Obituary: Dan McGinn (1943-2023)

RIP to Dan McGinn, who played for 5 seasons in the majors. Though he was a pitcher, some of his historical highlights came as a batter. McGinn died in his hometown of Omaha, Neb., on March 1. He was 79 years old. McGinn played for the Cincinnati Reds (1968), Montreal Expos (1969-71) and Chicago Cubs (1972).

Daniel Michael McGinn was born in Omaha on November 29, 1943. As a quarterback for Cathedral High School, he was just as adept as throwing for a touchdown as he was running for one. In baseball, he was a good-hitting center fielder and also a strikeout-generating pitcher, albeit one who was prone to wildness. He was contacted by several teams, including the Mets and Dodgers, when he graduated from high school, but the left-hander elected to go to Notre Dame. He started off as a fifth-string quarterback as a freshman, but he worked hard to earn his playing time, becoming the team’s regular punter. He continued to grow as a pitcher for the Fighting Irish baseball team as well. He still had control problems, but when given a start against Northwestern on May 18, 1964, he fanned 12 batters (and walked 6) on the way to a 9-3 win.

McGinn was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 21st Round of the first-ever Player Draft in 1965. He declined to sign in order to finish off his final season of football at Notre Dame. Under Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian, he averaged 43.5 yards per punt. The famed coach also gave McGinn advice about leaving school early for pro sports. “Some baseball clubs had been after me to sign as early as my sophomore year,” McGinn said. “He advised me that if I did, it would take six years to complete three years of college work. Then he told me that he had a selfish motive in wanting me to compete my football eligibility at Notre Dame, too.”

McGinn was drafted again in January of 1966 by the Cincinnati Reds in the First Round of the Secondary Phase Draft, as the tenth overall player selected. He chose to sign and reported to the Double-A Knoxville Smokies that summer, after he graduated from Notre Dame. He made 6 starts and had a 2-1 record and 5.23 ERA before he was called to the National Guard. He returned to the Smokies in 1967 for a full season. His 6-13 record looked bad, but his 3.49 ERA and improved walk rate showed significant progress as a pitcher. With encouragement from Asheville manager Sparky Anderson, McGinn moved to the bullpen in 1968 and led the Southern League in appearances. He appeared in 74 games for Asheville, with all but 3 coming out of the bullpen. He pitched 110 innings and struck out 133 batters. The Reds were impressed enough to promote the left-hander to the majors that September.

McGinn’s month-long stay with the Reds showcased both his ability to throw the ball past batters and his occasional wild streaks. He had 5 games where he failed to retire a batter, and one of them came in his major-league debut, unfortunately. He joined the Reds just before their game against St. Louis on September 3, 1968. He entered the game in the top of the 11th inning with a 3-3 tie. He walked pinch-hitter Ed Spiezio on five pitches and got to a 2-0 count on Lou Brock. That was all Reds manager Dave Bristol needed to see, and he brought in reliever Billy McCool in the middle of the at-bat. McCool completed the walk to Brock, which was charged to McGinn, and threw a wild pitch to advance the runners. Curt Flood and Roger Maris drove the runs in with a single and sacrifice fly, respectively, and McGinn was tagged with the loss. He had better, and longer, outings, throwing 3-2/3 innings and 3 innings in his next two appearances against the Dodgers. He allowed a run each time but struck out a total of 6 batters. By the end of the season, he threw 12 innings for the Reds in 14 games and gave up 7 earned runs for a 5.25 ERA, and he struck out 16 while walking 11.

Dan McGinn gets congratulations from Gene Mauch (4) after picking up the Expos’ first home win. Source: The Montreal Star, April 15, 1969.

Shortly after the 1968 season concluded, the National League held the expansion draft that brought Montreal and San Diego into the league. The Expos took McGinn with their 14th draft pick, ahead of more established pitchers like Larry Jaster and Jim “Mudcat” Grant. It was a surprise pick, but Montreal general manager Jim Fanning felt that the team had made a steal. “Dan will definitely be one of our top bullpen men. Our scouts have been tremendously impressed with his potential as a relief pitcher,” Fanning said. “We expect big things of him.”

McGinn made the Opening Day roster and contributed to several Montreal Expos “firsts,” both on the mound and at the plate. The first Expos game took place on April 8, 1969, in New York. Starting pitcher Grant was knocked out of the game early, so McGinn entered in the bottom of the second inning as the first-ever Expos reliever. He immediately picked Tommie Agee off second base for the team’s first pickoff. After getting out of that jam, he added his name to the team history book by hitting the first Expos home run — a solo shot in the fourth inning off no less a pitcher than Tom Seaver. The Mets struck back quickly, so McGinn exited soon after, having allowed 3 runs in 2-1/3 innings. The Expos hung on to win 11-10 for its first win. McGinn factored into the first major-league game ever played in Canada, on April 14. Starter Jaster was lifted early after giving up home runs to the Cardinals’ Dal Maxvill (a grand slam) and Joe Torre. McGinn stepped up and threw 5-1/3 scoreless innings in relief, allowing just 3 hits and a walk. The Expos battled back to tie the game at 7, and McGinn singled off St. Louis pitcher Gary Waslewski, scoring the go-ahead run. Montreal won 8-7, giving McGinn the first win by an Expos pitcher in Montreal, and the first game-winning RBI, too. And he got a bit of revenge against the team that handed him his first defeat the previous year.

“I was just trying to meet the ball with my bat, that’s all,” McGinn said. He wasn’t ever a serious threat with the bat — he had a lifetime .165 batting average in the majors, and that home run was the only one he ever hit — but his two incredibly timely hits left him with a prominent place in Expos history.

Source: The Gazette (Montreal), August 2, 1972.

McGinn picked up his first career save on April 20 against the Cubs, and led the team with 6 saves. He finished the year as the team’s busiest pitcher, appearing in 74 games. He made his only start of the year against Los Angeles on June 6 and took the loss, giving up 3 runs in 6 innings. McGinn finished the year with a 7-10 record and a 3.94 ERA His 132-1/3 innings were the fourth-most of any Expos pitcher, as were his 112 strikeouts. Those 7 wins were second on the team to Bill Stoneman’s 11 victories. McGinn spent 1970 as a swingman, making 19 starts among his 52 appearances, and he turned in an identical 7-10 record. He was moved into the rotation after a very ineffective start in the bullpen, and McGinn threw a 3-hit shutout against the Mets in his first start on May 11. He fired a complete game win against Pittsburgh in his next game. He threw 3 complete games and 2 shutouts, but NL hitters roughed him up to the tune of a 5.44 ERA.

McGinn was frequently mentioned in trade talks, with the Dodgers being a reported landing place, but the Expos were hesitant to move him. Still, when the 1971 season started, McGinn was pitching in Triple-A Winnipeg, not Montreal. He was sent there to stretch out his arm and become a starter. “He’s got to work on his pitching,” said manager Gene Mauch. “Dan needs a complement for his hard stuff. Hitters respect him and they come up looking for his fast stuff. He’s got to develop an alternative pitch to keep them off-balance.”

McGinn won 6 games and lost 6 as a starter in Winnipeg, and the Expos brought him back to the majors in June of 1971. He pitched in 28 games for the team, but only 6 of those games were starts. The rest of the time, he was used as a mop-up reliever and finished the season with a 1-4 record and 5.96 ERA. The Expos won just 3 of the games in which he pitched. McGinn was finally traded in April of 1972, but not to the Dodgers. He was sent to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for infielder Hector Torres and outfielder/first baseman Hal Breeden. The Cubs also got pitcher Bill Kelso as a player to be named later. McGinn made 42 appearances as a well-used reliever, along with a couple of starts. Over the first half of the season, he was one of the team’s best relievers. As late as June 27, his ERA was a respectable 3.77. Some rough outings rose his ERA over 4, and a terrible final appearance on October 3 left him with a 5.89 ERA on the season. McGinn started against the Phillies on October 3, gave up a 2-run homer to Bill Robinson in the top of the second inning, and then allowed 4 runs in the third. Don Money and Greg Luzinski hit back-to-back home runs against him before he got out of the inning, with 6 runs allowed in 3 innings.

McGinn started the 1973 season in Triple-A Wichita and was traded to the Cardinals organization in May 21 for lefty Wade Blasingame. McGinn had an 0-3 record and 5.70 ERA with Wichita but pitched batter in the Cardinals’ organization for Tulsa, winning 3 games. It was his final season as a pitcher in pro ball.

In 5 seasons in the majors, McGinn had a 15-30 record and 10 saves, in 210 games that included 28 starts. His ERA was 5.11, and his ERA+ was 74. McGinn threw 4 complete games, 2 of which were shutouts. He struck out 293 batters and walked 225.

After baseball, McGinn worked for AT&T, back in Omaha, as a national account manager. He remained an Expos fan and had vivid memories of that first game in Jarry Park in Montreal. “Jarry Park was a trip in itself. For that first game there was still snow on the field, there were holes in the outfield and the area around home plate was caved in by frost,” he recalled. “Pitching there was like putting a baseball in a wind tunnel.”

As for his home run against Seaver, McGinn admitted that Seaver just happened to put the ball in his swing arc. He didn’t realize it was a home run until he saw the second-base umpire make the signal. “Even then I wasn’t sure until I looked back at Seaver. He was standing there with his hands on his hips, glaring at me,” McGinn said. “The next day both of us were running in the outfield and I apologized. I told him, ‘I’m as surprised as you.'”

McGinn later scouted for the Philadelphia Phillies after retiring from AT&T, and he also served as a youth pitching coach. He is survived by his wife, Rhea, and sons Shaun and Mark.

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