nasty curve ball too and I was set up perfect for it. I guessed curve and if I guessed wrong, I’m gonna get hit in the head because he starts that thing right at your head. Sure enough, it was a curve ball and I smoked it to left for a base hit. I rounded first and went back to the bag and Nolan was about ten feet from me. He had come off the mound towards first and was staring at me because we both knew what happened. The look he gave me was like, “You son of a gun, you got me there.” I don’t know how others felt, but he was a guy where if I got a hit off him, I almost wanted to send an apology note.

Phillies right fielder Dave Gallagher holds his face after a ball hit the wall and bounced of the ground into his face in the ninth inning. The Phillies beat the Cardinals 5-3. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read PETER NEWCOMB/AFP via Getty Images)

That probably would have been a smart idea! Let’s stay on the subject of legends. You grew up in South Jersey near Philly and when you first got called up to the Indians, Steve Carlton was there winding down his career. What was that like for you?

I have another one of those great unbelievable stories involving Carlton. By the time I was nine, I was so in love with baseball. One day, I read in the newspaper that Steve Carlton was signing autographs at a Kinney shoe store that was walking distance from my house. I got a ball and walked down to get his autograph. I got in line and when I got to the counter, I asked him to sign my baseball. He started to sign it and the pen ran out of ink, so he stepped away to get a new pen. I looked at the pen and was like, “That’s Steve Carlton’s personal pen!” So, I grabbed it and stuck it in my pocket. He came back, signed my ball and I left. I couldn’t wait to look at his pen and it said “Kinney Shoes” on the side, so it wasn’t really Carlton’s pen after all. Now years later, I’m, playing with the guy! I told him the story and he looked at me the way Steve Carlton does, without a smile, and said, “You think I like that story? All that does is remind me how old I am!”

That’s great! Do you still have the ball?

No. Growing up, I was the organizer for our neighborhood baseball games and I supplied the balls. I had this drawer where I kept them and would line them up in order of importance. If I got a game ball in Little League, we would use that one on the weekend to play ball. Anyway, one day we were down to the last ball and it was the Steve Carlton autographed ball. At the time, I wanted to play baseball more than I wanted that autographed ball. Of course the ball got hit into the woods and we never found it, so that was the end of that.

Dave Gallagher of the Chicago White Sox bats during an MLB game at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Illinois during the 1989 season. (Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images)

For someone who loved baseball so much as a kid, I can only imagine what it was like playing with and against these legends.

It was phenomenal for a kid from New Jersey. Steve Carlton actually gave me my first feeling of being a Big Leaguer. We were playing in Yankee Stadium and he was pitching with Dave Winfield on first. Mike Pagliarulo hit a bullet into right center. I took a really good, efficient angle. I got it in stride, did this great reverse pivot and fired the ball to the cutoff man. Winfield used to wear that helmet with no ear flaps and he’s digging around second with his helmet flying off. The third base coach held him up at third though. I held them to second and third and Carlton got out of the inning without a run. As I’m coming off the field, Carlton was waiting for me on the top step. That’s pretty normal, but for me, I was still questioning whether I could make it. He fist pumps me and it made me feel like I belonged in the Majors.

As a Mets fan I have to ask you about your time there. You were there in 1992 and ’93, which unfortunately was the “worst team money can buy” era. I guess let’s start out by talking about your expectations coming into the 1992 season, because you did have so many big name guys on the roster.

Most years you have high expectations. There there’s always that sentiment where you think if we can pitch and play defense we’ll be good. If these guys hit, we’ll be good. Things like that. You map out a road to a championship and that team we had a lot of stars. When I look at that team I think, “What a shame.” That should have been the proudest year of my career. To be living back home in New Jersey and playing in New York with so many family and friends being able to attend games, that should have been great. Instead, there was so much that happened away from the field that had nothing to do with baseball.

I know Mets fans remember many of the negative incidents, are there any of them that stood out or that you were directly associated with?

Let’s start in Spring Training. I remember getting a game winning hit, which meant a lot more to me because I was always trying to make the team. I never had more than a one year contract in my career. So for me to get a game winning hit, it made dinner taste better that night. You learn early in your career that when the camera light is on, it could be live and they can show a tape later. They asked for an interview with me after my hit, so I figured they’d ask me what pitch I hit or something. Instead, a local reporter asked me, “How do you feel about the rape allegations of your teammates?” I said, “I really don’t think it’s appropriate for me to comment on that.” She said they were my teammates and I must have some feelings. Again I told her that I didn’t think it was appropriate for me to comment. She asked me a third time and this time I just looked at the camera and said, “I tried,” and walked away. What do you think they show on the news? They show her asking the question and me walking away.

Catcher Dave Valle of the Seattle Mariners squares off against Dave Gallagher during a game against the California Angels at Anaheim Stadium in Anaheim, California. (Credit: Stephen Dunn /Allsport)

That’s not surprising in the least bit. Speaking of the media, what was your take on the bleach spraying incident?

Before that you had Vince Coleman and the firecracker outside Dodger Stadium. It was an M-80 and for some reason Vince threw that firecracker and I have no idea what he was thinking. Then you had the bleach spraying. This was all in one year! That was just an innocent thing. I remember coming out of the shower and saw someone filming Vince Coleman’s empty locker because he was suspended for the firecracker incident. I remember how dumb that looked, like they were doing a story on an empty locker. Sabes asked the clubhouse kid to get him one of those spray bleach containers.

Saberhagen squirted it across the room. I know Saberhagen. He would have laughed his ass off and handed the guy $100 for a new pair of jeans. That’s what it was meant to be. It turned out so much worse. The headlines the next day made it seem like he walked up to someone and squirted bleach into his eyes. Fred Wilpon was there and called a meeting. I felt like I was in kindergarten. He was like, “Who did this!” I’m looking around like, “Are we a Big League baseball team? What the hell is going on?” What should have been the most proud year of my career was embarrassing.

I can understand that. Let’s end here on a positive note though. I love what you post on social media and how positive you are about passing that love of baseball that you have down to the next generation. You have done a lot of youth instruction too. Can you talk about how much you give back to the game? I love to see this kind of stuff.

I’m in a really good place right now with my mind and health. For at least the last 20 years I have felt that it’s important to leave something behind that is better than what I had. Unfortunately, I don’t feel that’s what the game is now. There’s so much good in amateur baseball, but there’s also so much that is not good. Kids are being exploited. You’re out there ranking kids and putting pressure on kids that I never had put on me. It’s all being monetized. I’m not saying it’s the worst thing in the world; I do think there are some businesses that also provide a good service for kids. I have had the opportunity to be on a youth advisory board for years with the Player’s Association.

If you talk to other baseball people, when we talk about the development of youth and what’s important, we always agree that development should be more important than rankings. I always jump in and say, “We always talk about this same thing. We’re not marketing to each other, we have to market to people who don’t understand.” People that are doctors, lawyers, teachers, carpenters, car salesmen. For those people, they’re experts in their fields, but baseball is not their expertise. Of course they want to support their child, so anyone can come out of the woodwork and take advantage and say, “This is what you should be doing to support your kids.” Even if you have to scrape the money together, you love your kid and do it. People who are making a ton of money in this field, the only thing they fear is educated parents. Then they would make decisions on what is right for their kids. I always thought that should come from the players who played at the highest level.

So, I had this opportunity to get involved and I’m not gonna stop unless they tell me to stop. That has been my goal for a long time, participating in programs to help the youth.

Rocco is a baseball writer with too much time on his hands who lives in the dusty corners of Baseball Reference. He was one half of the battery for the 1986 Belleville Recreation Farm League Champion Indians. He likes early 20th century baseball nicknames, pullover polyester jerseys and Old Hoss Radbourn. He works as a College Athletics Director and his second book was released in April of 2021.

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