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Mudville: September 26, 2022 10:45 am PDT
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Dan McGinn may not be the first name that comes to mind when talking about the Montreal Expos and their inaugural 1969 season. After all, that club, which won only 52 games, did have some big-name stars such as Rusty Staub, Maury Wills and Mack Jones.

McGinn, however, carved his name into the club’s history books right from the outset, cracking the first home run in club history on Opening Day in 1969. That he was a relief pitcher who entered the game in the second inning only adds to the mystique of what he accomplished. Oh, and lest anyone think that story can’t get any more intriguing, consider that he hit the homer off Hall-of-Famer Tom Seaver, who would go on to win 25 games that year, earn the first of his three Cy Young Awards and lead the Miracle Mets to a World Series crown.

Throw in the fact that the southpaw would also win the first home game in Montreal franchise history and get the best of Seaver once again in 1970 only adds to the legend that is Dan McGinn.

“I am the answer to three of those trivia questions,” said McGinn, 78. “I had the homer on Opening Day, was the first relief pitcher used and won the first game played in Montreal.

“We had a lot of good guys on that team. [Reliever] Elroy [Face], Maury Wills, Ron Fairly, Dick Radatz, Bobby Wine, Coco Laboy, Rusty Staub and Mack Jones. They named left field Jonesville. They loved him out there. It was fun. And they loved Rusty, La Grande Orange. He was like the prince of the city.”

While that season proved to be wonderful experience for McGinn and the fledgling Expos, the good times wouldn’t last for the Nebraska native. He proved to be a workhorse throughout the regular season and then during Instructional League and Winter Ball and eventually just wore down, all of which contributed to the premature end to his career. He lasted only five seasons in the Major Leagues and was out of baseball by the end of 1973.

Still, McGinn remains one of the unheralded heroes from the years when Major League Baseball made its first foray into Canada.

A CORNHUSKER NO MORE

McGinn, who was born in Omaha, played three sports at Cathedral High, starring for the football and basketball teams in addition to the baseball team. Football was his love, though, and he was a well-known commodity throughout the state.

Many assumed that he would stay home and play football for Nebraska and for a while, it looked like he might. McGinn, a quarterback, originally committed to Nebraska and legendary head coach Bob Devaney after visiting the campus in early May and it appeared as if the Cornhuskers would be getting a top-flight player. He led the North squad to a 28-0 victory in the Shrine Game his senior season – the game was a very big event in the state – and Nebraska fans were eager to see him for the next four years.

McGinn, however, heard the call of the Irish and followed it to South Bend.

“I was the MVP in the Shrine game and had a good outing,” McGinn said. “I had already committed to Nebraska but the Notre Dame coach was at the game. He said maybe you should take one more look at us. I had signed with Nebraska but at the time that was only binding with Big Eight schools.

“Notre Dame had national notoriety and when I walked on campus there, it was like magic. I got a feel and thought there was something going on here. I went around the campus and visited the grotto and the stadium. I’m a good Catholic boy and I thought this probably a good spot for me and if I play great but if not I’ll always have my degree. After that, I was the unwanted child in Nebraska. I got all kinds of hate mail. It was a joke. So that’s the reason I went there; it was just a better feel.”

McGinn, however, points out that his arrival at Notre Dame also coincided with the presence of quarterback John Huarte, who would win the Heisman Trophy in 1964. So, McGinn turned into a plug and play guy. He was the third-string quarterback, the second-string split end and the punter. He also got into the occasional game as a defensive back in addition to seeing some time at halfback.

“I didn’t get into a game as a quarterback but I threw six passes from the punt formation,” McGinn said. “A couple of them were by design but some of them I was running for my life. Only two of those six passes were by design.”

“We did a lot of promotional stuff. We’d go into stores and everything would be Expos, Expos, Expos. We didn’t know what they were saying because they were all speaking French but they all knew we were Expos.”

Meanwhile, McGinn also pitched for Notre Dame in the spring, working in his outings around spring football. McGinn’s hard-throwing approach caught the attention of the media, who touted him as one of the hot pitching prospects in baseball’s first annual draft, which would take place in 1965. The 12.18 K/9 he recorded in ’65 remains tied for second on the school’s all-time list while the 105 batters he fanned in 74 2/3 innings for a 12.66 K/9 ratio remains the school career record.

The Cardinals took notice of his flamethrowing ways and selected him in the 21st round [427th overall] in ’65. McGinn, however, chose to remain in college.

“The Cardinals wanted me to go to A ball but I had one more year of football,” McGinn said. “So, I just stayed and wanted to graduate. That was the first year of the draft. In January, they had a secondary draft for players who didn’t sign and the Reds took me in the first round. I told them, here’s what I’ll do. I’ll sign but I want to stay in school.

“During spring break, I went to spring training. I couldn’t play at Notre Dame after signing so I went to Tampa for eight days with the Major League team and then I went back to school. I graduated on June 10th and on June 12th I reported to [Double-A] Knoxville [of the Southern League] and I played part of the year there.”

The chance to play in the NFL was also there but McGinn passed.

“[Notre Dame coach] Ara Parseghian was contacted by Cleveland [Browns] and a couple of other teams,” McGinn said. “He called me into his office and said these guys want to sign you as a free agent. They are going to offer you this bonus and if you make the team as a punter you get the bonus. He asked with the MLB contract I signed if I was definitely going to get that money. I said yes and he said you better be smart and take the baseball money. That’s why I decided on baseball.”

McGinn spent some time in Louisiana for basic training following graduation after the Reds got him into the National Guard [to avoid the draft and the possibility of going to Vietnam]. Overall, he appeared in six games his first season, going 2-1 with a 5.23 ERA in 31 innings.

HEADING TO THE PEN AND THE MAJOR LEAGUES

The 1967 season proved to be better for McGinn than what his stat line showed. He returned to Knoxville for a second season, where he played for manager Don Zimmer, and went 6-13 with a 3.49 ERA in 24 games [23 starts], which included a July stretch in which he lost three consecutive starts by a score of 2-1.

Knoxville finished in last place, but McGinn was named to the All-Star team, which played an exhibition game against the Atlanta Braves in July. The Southern League All-Stars blanked an Atlanta lineup, 5-0, that featured Hank Aaron, Felipe Alou, Rico Carty and the aforementioned Mack Jones. McGinn tossed a pair of scoreless innings with a strikeout.

McGinn returned to the Southern League in ’68 and it proved to be a career-altering year while playing for Sparky Anderson at Asheville. Anderson moved McGinn into the bullpen and he flourished, going 6-3 with a 2.29 ERA in 74 games. He struck out 133 in 110 innings, earning a late season callup to Cincinnati.

“Cincinnati needed a left-handed reliever so Sparky said go down to the bullpen and be a reliever for me,” McGinn said. “That got me into a lot of games and I got called up. I never thought I would be a reliever when I signed.”

McGinn threw 12 innings across 14 September games, going 0-1 with a 5.25 ERA.  It was games on Sept. 17 and 19 at Dodger Stadium, however, that changed his career arc. He pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings, striking out three.

“I did alright and I was walking up the runway after one of the games and there was this distinguished-looking gray-haired man in a nice suit standing there,” McGinn said. “He said ‘Nice game.’ I asked someone who that was and they said it was Gene Mauch and that he was probably going to be the manager of one of the expansion teams. Next thing I know, three or four weeks later I was taken by the Expos.

“I thought I would have a chance the next year on this club [the Reds] because they only had [one lefthander] Billy McCool. I was getting ready to go down to Instructional League and I walked in and the local general manager of the Tampa team said I need to talk to you. He said I had to pack my stuff and that they’d pay my airfare home because I didn’t belong to them anymore.”

McGinn was selected by the Expos with the 27th pick of the 1968 Expansion Draft. McCool, incidentally, was taken by San Diego with the 46th pick. McGinn said he was surprised that he had been left unprotected but now he would have an opportunity to be in the Major Leagues, likely on a full-time basis, even if that meant playing for an expansion team.

MONTREAL, SEAVER AND AN ALL-TOO-SHORT CAREER

The Expos proved to be the darlings of Montreal though they won only 52 games that season and finished last in the newly formed National League East.

“They had a parade for us when we got there and there were one hundred some thousand people there,” McGinn said. “Jarry Park [Stade Parc Jarry] only held about 28,000 and we had a sellout almost every night. The majority of the people spoke French but it was such a novelty to have a Major League team and stars from other teams there. We packed the place every night.

“We did a lot of promotional stuff. We’d go into stores and everything would be Expos, Expos, Expos. We didn’t know what they were saying because they were all speaking French but they all knew we were Expos. The problem was that up there we paid US taxes, Canadian taxes, Montreal taxes and Quebec taxes. Most of us were first-year guys on minimum salaries and when you got your check it was ‘Hey, what happened here?’. We had to file at the end of the year to get the money back.”

McGinn’s tax issues didn’t affect him on the field. He was workhorse, appearing in 74 games. He tossed 132 1/3 innings, picked up seven wins and had a 3.94 ERA. And it all began with that Opening Day affair against the Mets.

Jim “Mudcat” Grant was headed toward the twilight of a long career in which he would win 145 games. He was the first black pitcher to win 20 games in the American League [1965] and was also the first black pitcher to win a World Series game for the Junior Circuit. But on April 8, 1969, the Mets showed him little respect, tagging him for three runs on six hits in 1 1/3 innings at Shea Stadium. That unexpectedly brought McGinn into the game in the second inning. He immediately picked Tommie Agee off second base to help end the New York rally.

Mauch surprisingly let McGinn bat with one out in the top of the fourth and he promptly cracked a home run off The Franchise. It was the first in Montreal history and the only homer McGinn would hit in his career.

“I wasn’t expecting to be in the game that early and then I thought they would pinch-hit for me,” McGinn said. “But I got up to bat and Seaver threw a couple of fastballs right by me. The next one I thought I’ll just swing as hard as I can right here and maybe he will put it there. I hit it to right field and as I was rounding first I saw umpire Augie Donatelli giving the home run signal. I looked at him thinking ‘What?’ When I got to the dugout the guys were waiting and Wills, Mauch, Rusty, they were all laughing.

“If you’re going to hit one, you might as well hit one off a Hall-of-Famer. If I had hit it off Joe Smith it would have been no big deal. I have the lineup card from that game that Gene Mauch gave me. When [New York manager Gil] Hodges wrote the New York lineup he wrote the S in Seaver with two dollar signs [$] through it. He was money.”

It was his only career homer but he never got the ball back. McGinn would go 15-for-91 and is one of only 36 players, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, to finish his career with a homer, a triple and a single and no doubles.

“I was a good hitter in high school but I wouldn’t say I was a power hitter,” McGinn said. “I used to have fun during batting practice with the pitchers in Montreal because Jarry Park had such a short porch in right; it was only 310, 320 feet. I would swing from my ass and try to hit it out but I definitely wasn’t a power hitter.”

Montreal would go on to win the game but McGinn wouldn’t factor in the decision. He would, however, six days later in Montreal’s home-opener against St. Louis, earning himself another place in franchise history. This was another early relief outing after starter Larry Jaster got knocked around for seven runs in 3 2/3 innings. McGinn pitched the final 5 1/3, scattering three hits and not allowing a run.

McGinn also picked up the game-winning RBI with a seventh-inning single off Gary Waslewski. He finished the season with three RBIs and looked to be headed for a lengthy stay north of the border. The workload would begin to start having an impact on McGinn, though. He went to the Instructional League again following the season and appeared in another 74 games in 1970, this time throwing 130 2/3 innings.

His ERA jumped to 5.44 in 1970 as he split his time between the rotation and the pen. He appeared in 52 games, 19 of which were starts. McGinn also tossed a pair of complete games, including a May 11 game at Shea Stadium, where he tossed a three-hit shutout as Montreal once again bested Seaver. The loss snapped Seaver’s 16-game winning streak.

That game also marked a week in which McGinn would have his finest moments for the Expos. He followed the Seaver game with another complete-game victory, this one at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh during which he allowed one run and scattered five hits. He also tossed a complete-game shutout against the Pirates in Montreal on Aug. 3, limiting the Bucs to three hits.

Ultimately, the workload would prove to be his undoing. McGinn returned to Instructs and then pitched Winter Ball and was clearly tired when he arrived at Spring Training in 1971. So much so, that the Expos sent him to Winnipeg of the Triple-A International League where he stayed until mid-June. McGinn was largely ineffective as a starter in Winnipeg and equally ineffective coming out of the pen for Montreal [a 5.96 ERA in 71 innings]. The Expos ended up trading him to the Cubs that winter.

McGinn appeared in 42 games for the Cubs and went 0-5 with a 5.89 ERA. He spent 1973 at Triple A, first with the Cubs and then Cardinals before calling it a career.

“When you’re throwing the ball just as hard and it’s not getting there as fast, it’s probably time,” McGinn said. “[Former Cleveland great] Mel Harder was a pitching coach I had years earlier and he would always say take care of your arm, you only have so many throws in it. I always remembered there were only so many throws and I went 74 games and then went to Instructional League and I got in a lot of pitching.

“Once I couldn’t play, I wasn’t hanging on. I got released and my agent wanted me to go to Korea and Tokyo and pitch overseas and I said no. When it was time to give it up, I gave it up. It was fun, though.”

POST PLAYING DAYS

McGinn took his Notre Dame degree and went to work for AT&T, where he stayed for 24 years. He then scouted for the Phillies for six years after that and was also the pitching coach at The University of Nebraska [Omaha] for 16 years.

“That [Nebraska] was fun,” he said. “I let these guys pick my little brain. I enjoyed working with kids that age.”

Both of McGinn’s sons played some minor league ball with his eldest son, Shaun, also doing front-office work and scouting for the Royals and was, at one time, their senior director of minor league operations.

As for the Expos, McGinn still has fond memories and believes that Montreal deserves an expansion team.

“Baseball should be back in Montreal,” he said. “Obviously, it’s a big enough town to support it. Olympic Stadium was no good and that was part of their downfall. They should be considered a front runner for any expansion team. It would be nice and I think the people up there would support a team again.”

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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