Shortly after World War II ended, organized baseball experienced a significant growth in the number of its minor league teams and consequently the number of players. Big league organizations like the Cardinals and Dodgers had more than 20 minor league teams in their system. The number of unaffiliated teams in the minors also grew. It was a time and era when baseball was truly the most popular sport in the country.
Baseball scouts were aggressively recruiting new players to fill the rosters of those minor league teams. Norman McCord of New Orleans was one of those young players being pursued. After he finished his first year of college in 1948, he was told by baseball scout he had major league potential. He seized an opportunity to take a crack at professional baseball and hopefully make a career of it. But unfortunately it didn’t work out that way for him, although McCord harbors no regrets about his brief pursuit.
McCord played baseball for four years at Warren Easton High School, though he missed most of his junior year due to contracting yellow jaundice. His coach, Jack Dowling, was an old-school baseball man, and he encouraged McCord to play. Warren Easton had some history in producing major league players, as alumni Al Jurisich and Jack Kramer had both appeared in the 1945 World Series. McCord recalls that St. Aloysius High School was their main competitor during his years, and he remembers playing against Jesuit’s Tookie Gilbert, another future major leaguer.
McCord graduated from Warren Easton in 1947. That summer he was named one of Louisiana’s outstanding players and traveled with a team of all-stars to Baltimore, Maryland to play in a three-game series against a Canadian all-star team. He began to have thoughts of playing professional baseball when the minor league New Orleans Pelicans expressed interest in him by having him participate in a work out with the team. A Boston Braves scout would take him to lunch to talk about playing baseball and once gave him a bat.
However, McCord enrolled at Southeastern Louisiana University in the fall of 1947 and played baseball as a freshman during the 1948 season. As a 6-foot-3, 190 pound first baseman, McCord recalls hitting around.280 with 6 home runs that season. In a write-up about the team in the college newspaper, he was hyped as a “future All-American.”
McCord decided to sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the summer of 1948, accepting a $2,000 bonus, which was a lot of money for a youngster back then. McCord is quick to point out that highly touted Mickey Mantle received only $1,100 as his bonus to sign out of high school with the New York Yankees a year later. By his own admission, McCord says he got “swell-headed” by the money and decided to leave college. He figured it was his best chance to play big league baseball.
His first minor league assignment was with Class D Tallahassee of the George-Florida League. One of his teammates there was Frank Thomas, who would go on to play in the majors for 16 years, making All-Star teams in three seasons. McCord recalls about Thomas, “He was a country boy who could knock the daylights out of the ball.” Indeed, Thomas lived up to his billing, as he went on to hit 286 homers in the big leagues.
The 19-year-old McCord struggled in 30 games with Tallahassee, hitting only .152. In August, he was sent to Leesburg, another Class D Pirates affiliate in the Florida State League. It was after his move to Leesburg that McCord realized he had been trying to hit with a heavy 36-inch bat with Tallahassee, and he believes it probably contributed to his low average there. With Leesburg, his batting average improved to .260 in 20 games played. However, he was released by the Pirates at the end of the season.
In 1949, still thinking he could compete in the minors, McCord got assistance from local sportswriter Hap Glaudi in landing a contract with Class C Baton Rouge of the Evangeline League, which was an unaffiliated team at that time. A week before the regular season was to start, McCord injured his right leg. He was sent by the team to the LSU Athletic Department to assess his condition, which turned out to be a torn quadricep. After a rehab period, he played in ten games with Baton Rouge, but still could not run at full speed. He was eventually released by the team.
McCord was acquainted with New Orleanian Jesse Danna, who was the manager of the Valley Rebels in the Georgia-Alabama League. Danna arranged for McCord to get a tryout with his team, but he re-injured his leg and sat out the remainder of the 1949 baseball season.
The call from pro baseball did not come for McCord the next season, and he decided to move on with his life. He says he developed a love-hate feeling about the game immediately after that. He commented, “I didn’t keep up with the game very closely for several years after that, and I missed out on following some of the best young players in major leagues develop their careers.
Despite his disappointment with the professional game at that time, he continued to play baseball in the New Orleans area. From 1950 to 1960, he competed in the semi-professional Audubon League. Those teams routinely included former minor league players, and McCord recalls playing against New Orleans natives such as Nelson Nocheck, Jesse Danna and his brother Charlie, all of whom had previous minor league experience. McCord’s team, Beachview Tavern, won the league championship in 1959.
In 1950, McCord went to work for Commodity Credit Corporation, a division of the U. S. Department of Agriculture, for 35 years. He played on company-sponsored softball and basketball teams in the local CAA League from 1954 to 1960, when his teams won numerous league championships in both sports.
McCord, who will turn 88 years old in October, says he often thinks about what could have been if he had been able to stay in professional baseball. He noted, “Regrettably, an injury curtailed my attempt to advance in professional baseball. But even though I didn’t make it further, it was an exciting time to be playing baseball.”
McCord is one of over 1,250 players identified in the Metro New Orleans Area Player Database that can be retrieved here. It includes high school players who went on to play at the college and/or professional levels.