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Meet Gil McDougald, the Yankees’ first Rookie of the Year winner

Before Aaron Judge, Derek Jeter, or anyone else, there was Gil McDougald.

Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees Photo by M. Davild Leeds/Getty Images

Earlier this week, the news came in that Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres finished second and third in AL Rookie of the Year voting. Whether or not you think one of them should have won the award is another discussion for another day.

What is indisputable about it is that it has capped off a stretch of three years where a Yankee has finished at least second in Rookie of the Year. Of course, the middle of those three years was Aaron Judge winning the award in 2017.

In total, nine Yankees have won the award since it came into existence in 1947. The winners range from the likes of (soon to be) Hall of Famers like Derek Jeter to Stan Bahnsen, who never had another season that came close to what he did as a rookie.

Before Jeter, Bahsen, or Thurman Munson, Gil McDougald was the first in team history to win the award when he took home the prize in 1951. What’s interesting about this is that under different circumstances, it might not have happened.

The Yankees signed McDougald out of semi-pro ball in California in 1948. By the start of the 1950 season, he had already made it up to Double-A, where he played for the Texas League Beaumont Roughnecks, a team managed by Rogers Hornsby. He put in another good season there, getting the start at second base in their all-star game, as well as winning the league MVP award.

McDougald was expected to go to Triple-A in 1951. The Yankees were coming off World Series championship, and were mostly set in the infield. However, the Korean War had broken out the year before, and that changed the circumstances a bit. Infielders Jerry Coleman, Bobby Brown, and Billy Martin all potentially could have been shipped out to serve overseas. Plus, the 1950 Yankees’ regular third baseman, Billy Johnson, was over 30 and had declined at the plate both of the previous two seasons.

Instead of reporting to Triple-A, the Yankees had McDougald go to spring training with the big league team, just in case they ended up with a shortage of infielders. He wound up making team out of spring training, despite Martin getting discharged, Coleman and Brown never getting sent to Korea, and Johnson also hanging around.

McDougald didn’t play in the Yankees’ first two games of the season. He made his major league debut on April 20th, but went 0-1 coming off the bench. His second appearance didn’t come until a week after that, where he recorded his first career hit.

After starting his career 2-10, McDougald seemed destined to go back to the minors sooner rather than later. However, Casey Stengel had taken a liking to him. He continued to play McDougald, and was rewarded for that.

On May 3rd, the rookie doubled and homered, driving in six runs, and never looked back after that. By the time May was over, McDougald was hitting .342/.447/.595, and Billy Johnson had been traded to the Cardinals.

From that point forward, McDougald was entrenched in the Yankees’ lineup. For the season, he hit .309./.396/.488 with 14 home runs. He beat out Minnie Minoso by just two votes to win the 1951 AL Rookie of the Year award.

McDougald would be entrenched in the Yankees’ lineup for the next nine years. He never quite reached his highs of 1951 at the plate again, but his solid reputation as a defender at three different infield spots more than made up for that.

Gil McDougald is not the most famous or best Yankee to come home with Rookie of the Year, but he forever goes down in history as the first.