Card Corner: 1972 Topps: Alan Gallagherby Bruce Markusen
March 30, 2012
Teammates called him everything from “Filthy McNasty” to “Pigpen” to “Sludge.” He was best known as “Dirty Al,” a nickname he acquired during his college days, when he refused to change his uniform, including his jock and underwear, during a 25-game hitting streak that coincided with the team’s 25-game winning streak. Players in neighboring lockers began to move farther and farther away from Dirty Al.
So it is most fitting that Alan Gallagher’s 1972 “In Action” card set an unofficial record for the largest amount of dirt featured within a card’s borders. In a game being played at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, we see Gallagher attempting to tag an unidentified Phillies baserunner. The sheer size of the dirt cloud prevents us from determining who the runner is and whether he is safe or out. What we do know is that Gallagher played down and dirty out of necessity; a player of limited ability (not much power and average speed), he played a hard-nosed, grit-filled style, often diving and falling in the dirt around third base and on the basepaths.
Then again, the Giants may have been influenced by Gallagher’s background. He was a native of San Francisco, a factor that made him especially appealing to the Giants.
The Giants loved Gallagher’s hustle and determination, but they were frustrated by his numbers in the minor leagues. He had only one minor league season in which he hit better than .300—and that was mostly in Class-A ball—and he failed to reach double figures in home runs in any season. Gallagher put in five years of mostly mediocre minor league apprenticeship and even spent one season on loan to the Cubs organization before reaching a crossroad in his career.
After a disappointing 1969 season, Gallagher decided to play for the Giants’ Instructional League team. He was greeted by a manager, Hank Sauer, who told Gallagher that he was bad at taking instruction, refused to improve, and simply would not play. Gallagher took up Sauer’s challenge. He showed up at eight o’clock each morning to work with Sauer, who later informed Giants management of the reform he had seen in Gallagher.
Spurred on by his Instructional League renaissance, Gallagher earned the Giants’ third base job in 1970. Apart from Gallagher’s renewed attitude, the Giants’ third base situation smacked of desperation. The Giants needed a third baseman—badly. Convinced that Jim Ray Hart could no longer play there regularly and needed to be moved to the outfield, the Giants hoped that Gallagher could at least provide some steady defense, and a decent batting average, at the hot corner.
Opening Day provided a special thrill for Gallagher, in part because of the player who batted behind him in the lineup. Gallagher, the No. 2 hitter that day, batted directly ahead of Willie Mays. Mays patted Gallagher on the backside and gave him some words of encouragement, making Gallagher feel as if he was “in heaven.”
As the season progressed, Gallagher spent some time as a defensive caddy for Hart in the late innings. Whether starter or backup, Gallagher managed to make history, as the first native San Franciscan to play for the Giants since the team’s inaugural season of 1958.
By the end of his rookie campaign, Gallagher put up numbers that would have been respectable for a second baseman, but were a bit lacking for a third baseman: a .266 batting average, a .335 on-base percentage, and a .376 slugging percentage. Still, he played well enough to make the Topps All-Rookie team.
He put up similar numbers in 1971, but with the bonus of postseason play. Gallagher appeared in all four Championship Series games against the Pirates, but didn’t hit a lick. He collected one hit in 10 at-bats as the Giants fell in four to the eventual world champion Bucs.
Gallagher’s performance cratered in 1972, as his OPS fell off to .588, unacceptable for any position but pitcher. By the start of the 1973 season, Gallagher had developed a bitter feud with manager Charlie Fox. A streak hitter, Gallagher felt he needed to play every day to be effective. Fox believed that Gallagher needed to be platooned. So Gallagher demanded a trade, which he would later regret.
After appearing in five games to start the season, he was called into the office. The Giants informed him that he would be staying in California, only not in San Francisco. They had traded him to the Angels for Bruce Miller, a versatile infielder who could play second base, shortstop and third base, but had similarly restricted offensive talents.
The Angels tried Gallagher as their everyday third baseman, but the results were too similar to his San Francisco days. He batted .273 and put up a respectable on-base percentage of .340, but he hit no home runs in 352 plate appearances and was caught stealing three out of four times. Perhaps the highlight of the season was the opportunity to play in both of Nolan Ryan’s no-hitters.
Late in 1973, Gallagher made the mistake of trying to run over Carlton Fisk, who was blocking home plate for the Red Sox. Gallagher suffered the brunt of the collision. He blew out his shoulder. Doctors told him that he could undergo surgery, but would have to miss the next two seasons. Gallagher opted for rest and rehab, but the weakened shoulder robbed him of what little power he had.
The Angels released Gallagher at season’s end. With the market for a singles-hitting third baseman something less than vibrant, no one offered him a major league job. To his credit, Gallagher did not give up the dream of a return to the big leagues. He signed on with the Braves organization, accepting an assignment to Triple-A Richmond. The Braves then loaned him back to the Angels’ Triple-A team at Salt Lake City before he returned to Richmond in 1975. Released by the Braves, Gallagher sat out all of 1976 before agreeing to become the player-manager for an independent minor league team, the Texas City Stars, in 1977.
When Texas City folded, Gallagher was out of a job. He sat out both the 1978 and ’79 seasons, but still wasn’t entirely ready to call it quits. In 1980, the legendary Durham Bulls hired him as their manager. When the Bulls ran short of players, Gallagher activated himself for a seven-game stint. Making a memorable comeback at the age of 34, Gallagher hit .346 in 29 plate appearances, a successful last hurrah for the journeyman infielder. Just as impressively, he led the Bulls to a first-place finish in the Carolina League’s Northern Division.
Gallagher never did make it back to the major leagues, where his four-year tenure had run from 1970 to 1973. Gallagher’s playing career was nothing more than pedestrian, but he made a far more indelible impression off the field and prior to games. In traveling to and from the ballpark, he would sport odd combinations of clothing, such as blue suits with green shirts. Even against the background of the wild and bold fashion preferences of the 1970s, Gallagher’s strange mixing of colors made him stand out in a crowd.
His behavior could also be wildly entertaining, if not entirely rational. For example, he had an odd habit whenever the Giants were left stuck waiting in an airport terminal. Starting from a running position, Gallagher would perform hook slides on the terminal floors, as unknowing passengers looked on in astonishment.
At the ballpark, during pre-game infield practice, he regularly executed complete backflips, a custom that predated the more famous Opening Day backflips performed by Ozzie Smith in St. Louis. Gallagher’s appearance and behavior branded him a flake in the minds of baseball’s conservative establishment. One of his managers with the Giants interpreted his behavior as a sign that he didn’t take the game seriously enough, but it was just Gallagher having fun. He enjoyed talking to fans for minutes at a time, rarely turning down autograph requests.
Gallagher’s good-natured tendencies extended to spending time during the winter counseling drug addicts. Given his willingness to counsel others, it was no surprise when Gallagher became a fulltime manager after his playing days. In the 1980s, he managed an array of teams affiliated with the Braves and Indians. Colorful and quirky as a manager, Gallagher allegedly became the inspiration for the manager portrayed by the late Trey Wilson in the hit film, Bull Durham.
He left baseball for awhile, becoming a sixth grade school teacher. The hiatus from baseball lasted 11 years, before he returned to manage several independent minor leagues teams: the Bend Bandits, the Madison Wolf, and the Duluth Superior Dukes. From 2003 to 2006, he served as the manager of another independent team, the Kansas City T-Bones. While there, he instituted a reading program for the team’s younger fans. Under the program, thousands of children received free T-Bones tickets in exchange for accomplishing certain standards of reading comprehension.
Gallagher became a popular figure in Kansas City, but that didn’t prevent him from being fired in 2006. He quickly found work as the manager of another independent team, the St. Joseph Blacksnakes, but lost that job when the team folded after the 2007 season.
Nonetheless, Gallagher remained determined to continue his managing career. In 2008, he joined forces with the obscure United League, becoming the manager of the Harlingen White Wings. The next two seasons, he skippered the league’s Coastal Bend Thunder.
It appears that Gallagher’s last year as a manager took place in 2010. If that’s the case, he played and managed for 35 years. That’s a long career in baseball. And that’s appropriate for the man with the longest name in the history of professional baseball—Alan Mitchell Edward George Patrick Henry Gallagher.
Or, you can just call him Dirty Al.
Bruce Markusen is the author of seven books on baseball, including the award-winning A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, the recipient of the Seymour Medal from the Society for American Baseball Research. He has also written The Team That Changed Baseball: Roberto Clemente and the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, Tales From The Mets Dugout, and The Orlando Cepeda Story.