"The guy who I once stood in line to get his autograph was waiting to shake my hand". For notes - please see the bottom...
Outfielder Dave Gallagher played 9 years in Major League Baseball with seven different teams. Known primarily for his defense, Dave had a lifetime fielding percentage of .994 and managed eight assists for the 1991 Angels in only 87 games. His most productive season came in 1988 on the South side of Chicago when he recorded 228 putouts without a single error while hitting .303 with 15 doubles and scoring 59 runs in 347 at-bats for the White Sox. Before debuting with the Cleveland Indians in 1987, he spent nine long years in the minors awaiting his chance. Dave remains involved with the game to this day as he is the owner and operator of the "Dave Gallagher Baseball Academy" outside of Trenton New Jersey.
Growing up in the 70's in Trenton, Dave was a Philadelphia Phillies fan, especially of their dominating pitcher Steve Carlton. In those years before Hall of Famer Carlton became surrounded by the other vital pieces of the perennially contending Philadelphia team of the late seventies and early eighties, he shined on some pretty lousy teams. In 1972 for example he won 27 games for a team that won only thirty-two more games without him. That season came in a career that included 329 victories and 4136 strikeouts. It was in that summer of 1972 that 12 year-old Dave Gallagher waited in line at Kenney's shoes to get an autographed ball from his favorite player.
Dave met Steve Carlton again at Spring Training in 1987 when both were invitees of the Cleveland Indians. Dave was competing with Otis Nixon for a fifth outfield spot and the 42 year old Carlton was hanging to his career quite literally by his fingernails as he had added a knuckleball to his repertoire. Unapologetic about his refusal to retire Steve had vowed to pitch until "they ripped the jersey off his back". Acutely aware of his waning physical tools, the normally stoic Steve`s remark to Dave when told of their meeting fifteen years before was "Thanks, now you've made me feel really old..."
Dave wasn't able to join Steve for the trip North but was soon summoned when starting centerfielder Brett Butler injured his hand. He made his major league debut on April 14 1987 in front of family and friends at frigid Yankee Stadium lining up in centerfield behind another future Hall of Famer Phil Niekro. "Because it was so numbingly cold and the pre-game included various Disney characters traipsing around the stands, there were no warm-ups. I had a horrible case of butterflies and couldn't get `em out of my system with a little batting practice." Possibly due to the weather, the 48 year-old Niekro didn't fare very well and with one out in the second inning the call went out to the bullpen for the more "youthful" Carlton. It was two innings later when Steve ran out of gas. After getting two quick outs, another future Hall of Famer Dave Winfield drew a walk. The next hitter Mike Pagliarulo promptly lashed a shot in to the gap - and Winfield was off on contact as he clearly had every intention of going first to home with those long strides of his. Although still shaking off butterflies, Gallagher had other ideas. "I remember running flat-out to try and cut the ball off in the gap and seeing Winfield heading to third with that helmet flying off - he used to wear a flapless helmet on the bases and it always flew off when he was running which was probably why he did it. I just reached the ball, spun and threw blind; a perfect throw and Winfield had to throw on the brakes and hot-foot back to third." When the inning ended, the surprised Gallagher looked up to see his boyhood idol, future hall of famer Steve Carlton waiting for him on the top step of the dugout. Although he gave him only a hand shake and a terse "nice play", the moment had a lasting effect on the no longer cold rookie outfielder. "The guy who I once stood in line to get his autograph was waiting to shake my hand". Even though the run that he "saved" eventually scored due to Yankee catcher Joel Skinner's only career grand slam, the classy Carlton wouldn't let Dave's effort go unrecognized.
Although Gallagher didn't play enough that year to lose his rookie status's, not playing a full season until the next year, a subtle gesture of appreciation for a fine play from an ageing star was the moment "When I Knew I Belonged"
Notes: I was very temporarily hired by the HOF web site back in 2003 until they found out they were prohibited from posting work(s) of non-employees. The idea for the series was to collect stories from ex-players on when they figured out that they really could be major leaguers. I had notes for many but only wound up completing two of them of them before I was fired-before-I-was-hired and when I moved back here, the Game Face people were not interested. Before I throw them out, I hope that you enjoy them.
[editor's note, by Ryan]: Promoted to the front page.