By Jim Dunne
The knee injury to star end Don McGraw in the fourth game of the 1949 season made it impossible for him to play football again. Indirectly, it also cost him a promising career in professional baseball. In the Norwich Sun of August 26, 1949 (a month before the Y Giants began their season) it was announced that McGraw had been asked to report to the spring training camp of the New York Giants, the National League baseball team (which was moved to San Francisco after the 1957 season), for further assignment to a minor league team. In addition to captaining the NHS baseball team, Don had played three seasons of semi-pro baseball for the Norwich Bluejays of the Midstate League, and had hit at a .370 clip, leading the league in home runs and runs-batted-in, and playing at first base and the outfield. Despite this record, he probably would not have come to the attention of New York Giants personnel director Mel Ott if his name weren’t McGraw.
In 1940, Don’s father, John Arthur McGraw, was transferred to Norwich from Truxton to manage the Sheffield plant at Woods Corners. He was always called Art, so that he would not be confused with his first cousin, John J. McGraw, who also grew up in Truxton. In 1902, John J., after an illustrious playing career with the old Baltimore Orioles, became the manager of the New York (baseball) Giants, a position he held for the next 30 years, leading the Giants to 10 pennants and 3 World Series titles. He still ranks second all-time with 2,840 wins. Notorious for his dictatorial and abusive manner, John J. McGraw was known as “Little Napoleon.” He stood 5’ 7” and would fight with anyone. He was a great manager, however, and was famous for his ability to recognize talent. A story that survives about him is that he once fined one of his players $100 for missing a bunt sign ... and then hitting a home run. John J. McGraw was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1937, a member of the second group who were inducted when it opened in 1939.
Although 1949 was 17 years after John J. McGraw last managed (he died in 1934), his name was still magic in New York, and when Mel Ott heard about his cousin Don, and that he stood 6’ 4” instead of 5’ 7”, the baseball Giants were definitely interested. In fact, Don’s older brother Jack was also a great baseball player, and had a tryout with the Giants in 1942, but was drafted into the Army before his career could begin. Don went to Florida with the NY Giants in the spring of 1950, and impressed the staff with his hitting and throwing. However, his difficulty with running, as a result of that knee injury the previous fall, caused the Giants to decide that they could not take a chance on him.