The Transylvania Times -

MLB Player Gil Coan Passes – Brevard, NC


February 10, 2020

The Gil Coan baseball field at Brevard College, dedicated in 1994. With the recent passing of Gil Coan, Transylvania County lost a local legend and Major League Baseball lost a piece of its history.

With the recent passing of Gil Coan, Transylvania County lost a local legend and Major League Baseball lost a piece of its history.

Coan passed away last Wednesday, Feb. 5, at the age of 97. At the time of his death, Coan was the third-oldest living former Major League Baseball player, having played in 918 games in the majors from 1946 to 1956.

During his MLB career, Coan played for the Washington Senators, the Baltimore Orioles and the Chicago White Sox before finally ending his career with the New York Giants.

Known as one of the fastest players in the league during his day, Coan's baseball career was even more impressive given an injury suffered early in his life.

Born on May 18, 1922, Coan developed an infection when he was 10 years old that nearly led to the amputation of his left thumb. Coan would later say the injury didn't affect his batting, but certainly made it more difficult to throw a baseball.

Coaches tried to get him to play using a prosthetic, but Coan said it was too cumbersome, and simply adapted to his condition.

Coan spent most of his formative years growing up in Mineral Springs, N.C., where he played baseball, football and basketball at Mineral Springs High School.

In 1940, he began attending Brevard College, but left school after a year to begin working for the Ecusta paper company. Ecusta proved not just to be a job, but the jumping off point for his baseball career.

Coan played for the Ecusta Papermakers, a team in the highly competitive Western North Carolina Industrial League. It didn't take long for him to stand out, and, in 1944 he officially signed with the Washington Senators, starting off playing for a minor league based out of Kingsport, Tenn., for $275 per month.

In 1945, Coan was named the Minor League Player of the Year by The Sporting News after hitting .354 in 1944 and .372 in 1945.

Coan got his first call-up to the majors in 1946, but he struggled in his first season, batting just .209. After an appendectomy in 1947, Coan was sent back down to the minors, this time with the Chattanooga Lookouts.

It didn't take long for him to get back to his old form, hitting .340 with 22 home runs over 585 games.

That earned him another call-up in 1947, joining the Senators for 11 games. There, he stayed hot, setting an MLB record by batting .500 over his first 42 at bats, including going 5-for-5 with a double and a triple against the Red Sox in Fenway Park.

That was the beginning of a solid career for Coan. From 1948 to 1952 he played in over 100 games per year and hit .303 in back to back seasons in 1950 and 1951.

In 1953, Coan was traded to the newly formed Baltimore Orioles.

After a few seasons with Baltimore, he moved on to the White Sox before finally ending his career with the Giants in 1956.

After retiring, Coan returned to the Brevard area and coached the Brevard College baseball team for five years.

In 1962, Coan opened Brevard Insurance Agency.

His son, Gil Coan Jr., joined him in the business in 1969 and, today, the business is run by the third generation of the family, Jay Coan.

Coan was also very active in the community. He was a former president of the Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Board of Realtors.

He was named a Trustee Emeritus at Brevard College and was instrumental in establishing the Transylvania Cattleman's Association.

Given his time spent in the majors of a decade, Coan had plenty of tales to tell.

On opening day in 1949, he got to meet President Harry Truman, as well as legendary manager Connie Mack, whom he dined with after the game that evening.

There was also the time he raced against a horse during his stint with the Minneapolis Millers – a minor league team of the Giants – in 1956.

Playing in the newly constructed Metropolitan Stadium, Coan said the race was part of a fan appreciation night.

"They asked me to race a horse from the right field wall to home plate," Coan would later recall. "They gave me a little head start on this horse that they got from some local race track, but I won. They gave me $25 and I was thrilled."

After his playing days, Coan was well-known for his humble demeanor with fans, always taking time to sign playing cards and other memorabilia while reflecting fondly on his time in the majors.

Despite describing himself as a, "pretty decent player, nothing special," Coan's career speaks for itself, and, above all, he was thankful and happy to talk about all the opportunities that the game afforded him.

"I got to travel all over the country and meet great people just because I could hit a ball and run fast," Coan said. "I look back with fond memories and I'm proud of what I achieved in baseball."


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