Bill McGowan

Position: Umpire

Bill McGowan’s career as an American League umpire began in 1925, and during his tenure, he developed such a reputation for fairness, accuracy, and integrity that he earned the nickname, “No. 1.”

A native of Wilmington, Delaware, William Aloysius McGowan (1896-1954) began his career as an arbiter in the Virginia League in 1915. He also served in the New York State League, the International League, and the Blue Ridge League all before serving in World War I. He returned to the International League in 1919, and he stayed there until 1922, when he moved to the Southern League for the 1923 campaign. McGowan’s vigorous style of umpiring attracted enough attention to earn him a promotion to the American League in 1925.

Bill McGowan
Bill McGowan was tough enough to work every inning of 2,541 consecutive
games. In 1939, he opened the Bill McGowan School for Umpires in Florida.

Among his many noted calls, he cost Yankee star first baseman Lou Gehrig sole possession of the loop’s 1931 home run crown. After ¬≠hitting the ball over the center field fence at Washington’s Griffith Stadium on April 26, Gehrig was well into his home run trot when teammate Lyn Lary -- on third base at the time -- mistakenly thought that the ball had been caught and proceeded directly to the team’s dugout rather than completing the circuit to home plate. Gehrig, who didn’t notice Lary’s blunder, was called out by McGowan for passing Lary on the basepaths. Credited with a triple instead of a home run, Lou finished the year with 46 homers, tying Babe Ruth.

McGowan was chosen to work in eight World Series and four All-Star games, including the initial midsummer classic at Chicago’s Comiskey Park in 1933. Bill also was chosen to work behind the plate in the American League’s first pennant playoff, between the Cleveland Indians and the Boston Red Sox in 1948.

Regarded as the best and most colorful umpire of his day, McGowan was called, “the greatest umpire I’ve ever seen,” by Clark Griffith. American League president Will Harridge said Bill was “one of the all-time greats of his profession.” The great Ted Williams, who sat on the Veterans Committee that elected Bill to the Hall of Fame in 1992, said he “made the right call 99.99 percent of the time.” McGowan was tough enough to work every inning of 2,541 consecutive games.

He also started and operated the
Bill McGowan School for Umpires in Florida, which opened its doors in 1939 as the second such institute. McGowan retired from umpiring in the American League in August 1954 because of a heart disorder.

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