Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.
On the morning of July 24, 1948, a bus filled with the Duluth Dukes, the Class C Northern League farm team of the St. Louis Louis Cardinals was hit head-on by a truck which had crossed over the center line on a bad stretch of U.S. Highway 36 near St. Paul, Minn.
The bus rolled and burst into flames. Six people died, including Dukes manager George Treadwell, who had been driving the bus, four of his players and the truck driver. The team had been traveling from Eau Claire, Wis., to St. Cloud, Minn., for a game.
All of the players on the bus suffered injuries ranging from severe burns, broken bones and internal injuries to those seated near the front, to bruises and/or minor burns to those in the back.
Among the fortunate survivors was the team's 21-year-old first baseman Mel McGaha (muh-GAY-uh). Seated in back, he received only minor injuries.
McGaha was only person on the bus to reach the major leagues.
A few of his teammates had their professional careers ended that day, several others worked their way through the minors' ranks but fell short of making "the show."
The Dukes resumed their schedule a week after the accident; their roster repopulated with players from other St. Louis farm teams and on loan from other Northern League teams.
McGaha never played in the major leagues, but had three seasons as an American League manager and six years as a coach at the highest level.
Following the wreck, he continued in the Cardinals' organization through the 1952 season, rising as high as the AAA level. He then played five years with Shreveport, an independent team in the Texas League; he was a playing manager from 1954-57.
He had a similar post in the Cleveland organization with Mobile (AA) of the Southern Association in 1958, stayed on as manager in 1959, and moved up to manage the Indians' AAA affiliate, the Toronto Maple Leafs, in 1960.
He was called to the big club as a coach in 1961 and became the Indians' manager in 1962.
In 1963-64 he was coach for the Kansas City A's, taking over as manager a couple of months into the 1964 season and remaining in that job through 1965.
In 1966 he moved on to the Houston Astros organization as an instructional league manager in 1966 and 1969, and manager of their AAA team in Oklahoma City in 1966-67.
McGaha died in 2002.
He appeared on a pair of Topps cards, as Indians manager in the 1962 set, and A's skipper in 1965. Neither of those cards mentions the bus accident in the biography on back.
McGaha had another baseball card, a real rarity, as manager of the Maple Leafs in the 1960 Shopsy's Frankfurters team set.