Remembering a baseball character called ‘Dirty Al’
My initial meeting with Al Gallagher came clouded with a young reporter’s misguided belief that anyone in charge of a team of athletes should be referred to as “Coach.”
So, I addressed “Coach Gallagher,” the new manager of the Durham Bulls, during spring training of 1980 in West Palm Beach, Fla.
“It’s Al,” Gallagher said in no uncertain terms. “Dirty Al.”
Thus a jump-start to a nearly 40-year relationship that began on a professional reportermanager basis and morphed into a full-out friendship.
Gallagher died Thursday in Fresno, Calif. He was 73.
Gallagher left his mark on the Triangle as the man perhaps most responsible for kick-starting the rebirth of professional baseball with the Bulls and as one of the great characters in the area’s sports history.
Much uncertainty hovered over professional baseball’s return to the Triangle in 1980 following a nine-year absence. Then the Bulls, who set a goal of drawing 70,000 fans that first season, drew 176,000 to the old Durham Athletic Park in large part to Gallagher’s showmanship.
He was an entertainer, a public relations agent for the club and promoter of the game he so loved. From the third-base coaching box, he openly conversed with fans in those bleachers, occasionally asking an unsuspecting partisan what strategy he or she should employ during a game.
He fielded foul balls like he did in four big-league seasons as a third baseman for the Giants and Angels and threw wicked knuckleballs back to the opposing pitcher. He argued with umpires, doing his best Billy Martin impersonation by kicking dirt at their feet and spitting tobacco juice on their shirts.
During a Sunday afternoon televised game in 1980, Gallagher was ejected by the home-plate umpire.
“Then it hit me,” Gallagher recalled years later. “I remembered the game was being televised, so I figured I’d put on a show.”
He walked to home plate, removed tobacco from his mouth and deposited the re- mains on home plate. “Family entertainment,” he said.
Gallagher possessed a competitive streak that ultimately cost him a job in organized baseball.
Once, I made an ill-advised decision to be his playing partner in a card game of Spades while riding the team bus back from Winston-Salem. Gallagher ultimately slapped the deck of cards on the makeshift table and declared that my “stupidity” in the card game represented the general IQ of all sportswriters.
Gallagher was the rare manager who believed winning at
“Dirty Al” Gallagher