Re­mem­ber­ing a base­ball char­ac­ter called ‘Dirty Al’

The Herald-Sun (Sunday) - - Sports - BY RON MOR­RIS

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

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