Staley’s Bears 1920-1921


Height: 5’6” Weight: 170
Born: 11/10/1873 Atlanta, GA
Died: 8/29/1944 Indianapolis, IN
High School: Notre Dame, IN
College: None
Staleys: 1920

Former major league pitcher Willie McGill was in his fifth season as the trainer for the Northwestern football team in the fall of 1918, and thus already well-acquainted with future Staley players Paddy Driscoll and Bob Koehler, when he was “loaned” to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station to help their football team finish the season and prepare for the Rose Bowl. A year and a half after giving rub downs to the New Year’s Day game MVP George Halas, Willie was asked to move to Decatur and be the trainer for the new Staley professional football team. At age 46, married with children, he was the oldest man associated with the team and according to a 1953 article in the St. Louis Sporting News, “quit the Staleys in a huff after one month.” His departure opened the way for “Windy” Lotshaw to become the team trainer for the next several decades. McGill was paid $250 for his brief service and his reasons for leaving remain unknown.

Little is known of McGill’s early life other than he spent his childhood in Atlanta where his father Thomas was an agent for the railroad. Many later newspaper accounts state that he was attending Notre Dame [possibly the prep school portion] when he left in 1887 to pursue a career in professional baseball. After getting some experience with the Burlington Babies in Iowa and the Evansville Hoosiers of the Central Interstate League in 1889, Willie “The Kid” McGill made his first Major League appearance pitching left-handed for the Cleveland Infants of the Players League on May 8, 1890 at age 16. Until Joe Nuxhall appeared in a game in 1944, McGill was the youngest Major League player, and still today he remains the youngest to pitch a complete game; the youngest to pitch a shutout; and the youngest ever to win 20 games. According to Cappy Gagnon in Notre Dame Baseball Greats: From Anson to Yaz, young McGill “never knew a stranger and seldom left a party early.” His lack of sobriety may have been the cause of his bouncing from Cleveland to the Cincinnati Kelly’s Killers and St. Louis Browns in 1891 and then following manager Charles Comiskey from the Browns to the Cincinnati Reds in 1892. On January 8, 1893 the Chicago Tribune reported that the Chicago National League club was going to let McGill, only 19 years old, redeem himself and “give him a chance to win back a place in the baseball world next season. The youngster’s reformation is said to be complete [and over the winter] his conduct has been exemplary.” The paper went on to explain that the wife of one of the baseball officials “took him in hand and completely cured him of his bad habits.” McGill went on to pitch over 500 innings for Cap Anson with the Chicago Colts [now Cubs] in 1893 and 1894 before finishing his Major League career with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1895 and 1896, with his last game on June 12. Now known as “Wee Willie” [contemporary accounts variously list him as 5’1”; 5’4” and 5’7”] McGill played for possibly 12 minor league teams from 1897 through 1905 and then continued to play semi-pro baseball well into his forties.

In 1900 McGill lived with his mother in the Hyde Park area of Chicago while playing six games for Comiskey’s new team, the Chicago White Stockings. He eventually began doing some training and assistant coaching for Alonzo Stagg at the University of Chicago. This experience led to his being hired by George Huff at the University of Illinois as athletic trainer in September 1912. After two years with the Illini he was hired to be the athletic trainer and sometimes baseball coach at Northwestern University as the Lake Shore News reported the school had signed “the midget trainer.” In November 1914 Northwestern Magazine reported that the school had obtained “one of the world’s greatest athletic trainers,” a man who also really injects “pep” into the teams. The following fall the school paper remarked positively about the cheery, story-telling Irishman who “Tho short of stature … is long on the humorous side.”

While at Northwestern, McGill married Mary Egan of Champaign/Urbana on June 26, 1915 and on February 12, 1917 their son James Lincoln McGill was born in Evanston. McGill appeared by all accounts to have been well-liked and respected while working with the “Purple” and was somewhat of a celebrity in his own right. When the famous evangelist Billy Sunday came to Evanston in March 1918, the former outfielder for Cap Anson interrupted his conversation with Northwestern president Holgate to greet Wee Willie and reminisce about the old National League. On May 29, 1920 Willie resigned from coaching the Northwestern baseball team and in September began his brief stint with the Decatur Staleys.

After Decatur, McGill moved his family to Indianapolis and stayed out of the news until he became the trainer for Butler University and later baseball coach. In November 1931 he traveled with the football team for a game near the District of Columbia and was featured in the Bulldogs’ photo with President Herbert Hoover at the White House. In the summer of 1932, in the midst of the Great Depression, McGill was fired by Butler president Walter S. Athearn along with 57 professors who were dismissed for budgetary reasons. Willie went on to be associated with the recreation department of the Indianapolis Power and Light Company and later was a watchman for the American Compressed Steel Company. He died at home on August 29, 1944 at the age of 70 and was interred at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.

Wee Willie loved to talk baseball and told and retold his favorite anecdote about pitching for Notre Dame University when he was already a professional ball player and being recognized while warming up by Al Spurney of the opposing University of Michigan team. He told his last recorded version to Joe Kelly of the Indianapolis News in late March 1932.

“In 1892, in the early spring, I was having a salary difference with Cincinnati and was not with the club. Notre Dame had a tough game with Michigan at South Bend and they sent for me to pitch. I got a good catcher, Kurtz, of the Denver club, and we went to Notre Dame to find that Michigan had three of the Boston National players. Their captain, Spurney, objected to me pitching, but we patched up our professional differences when I told him that I would tell the Michigan authorities that he played at Davenport when I was in the same league with Evansville.”

Thus Major League pitcher William McGill is credited today with winning the first college varsity baseball game in Notre Dame history.

Copyright@2018 Mark W. Sorensen

Much thanks to archivists Kevin B. Leonard of Northwestern University and Sally Childs-Helton, Ph.D. of Butler University for their assistance with research for this biography.