Grave Story: Jay Van Noy (1928-2010)

Here lies Jay Van Noy, one of the greatest athletes to ever come out of the state of Utah. He had a chance to become one of the early two-sport players but passed up the NFL to focus on baseball. His career with the 1951 St. Louis Cardinals as an outfielder/pinch-hitter was brief, but he was involved in athletics for much of his life.

Jay Van Noy was born on November 4, 1926 in Garland, Utah. He played practically every sport that was available to him — baseball, football, basketball and track & field. He was both the quarterback and the fullback of the North Cache High School football team – presumably not at the same time. He was a kicker as well. He was also a part of the 1946 North Cache Bulldog State Championship basketball team.

The Cardinals originally signed Van Noy after high school and assigned him to Pocatello Cardinals of the Class-C Pioneer League. However, there are no stats available, if he ever played a game. He was told that playing in the minors would impact his college eligibility, so he quit pro ball for the time being.

Van Noy attended Utah State University and starred in four sports there. He earned four varsity letters in football (1946-49) and was a two time first-team all-Mountain States Conference selection. He rushed for 242 yards against Arizona State in 1948, which was a school record at the time and was third all-time when he died. The Aggies went to two bowl games in his time (1946 Raisin Bowl, 1947 Grape Bowl). He also lettered for four years in baseball and played on the USU basketball team in 1947 and 1948.

Given all his sporting success, it’s no surprise that both the football and baseball world wanted him. The Los Angeles Rams of the NFL drafted him, but he ultimately chose baseball over football and returned to the St. Louis Cardinals. In his first official pro season, he played for the Montgomery Rebels of the Southeastern League in 1950. He batted .304 and belted 15 home runs and 30 doubles, so it looked like a great decision.

Source: Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, N.Y.), May 21, 1951

Van Noy reported to the Rochester Red Wings in 1951. He slumped at the plate, with his average dropping to .224. It was quite a jump, moving from a Class-B team to AAA (one step away from the major leagues), and reports were that Van Noy was pressing too much. Still, his raw talent was evident. Johnny Keane, the Red Wings manager, freely trashed his team in the papers, but he had nothing but praise for his outfielder.

“The only bright thing I saw out there was Jay Van Noy play in the outfield,” he grumbled to the Democrat and Chronicle. “If I saw anything else shining, it was the sun.”

Once again, the Rams came calling, with an offer for a contract to make him the team’s starting running back. The young player stuck it out in baseball and was eventually rewarded for his efforts with a call-up to the major leagues. It was an accidental promotion. Van Noy had been in St. Louis, working with the Cardinals’ medical team for treatment of a ruptured blood vessel in his right leg. While there, he took batting practice and impressed manager Marty Marion so much that he decided to keep him around.

Van Noy’s first MLB game was on June 18 against the New York Giants. He pinch hit in the bottom of the 9th inning and drew a walk against Sal Maglie. He later scored the tying run on a Wally Westlake single, though the Cards would go on to lose in 12 innings.

That was the high point of Van Noy’s MLB career. He pinch hit on June 19 and struck out. He started on June 21 to give Enos Slaughter a day off and struck out three times. He pinch hit again on June 24 and 26 and stuck out each time. Finally, on June 28, he pinch hit against the Cubs and flew out to right. That adds up to 8 games, 7 at-bats, 6 strikeouts and a walk. He was sent back to Rochester on July 1.

It was reported later that Van Noy asked to be sent back to Rochester, so that he could play every day. You certainly can’t fault the man for his dedication to his craft if he preferred to start in the minors over sitting on the bench in the big ;eagues. He got hot toward the end of the season in AAA and ended with 14 home runs. Then he played winter ball in Havana and put on a power display there as well. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, he was only the third player in the history of the league to hit home runs over both the left field and right field wall of Havana’s stadium, 365 feet from home plate.

Van Noy played in the minor leagues until 1960, playing outfield as well as third base. In his 12-year minor-league career, he had 819 hits and 89 home runs for a .260 batting average. He was a part-time player/coach later in his career, as he was seeking other opportunities outside of the minors. After a six-month stint in the U.S. Navy and a medical discharge, Van Noy joined Brigham Young University in 1956 as its head baseball coach, assistant football coach and physical education instructor. Van Noy led the BYU Cougars to two conference championships. In 1958, he was voted NCAA Coach of the Year in District 7.

Van Noy then moved with his family to Logan, Utah, where he worked in the construction business. He became president of Bonneville Mutual Inc., a new real estate venture that dealt in pre-cut homes, in 1964. In 1967, he was named the city’s Parks and Recreation Director, a position he held for the next 15 years. Van Noy was also an active participant in the Northern Utah Chapter of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association and was its president for several years.

Van Noy was inducted into the Utah Sports Hall of Fame in 1997 and the Utah State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2007. Sports Illustrated included him on a list of Utah’s 50 all-time greatest athletes.

Jay Van Noy died on November 6, 2010, from bacterial endocarditis. He was 82 years old and was survived by his wife of 54 years, Sue, and three children. He is buried in Logan Cemetery in Logan, Utah.

The funny thing was, of all the sports that Van Noy played, he always believed that basketball was his best one. One wonders if an NBA team could have successfully pried him away from baseball, if football couldn’t.

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