Oct. 1, 2004
By Ken Kleppel
For nearly forty years, Cappy Gagnon has maintained a hobby of researching Notre Dame baseball history.
Today he has a remarkable text as proof of his efforts.
Notre Dame Baseball Greats: From Anson to Yaz, published in the summer of 2004 by Arcadia Publishing as part of its Images of America series, serves as the exclamation point on Gagnon’s career-long claim that Notre Dame has made greater contributions to professional baseball than any other college or university in the nation. The book traces the history of Notre Dame baseball from the first ball thrown on campus in the 1860s to the program’s return to national prominence in the 1990s through a hodgepodge of narratives, brilliantly illustrative photographs, and well-placed statistics.
“I tried to write the book so that it is not a statistics book and does not talk about a lot of ball games,” says Gagnon. “I think a non-baseball fan would enjoy the book if they like Notre Dame. If you are into Notre Dame the way I am, then this is red meat for you.”
In undertaking the massive task of research, Gagnon collected varying amounts of information from over three thousand books and hundreds of personal interviews for the past twenty-five years until he had accumulated a file cabinet chocked full of photographs, statistics, and other material.
Each time a colleague challenged Gagnon that another program experienced greater success in professional baseball; Gagnon would then examine the merits of the claim by researching that institution’s contacts with the sport.
Gagnon reached the same conclusion with each additional round of research.
“There are a handful of schools who produced more major leaguers and a handful of schools whose major leaguers have hit more home runs or won more games, but when you take in the totality of the contributions there is no second place to Notre Dame,” says Gagnon.
His final manuscript offers the perfect blend of Notre Dame and baseball that is central to Gagnon’s life passion.
“From the first day I stepped foot on campus at Notre Dame, I was just taken over with all the spirit of Notre Dame,” says Gagnon. “I always tried to accumulate in my mind things that distinguish Notre Dame from other schools in all aspects. Baseball has always been my favorite sport since the time I was a kid, maybe I had a finer ear to hear baseball stuff than anything else.”
A 1966 graduate in Communication Arts, Gagnon currently serves the University as the Manager of Event Security and Student Employment for Notre Dame Security/Police, and as the Coordinator of Stadium Personnel with the Athletic Department. Away from his desk, Gagnon is the nation’s leading authority on the college affiliation of major league baseball players as recognized by numerous organizations including the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and Major League Baseball. Gagnon has belonged to the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) since 1976, and over that time, served as its Director, President, Vice President, and Treasurer.
An accomplished writer, Gagnon has published numerous articles with SABR and also frequently contributes to The Observer, as well as Notre Dame Sports Information publications. Gagnon has also been interviewed as an expert by numerous media outlets and baseball organizations and has provided research or been consulted by members and chairman of several other institutions.
“I am sixty years old, I have had a wonderful life, and I have two great children and five great grandchildren but nothing beats having a job that is also your passion and your hobby,” says Gagnon.
Nicknamed “Mr. Notre Dame” as an undergraduate and adoringly called “Cappy” by today’s student body, Gagnon is best known on campus for his friendly smile, familiar face, and blue blazer. A fixture on the campus scene, Gagnon unlocks the doors to Notre Dame Stadium each football Saturday, is seen on the sidelines at most campus events, and–most importantly–works each day to embody the University as a true Notre Dame man.
And for those who know Gagnon best, perhaps nothing is more indicative of the many roles he plays than a quick glance at a book case in his office–a copy of the most recent duLac: A Guide to Student Life, biographies of Texas Tech Head Basketball Coach Bobby Knight and former Arizona Cardinal and U.S. Army Ranger Pat Tillman, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, and a text entitled Personal Protection and Stalkers appears on the shelf.
Gagnon is Notre Dame sports, security, and sayings all rolled into one.
Before returning to Notre Dame to serve as head of stadium personnel, Gagnon worked for over twenty years in law enforcement, venue security, and protective work for movie stars. While Gagnon refused to talk about the stars he protected, a perusal of his office showed some memorabilia of Madonna, Dolly Parton, Michael Jackson, Neil Diamond, and Cher.
This background in detective work enabled Gagnon to effectively unravel and recover baseball’s vast history at Notre Dame.
“I worked in law enforcement for twenty-some years so detective work has been a part of what I have done,” says Gagnon. “For example, you find someone who died at a certain date, go to a newspaper, find the obituary, and then read who the next of kin were. I tried to find somebody alive today from the names I recovered. By tracking down those people I was able to receive family photographs and information that are not findable anywhere else.”
Gagnon’s one-of-a-kind connections to the baseball program certainly helped as well.
Gagnon began his Notre Dame career as a student assistant in the Sports Information Department, and served as the press box announcer at Cartier Field for Notre Dame Baseball in 1965.
“My first job [at Sports Information] was to be in charge of all the voluminous files,” says Gagnon. “Every time I would see something that related to Major League Baseball I just made a mental note of it.”
During this initial stint with the Athletic Department, Gagnon wrote an article for Baseball Digest that would serve to jump-start his career in writing.
“I wrote a letter to Baseball Digest and told them that I had an article prepared on Notre Dame men in the major leagues–although I really did not–and they shocked me by writing back and saying that if I turned the article into them by the next week they would send me a check for $50,” says Gagnon. “Since I was getting about a dollar per hour at the time, I sat down and wrote the article that I at first pretended I had and Baseball Digest published it.”
Four decades later, Gagnon’s contributions to the baseball program were formally recognized. Coach Paul Mainieri awarded Gagnon a College World Series ring that was distributed to players, coaches, managers, trainers, and administrators of Notre Dame’s journey to Omaha to commemorate the squad’s memorable appearance in the 2002 College World Series.
“I am a guy that is used to doing public speaking so I prepared in my mind a three sentence acceptance, says Gagnon. “I knew what that was going to be and I memorized every syllable I was going to say. When I got in the locker room surrounded by the players, I could not get out three sentences. I was so choked up.”
Gagnon had no such problems in Notre Dame Baseball Greats.
An easy read for any Notre Dame or baseball fan, the text captures the spirit and tradition of Notre Dame Baseball. And behind each narrative throughout the 128 pages of material, the text captures a little bit of the spirit and tradition of its author.
The book is Notre Dame. The author is amazingly more so.
Cappy Gagnon: A Baseball Timeline
1957 Pitched two-hitter in Babe Ruth League game
1959 Went 4-for-4 in Babe Ruth League game
1961 Interviewed Minor League rookie Billy MacLeod for high school newspaper
1961-62 Sports writer, Glocuester Daily Times, covering local area baseball
1964-65 Student Assistant, Sports Publicity Department, University of Notre Dame
1965 Article entitled “Why the Majors Cheer, Cheer for old Notre Dame” published in Baseball Digest
1965 Press box announcer, Cartier Field, Notre Dame Baseball
1966 Pulled off unassisted triple play as third baseman in summer league softball game
1967-69 Head Baseball Coach, Kentucky Military Institute, Lyndon, KY, and Venice, FL
1970 Joined Society for American Baseball Research (SABR)
1978 Interviewed Hall of Famer Stanley Coveleski
1979 Wrote “Debut of Roger Bresnahan” for Baseball Research Journal
1979 Delivered presentation, “Notre Dame Men in the Majors” at SABR National Convention, St. Louis, Missouri
1981 Founded Allen Roth Chapter of SABR in Los Angeles, California
1981 Featured as baseball expert in Los Angeles Times
1982 Located seven “missing” former major leaguers for SABR Biographical Committee
1982 Delivered presentation “All Felon Team” at SABR National Convention, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
1983 Elected Vice-president of SABR
1984 Participated as first baseman in re-enactment of 1884 “World Series,” Providence, Rhode Island
1984 Interviewed on national television by Keith Olbermann
1984 Speaker at Annual Meeting of the Association of Professional Ballplayers, Anaheim, California
1984-85 Elected President of SABR
1985 Featured in Sports Illustrated
1985 Featured as baseball expert on Channel 5, Los Angeles, California
1986 Elected Treasurer of SABR
1987 Delivered presentation “Dr. John Mohardt, Baseballer” at SABR National Convention, Albany, New York
1987-90 Elected Director of SABR
1988 Appointed chairman of Collegiate Baseball Committee of SABR
1988 Delivered presentation “Pitchers Who Had Real Jobs” at SABR National Convention, Minneapolis, Minnesota
1988 Wrote “Combined Power-Speed Leaders” for Baseball Quarterly Review
1989 Served as baseball trivia expert for National Baseball Challenge
1989 Wrote bio on Lou Sockalexis for Nineteenth Century Baseball Stars
1989 Wrote two chapters (“College Baseball” and “No Minors”) for Total Baseball
1990 Wrote sixteen biographies for The Ballplayers
1990 Wrote “College Baseball” for Grandstand Baseball Annual
1990 Awarded “Find of the Month” by SABR Biographical Committee
1991 Wrote all college baseball entries for The Baseball Chronology
1992 Wrote eight biographies for the Biographical Dictionary of American Sports
1993 Article entitled “Batting Eye Index” published in The Perfect Game
1995 Consulted as baseball expert on Nightline
1995 Wrote “Great Outfield Throwing Arms” for National Pastime
1995 Delivered presentation “Big League Physicians” to Northwest Chapter of SABR, Portland, Oregon
1999 Wrote biography on Willie McGill for Nineteenth Century Baseball Stars
2002 Awarded College World Series ring by Notre Dame Baseball
2003 Wrote three biographies for Deadball Stars
2004 Published Notre Dame Baseball Greats: From Anson to Yaz