Grave Story: Phil Gallivan (1907-1969)

Here lies Phil Gallivan, a pitcher for three seasons in the majors. He pitched for the Brooklyn Dodgers (1931) and Chicago White Sox (1932, 1934). He also served as a scout for 20 years, most notably with the Baltimore Orioles.

All the baseball stat sites list 1907 as Gallivan’s birth year, not 1906.

Phil Gallivan was born in Seattle, Wash., on May 29, 1907, but he lived in St. Paul, Minn., for most of his life. He considered becoming a Catholic priest before baseball steered him away from the seminary. He first showed promise in baseball playing for Cretin High, both as a shortstop and a pitcher. He played football and basketball for St. Mary’s, a college in Winona, Minn. As far as baseball goes during that time, he became renowned in Minnesota’s semipro leagues. He was a part of a Centerville team that was called the “wrecking crew,” and he pitched Plentywood of the Fall Rubber Company to 20 straight wins and a couple successful barnstorming trips into Canada. In 1926, he was signed by the St. Paul Saints and farmed out to a club in Oklahoma for seasoning. He won 16 games for the Enid Boosters, but he didn’t return to St. Paul. In fact, aside from pitching briefly for a semipro team in LeMars, Iowa, in 1927, Gallivan stayed in the South and Southwest until he made the major leagues.

Gallivan moved around quite a bit in the minors, appearing with as many as four teams in a season (1929, he was with the Waco Cubs, Fort Worth Panthers, Spartanburg Spartans and Macon Peaches). Wherever he went, though, he won. He was a 17-game winner for Waco and Texarkana in 1928 and a 20-game winner for Macon in 1930. He had a 2.61 ERA in 42 games with the Peaches that year. The former shortstop also kept his batting eye, hitting a couple of homers in a game against Greenville. He was acquired by the Brooklyn Dodgers after the season, on the recommendation of former Dodger pitching ace Nap Rucker. Rucker, a native Georgian, said that the Macon pitcher was still green but improved with every start.

“Imagine having a bunch of sluggers like this Brooklyn outfit to back you up and stimulate a pitcher’s courage,” Gallivan said of his 1931 mates. “I’d have to have to break in facing these fellows. They’re murderous at bat.”

Source: Hartford Courant, May 24, 1931

The 1931 Dodgers (or Robins, as they were called due to manager Wilbert Robinson), finished with a 79-73 record, good for 4th place in the NL. Gallivan was with the team only briefly, appearing in 6 games and losing his only decision. That loss came in his only start; he was knocked out of the game after allowing 5 runs to the Phillies, retiring just one batter. It was Robinson’s last season as Brooklyn’s manager, and he was later criticized for giving Gallivan so few chances to show his stuff. One of Gallivan’s teammates in 1931 was fellow rookie Bobby Reis, an infielder who would become a two-way player in the majors. Reis was introduced to Gertrude Snyder, the sister of Gallivan’s wife, Frances. Reis and Gertrude married in 1933, making Reis and Gallivan brothers-in-law.

Gallivan spent most of the season in Hartford of the Eastern League, where he won 14 games with a 2.21 ERA. He was part of a feared pitching staff that had five starters post ERAs under 2.30, including future star Van Lingle Mungo. New Dodgers manager Max Carey was excited about his rookie pitchers making big contributions for the team. Mungo would live up to his hype; Gallivan’s time with the Dodgers was running out.

The Dodgers shipped Gallivan to the minors to start 1932, and he struggled with Jersey City of the International League and Hartford. He became a free agent when the Eastern League folded at the end of July, and the White Sox picked him up and brought him immediately to the major leagues. The Sox lost 102 games in 1932 and were pretty terrible offensively; Luke Appling had his first decent season in the majors but hadn’t hit his stride yet. Gallivan was thrown right into the fire and faced the powerhouse Yankees on August 4 in his first Sox appearance. One of the first batters the rookie had to face was the mighty Babe Ruth.

“It was my first time facing ‘the Big Guy’ as we all called him and naturally I might have been a little nervous,” Gallivan recalled years later. His pitch slipped out of his hand and hit Ruth on the neck.

“What did he say? Well, he gave me a funny look and said, ‘What are ya tryin’ to do, kid?’ Anyway, I never hit him again.”

Ruth was one of the few Yankees who didn’t hit safety off Gallivan that day. He gave up 6 runs (5 earned) on 5 hits in relief as part of a 15-3 laugher. Bill Dickey hit a grand slam off him, and Lou Gehrig hit a solo shot for good measure.

Gallivan had a few decent performances with the White Sox – he threw three hitless innings against the Browns in his second game with Chicago – but he got battered frequently. He threw a complete game against the Athletics on August 22, but he allowed 8 runs (7 earned) on 16 hits with 4 walks, including a home run to opposing pitcher Lefty Grove. He pitched in a total of 13 games and went 1-3 with a 7.56 ERA and 2.190 WHIP. He walked twice as many batters as he struck out – 24 to 12 – in 33-1/3 innings.

Not surprisingly, Gallivan spent all of 1933 in the minor leagues. He wasn’t great, with a 15-15 record and a 5.13 ERA for the Buffalo Bisons. All the Bisons pitchers, including former big-leaguers Ray Lucas and Hal Elliott, had high ERAs, so it was either a hitter friendly league or ballpark. The Bisons still became International League champs and lost the Little World Series to the Columbus Red Birds of the American Association. Gallivan picked up a 4-out save in Game 1 but was outdueled twice by Paul “Daffy” Dean.

The 1934 White Sox weren’t much improved from the ’32 version. Appling had arrived as a star, and Zeke Bonura and Al Simmons turned in great seasons, but the pitching core was old and ineffective. Gallivan got into 35 games and threw 126-2/3 of solid but unspectacular work. He started 7 games and completed three of them, and he finished with a 4-7 record, 1 save and a 5.61 ERA. He was the most-used reliever on the staff and the only one of the three regular relievers to log an ERA under 7. Joe Heving and Whit Wyatt were at 7.26 and 7.18, respectively.

After the season, the White Sox traded Gallivan and infielder Billy Sullivan to the Indianapolis Indians of the American Association, getting George Washington in return. I cannot tell a lie, there really was a ballplayer named George Washington. He had a pretty decent year for the Sox in 1935, too. Gallivan, though, had a 15-17 record for the Indians, with a 4.39 ERA and a WHIP of 1.504. One of his teammates was his younger brother Thomas, who went 0-3 in 10 games. Thomas, 22, was starting a 4-year career in the minors. It was the last pro season for Phil, who by then was 28.

In 3 seasons in the majors, Phil Gallivan had a 5-11 record in 35 games, with a 5.95 ERA. He started 11 games, completed 4 of them, and had 1 save. He struck out 68 batters in 175-1/3 innings while walking 95. He also surrendered 20 home runs, starting with Buzz Arlett on April 21, 1931 and ending with Frankie Hayes on September 9, 1934. Of those 20, 6 were hit by future Hall of Famers (Dickey, Gehrig, Grove, Mickey Cochrane, Charlie Gehringer and Rick Farrell). Gallivan also won 99 games over 8 seasons in the minor leagues.

Gallivan in his scouting days. Source: The Minneapolis Star, October 11, 1966.

Gallivan was acquired by the Buffalo Bisons for the 1936 season, but he decided that there was more money working full-time in a liquor wholesale business in St. Paul, having spent the previous two offseasons working at it. He still played baseball, but it was for local amateur teams.

Gallivan got back into the sports world in 1947 when he backed a St. Paul team in the Professional Basketball League of America. Unfortunately, the Saints played in just two home games, drew a total of 5,000 fans and made $4,000 before the league folded. Gallivan filed suit against Commercial Sports Enterprises Inc. in Chicago, which was the team’s financier and the parent organization of the League, for the $4,136.56 in bills and expenses that he paid out of pocket. I couldn’t find any news about a resolution to the lawsuit.

While Gallivan never could bring professional basketball to St. Paul, he got back into baseball by working as a scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates, starting in 1949. He later scouted for the Dodgers and Tigers, surveying the Upper Midwest for new talent.

Gallivan joined the Orioles as the chief Midwest scout in 1955, when Paul Richards was named general manager. Richards and Gallivan had been teammates at Hartford in 1931. He covered the country from Chicago to Denver and estimated at one point that he traveled about 256,000 miles a year. He talked with Iowa sportswriter John O’Donnell about how prospecting had changed from when he was a young player.

“Back then a player would have to go out and solicit the opportunity to be seen and watched,” Gallivan said. “Today the scouts came right on the back porches of high school and college kids who look as if they might make good. The word really gets around when a kid has some class.”

In his role, Gallivan scouted or signed second baseman Jerry Adair, who played with Baltimore for 9 seasons, and Jim Palmer. Palmer had committed to Arizona State University until Baltimore gave him an offer he couldn’t turn down. It was rumored at the time to be between $50,000 and $100,000. Gallivan convinced the Orioles to acquire minor-leaguer Jim Gentile, who would be an All-Star and Rookie of the Year runner-up for Baltimore in 1960. He tried to sign future 20-game winner Jim Lonborg, but he couldn’t get Baltimore to pony up the money. The 54-year-old scout was sidelined temporarily by a heart attack in Denver in 1961. That seemed to be the only thing that could interrupt his hectic travel schedule. All total he spent 15 years with the Orioles.

Phil Gallivan died on November 24, 1969, in St. Paul, Minn., following a long illness. He was 62 years old and kept up his scouting duties almost to the very end of his life. In fact, one of his last tasks was to attempt to sign a high school pitcher out of St. Paul Central High, whom the Orioles drafted in the 40th Round of the 1969 June Amateur Draft. He tried to get the kid, named Dave Winfield, to take a minor-league assignment in Aberdeen. It didn’t work out, and Winfield ended up being the “one that got away.”

Gallivan is buried in Willow River Cemetery in Hudson, Wis.

The mausoleum in Willow River Cemetery where Phil Gallivan and Bobby Reis are both interred.

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