The glove man and the pitcher
The 1935 college baseball roster at St. John's listed a pair of brothers from Watkins named McCarthy. Eugene was a 6-4 first-baseman, an expert glove man and a senior academically though only 19 years old. Austin was a 6-foot freshman pitcher who...
The 1935 college baseball roster at St. John's listed a pair of brothers from Watkins named McCarthy. Eugene was a 6-4 first-baseman, an expert glove man and a senior academically though only 19 years old. Austin was a 6-foot freshman pitcher who would also lead the Minnesota Intercollegiate Conference in hitting in 1936.
The winter of 1934-35 the McCarthys had been teammates on the hockey team that won its first MIAC championship. Eugene was the leading scorer. Austin started at left wing four years.
Eugene, graduating two years early, went off to teach in North Dakota. He would end up in politics.
Austin played four years of hockey, all outdoors. On the diamond, his speedballs helped St. John's to a pair of MIAC championships and two runner-up finishes.
Scoreboard, a detailed history book of St. John's athletics, said of Austin in 1936: "Even as a freshman (he) was considered by the Detroit (Tigers) scouting staff the best pitching prospect in the state."
But Father Dunstan, the coach, discouraged the scouts, telling them. "He'll be much better in medicine than in baseball."
Austin became a surgeon.
Eugene's death, Dec. 10 at age 89, kindled memories of the tumultuous 1960s. For a time in 1968, it seemed the tall, handsome Senator from Minnesota was more popular than the Beatles.
McCarthy represented the state between 1948 and 1971 as a congressmen and later a senator. His strong anti-war stand led to a presidential bid. The rebel Democrat's near win at the New Hampshire primary in the winter of 1968 convinced Lyndon Johnson not to run for a second term. But the nomination would not go to McCarthy; instead the Chicago convention chose Hubert Humphrey, the senior senator from Minnesota.
Eugene's death was national news. Some stories mentioned his love of sports, baseball in particular. I visited Austin and his wife Muriel at their home in southwest Willmar to inquire about those early days.
Cardinal sports have had few more loyal fans than Doc McCarthy. From 1948 to 1988 he was the unofficial trainer, attending all the football and basketball games his schedule would allow. Until last year, when a bad back and failing eyesight overtook him, he was still a regular at home games.
"Gene was an excellent hockey player," Doc recalled in his familiar raspy voice. "We started our own rink. The town policeman made a hose available and we built our own nets. We had games with French Lake, Kingston, towns few people know today."
In summer they played baseball, endlessly.
Gene left Watkins for St. John's Prep and started college in 1933. Austin, two years younger, spent his final year in high school at Litchfield, playing football, and graduating in 1934.
He trailed his older brother to nearby St. John's.
"I was following Gene all my life it seemed," said Austin, referring to the long shadow cast by his brother.
Austin made his break with tradition when he entered medical school at the University of Minnesota.
"I went there because I knew it was one place he wouldn't be," said Doc, adding in the next breath, with pride, "He was the most brilliant man I ever knew."
Austin got headlines of his own -- over five columns in the Minneapolis Tribune --when he pitched a nine-inning perfect game for Watertown in a win over Waconia in August, 1939.
Doc and Muriel, married in 1943, raised six daughters. Only the last, Katie, came late enough to enjoy Title IX's benefits. She earned 15 Willmar letters before graduating in 1980.
Eugene became a poet/philosopher/writer. He made his home in Virginia. He suffered from Parkinson's disease in his later years.
Obituaries spoke of his integrity, courage and humor, sometimes caustic.
In 1968, he wrote that being in politics is a lot like being a football coach: "You have to be smart enough to understand the game and dumb enough to think it's important."
Gene McCarthy's poetry drew largely favorable reviews. In Memories of a Native Son (Winston Press, 1982) he touchingly writes of his affection for Austin in "My Brother."
"You always did it the hard way, like your mother," your father and mine said.
Fighting bigger boys; crying, with your eyes shut, but brave ...
Playing catch for hours in the sun.
For days, for years, tossing a ball back and forth.
Try your fastball. My brother, the righthanded pitcher.
Try me, the first baseman, with a low throw -- in the dirt."