Former MLB Pitcher Calls Edmond Home
Cal McLish: Life on the Diamond
Many famous stars and athletes have been born and raised in Oklahoma, from Shannon Miller to Brad Pitt. But as the story goes, most of them have moved out of state where better opportunity is available. But one celebrity who kept his feet planted right here in Oklahoma managed to make a name for himself at an early age, former Major League Baseball pitcher Cal McLish.
McLish was born December 1, 1925 in Washita, Oklahoma. He was one of seven kids. Life was simple for his family as it was for most people going through the Great Depression. “I was born in a barn. My parents picked cotton for a farmer and they lived in his barn,” said McLish. “Then we moved into a dugout. It was a grass covered hill with a wooden door and a chimney sticking out of the top. Cattle would walk over it and the rooms were divided by quilts.”
When he was seven years old his family moved to Oklahoma City. “We moved about four or five blocks away from the Texas League Ballpark. It was known as Holland Field then” he stated. At the time McLish had no idea what lied ahead of him.
“When I was eight or nine years old I looked out one night and saw the sky light up. I went to see what it was. It was the lights on Holland Field. There were a bunch of guys out in their uniforms playing baseball. I guess that’s when you can say I was hooked.” That moment changed McLish’s life forever.
“I played with the groundskeeper’s sons who lived just off the field. He [the groundskeeper] hired me to help him with different jobs on the field. Then I became the ball boy. I thought I was big time then because I was out on the field with the ball players,” he said. “I played ball all the time with anything I could find, a cork, pop bottle, pop can, anything you can hit.”
That practice paid off when McLish was in high school. He was asked to join spring training for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1944. It was in Brooklyn, when he played against the St. Louis Cardinals, that McLish made his first and most memorable contact with the sport.
“I had never pitched an inning in organized baseball. In the seventh inning, Rube Melton, who started the ballgame, he got in trouble. The bases were loaded with one out. I was called into the game. It was the first time my toe ever hit the rubber in organized baseball. It was the first pitch I had ever thrown in organized baseball. It was overwhelming.”
However his baseball career was abruptly halted when he was drafted into the Army to fight in World War II. “We went from France to Austria.” But when he was stationed in Austria, McLish was called into special services to play Division Level baseball. He continued to play with the team until he earned enough points to go back home in 1946.
But it wasn’t until 1951, after playing for the Dodgers, Pittsburg Pirates, and the Chicago Cubs that McLish spent a full year playing for the majors. In 1956, McLish found success playing for the Cleveland Indians after spending four years playing for the Pacific Coast League.
It was with the Indians that McLish created a historical moment in baseball and one of his least fond memories. “It was in Boston. I threw four homeruns in one inning. The story behind it is I had been pitching a lot, I mean a lot. So we go to Boston. We usually try to pitch right-handed pitchers in Boston because of the configuration of the ball park, but the manager Kirby Farrell he decided to start Bud Daly a left-hand pitcher because he said I had been pitching too much. So I’m down in the bullpen taking the day off. That’s where you go to relax. So anyway they got four or five runs off of Bud Daly in the first inning. That’s when Farrell called me into the game. So I go into the ball game and finish that inning. After the first inning, that’s when I threw four homeruns because I was mad he didn’t start me. I was disappointed I didn’t get to start the ball game because I loved to pitch in Fenway Park.”
Despite the rough moments, McLish made a stake in history. He held and shared the record of 16 consecutive road wins for 36 years until Greg Maddox broke it about 4 years ago.
After playing for the Indians, McLish was traded to the Cincinnati Reds. It was the first year they had inter-league trading. He says his final game with the Indians was a big disappointment, but the trade was his biggest resentment.
“I was 19-8 in Cleveland. I was supposed to pitch the last game of the season against Kansas City. If we had won it, I would have won a 20 game season, but the general manager, Frank Lane, asked me to give it up to Herb Score. It was his first game back after being hit in the eye, so I gave it to Herb. We won 12-4, but it was disappointing to have to give up that last game. It was also disappointing to be traded out of the American League to the National League the first day they had inter-league trading. I knew the hitters in the American League. I’m the type of pitcher who has to know the hitters. So now I have to go to the National League and start all over.”
McLish played for Cincinnati until 1961 when he was traded to the Chicago White Sox. He ended his career as a professional ballplayer in 1964 after playing for the Philadelphia Phillies for two years and receiving injury to his rotator cuff. “I had to give it all up. I was 38-years-old.”
McLish now works part-time for the Seattle Mariners, working with minor league pitchers, pitching coaches and coordinators. “I teach them the mechanics of pitching. It’s all logic.”
In his spare time he enjoys playing golf at the Kickingbird Golf Club. He also spends time with his children and grandkids, whom he’s very close to. “My daughter lives down the street from us. She comes over to visit a lot.”
McLish says he will never move away from the Edmond community. Despite all the traveling he has done, Edmond is where he calls home.