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Posted: April 6, 2010 10:43 a.m.

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Pitcher perfect

Former New York Yankee puts down Southern roots

Brittany Thomas/

From the mound to a new town: Danny McDevitt was a pitcher for the Yankees, and also played for several other teams during his long career as a major league baseball player. He now lives in Social Circle.

"I was born to be a Yankee," said Danny McDevitt, former pitcher for the New York Yankees, who now resides in Social Circle.

"I was born and raised around Hilltop Park," said McDevitt of his boyhood neighborhood, a high point in the Washington Heights area of New York City and also the site of the first of three ballparks built for the New York Yankees.

"It was destiny that I become a New York Yankee player someday."

Today, Columbia Presbyterian Medical complex sits on top of former Hilltop Park with only a bronze plaque on the grounds to mark the former home plate.

Making of a pro

McDevitt attributes his pitching abilities to his father, who was an expeditor for IBM in Endicott, N.Y., by day and his pitching coach by night.

"My father was on his feet all day working his way around the IBM plant to keep projects on time, then after work, he rushed home to find me with ball and glove in hand ready to begin my training on the pitcher’s mound Dad built in the family backyard.

"I pitched to him thousands of times, he probably was black and blue from my crazy pitches that hit him everywhere, but he never gave up on me." McDevitt remembered.

His father was an amateur pitcher in the local men's leagues, and by the time McDevitt was 14, he was pitching in those games. McDevitt noted that he was left-handed and his father was right-handed, a mirror of each other.

"He taught me to pitch to the black strip around the base of home plate; the ball dropped right as the batter went to swing; they got a lot of grounders off of me," he said.

In high school, McDevitt continued to hone his skills and he was being noticed not only by the locals, but also professional baseball scouts.

"One day I was pitching and it was rumored that a scout for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Jake Pitler, was in the stands."

Since he could not be legally approached by the scouts until his senior year, he got his first taste of their boldness when he was walking off the high school ball field, and as he passed by an automobile, he heard, "Hey, kid." As McDevitt turned to find out who was talking to him, he didn't see anyone until he looked into a car and saw a man hunched down in the seat. Dodger scout Pitler looked up at him and said, "Kid, you got a good arm, but I can't be seen talking to you, remember."

Pitler came up the ranks of the leagues, and in 1947 was promoted to the Dodger coaching staff and scout, staying until the Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles in 1957. During his tenure, the Dodgers won six National League championships and the Brooklyn Dodgers only World Series championship in 1956.

Play ball

McDevitt's baseball career began as a New York Yankee at 18, being signed as an undrafted amateur free agent in 1951. He chose the Yankees over the Brooklyn Dodgers because the Yankees offered a larger bonus. His signing bonus was a whopping $1,500 - a fortune to him at the time.

"My family had never owned an automobile, and when my father heard that I would get this bonus, he plunked down his last $5 at a local car lot to hold a 1941 Buick for two days until I could get my bonus check," he said.

The Yankees wasted no time with McDevitt and immediately sent him to a Yankees C league affiliate in Amsterdam, N.Y. - the Amsterdam Rugmakers in the Canadian-America League. They played at a ballpark built by Mohawk Carpets, thus the name Rugmakers. During the same year, he was sent south to the Georgia-Alabama D League affiliated with the Yankees, the LaGrange Troupers, who won 67 and lost 47.

In 1952, the Brooklyn Dodgers bought his contract from the Yankees for $75,000, and he was off to another C League - the Cotton States League - this time in a Dodger uniform.

"I was now 19 and making $250 a month, far from New York and Brooklyn, but I was a pitcher even if it was in Greenwood, Miss."

He was finally drafted in 1953 into the big league, the U.S. Army league that is, and spent the next two years in a military uniform.

After McDevitt served in the military for two years, he was back at home and baseball, this time with the Elmira Pioneers, then Fort Worth Cats, Cedar Rapids Raiders and Macon Dodgers. In 1957, Pitler came calling again and McDevitt was called up to pitch at his first major league baseball game at the Dodgers legendary ballpark, Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.

After four years of bouncing and pitching his way around the minors and two years in the military, he stood for the first time on the pitching mound of the team that had won the 1956 World Series against the New York Yankees, the mighty Brooklyn Dodgers. His stay in Brooklyn would be short-lived, but productive; he won seven and lost four games and boasted a 3.25 ERA.

Owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, former real estate tycoon Walter O'Malley, made good on his threat to move his Dodgers, if the city did not build them a new stadium.

The Dodgers, named because the people of Brooklyn were always "dodging" the many streetcars of the time, who made their home there since 1883 and at Ebbets Field since 1913, played their last game in Brooklyn on Sept. 27, 1957.

That day, McDevitt became a part of the history books as he was the starting pitcher at the last Dodger game in Brooklyn. He got a win, 2-0, against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The roster at that game sounded like a list of baseball legends and future Baseball Hall of Famers: Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax, Carl Erskine, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Johnny Podres and Gil Hodges.

Clout earned

McDevitt made his first big money when he negotiated a one-year contract.

"Agents, nope, this was way before sports agents, and I negotiated my own contract against the tough and tricky general manager of the Dodgers, Buzzie Bavasi," McDevitt said. "Bavasi liked to play one team member against the other one to get them to sign for less money, not much different than now."

The move by the Dodgers was a devastating blow to the city of New York and McDevitt, who dreamed of pitching in his hometown. He had no idea at the time that his life would reach yet another pinnacle in Los Angeles.

"You got paid for what you could deliver," McDevitt said of his 1958 season.

The new Los Angeles Dodgers made their home at the 100,000-seat Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, home to opening and closing ceremonies of the 1932 and 1984 Summer Olympics. It was not built for baseball, having many logistic problems, and only 190 feet down the left field line instead of the now regulation 325 feet. It was a boon for batters. Fans were sometimes seated some 700 feet from home plate. However, the Los Angeles fans were enthusiastic about their first major league baseball team.

The Dodgers and McDevitt had a great year in 1959. The team won the World Series against the Milwaukee Braves, whose lineup included power hitter Hank Aaron. All the games of that series held at the Memorial Coliseum were attended by more than 90,000.

McDevitt was rewarded with his largest contract ever. At 26, he had a World Series ring and more money than he had ever dreamed of making, and he was about to pack his bags once more. The true Yankee was going home; his contract had been purchased by the New York Yankees.

He returned to New York -- his home, his dream - but he had developed a serious problem with his left shoulder.

"Back then, orthopedic surgeons were not around; they did, however, know how to knock out the pain with cortisone shots.

"I was never scared of anything more than needles, and when those guys would come toward me with those long needles to shoot my shoulder with cortisone, well," said McDevitt winching. "Your arm is your most valuable asset as a pitcher and sometimes some tough sounding guy would call me in the morning and ask how my arm felt and what I did the night before."

His time with the Yankees ended mid-season when he was traded to the Minnesota Twins for Billy Gardner. The Twins, a new expansion team, were in seventh place in an eight team league.

He ended the 1961 season with the Twins and was traded for the last time to the Kansas City Athletics in April of 1962. His last game was Sept. 16, 1962, after an 0-3 season.

Daniel "Danny" McDevitt never played for another team - his arm was gone. He went on to work with a friend on some state programs in Mississippi. He also met his wife, Jane while in Mississippi.

"She was responsible for bringing me to the South and this area," he said.

The couple had one son, Daniel.

McDevitt's accomplishments during his brief career were rewarded with his induction into the Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Fame and also the Binghamton, New York Hall of Fame.

Today, he enjoys a quiet life in the country with his wife. His son - a Delta Airlines pilot - and two grandchildren, Cameron and Sarah, live nearby.

"I guess you could say this Yankee has put down some Southern roots."

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