The Boston Red Sox lost one of their oldest and most fervent fans last week, when Don Kilgour of Rockland died at age 95. Like any good Sox fan, he complained bitterly when they lost and was convinced, like the rest of us, that he could run the team better.
Kilgour, a former executive with Central Maine Power, had a little more background than the rest of us. Baseball always was a large part of his life, from the fields at Fryeburg Academy to the University of Maine and on the minor league fields of the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians. Kilgour was elected to the Maine Hall of Fame in 2000 and loved to sport his HOF hat around the Rockland Golf Club.
He was good at golf, too. He was a scratch golfer as a caddie at the Lake Kezar Country Club in his teens and still managed to shoot a respectable 90, up to age 90.
But baseball was the thing. He remained convinced that his left-handed curve ball was good enough to get him to the majors. That ended at Anniston, Ala., in 1939 when he threw his shoulder out and came back to Maine.
In an interview when he was 89, Kilgour said, “Of course it bothered me. When you work that hard at something and you don’t make it, it’s disappointing. I think I was good enough for the majors. I really do,” Kilgour said in his Broadway home.
Kilgour was born May 3, 1915, in an upstairs apartment above what is now the Masonic Hall. His parents, Olive (Benton) and James C. Kilgour Jr. were prominent members of the community, active in many local organizations. His father was adept at many professions, from storekeeper to mail carrier, ice cutter to stone mason. He also was a ball player and, in his spare time, he played catch with his son in the backyard.
In a 2000 interview, Don Kilgour recalled playing ball in Lovell. “We played in a cow pasture,” he said. “One of the men in the sawmill made a home plate for us. One of us was assigned to take care of the plate. You can guess what we used for first, second and third bases [cow patties]. You would go home with green stain on your pants. It might be grass or it might not be.
“I had 18 strikeouts in one game for Fryeburg. In the summer, I would pitch for any town team that would have me — Fryeburg, Lovell, North Conway and Gorham, New Hampshire.
“We never got paid much, if anything. I remember they passed the hat one night in Conway and after they paid for the baseballs and other expenses, we all got 38 cents. Twelve more cents and you could get three gallons of gas,” he said. He can remember filling up his Model A Ford for “about a dollar.” Paying $2 a gallon was unimaginable.
Kilgour went to the University of Maine in 1933 to pitch for coach Bill Kenyon. Freshmen were not allowed to pitch for the varsity in those days, but he said, “I had two or three one-hitters. I had a fastball, curve and forkball, all taught to me by coach Cliff Gray at Fryeburg. He was on the Yankee farm team and threw a heck of a curve ball,” Kilgour said. In 1937 the team won the New England semipro championship and a trip to Wichita, Kan., for the national championships.
“We took a steam train from Portland, Maine, to Wichita. Now, who can say that? I remember we took Poland Spring water with us, and we were glad when we got there. Their water was terrible. But we finished fourth in our division, which was pretty good for some hay shakers from Maine,” Kilgour said.
At the Kansas championships, Kilgour caught the eye of a Chicago scout who signed the left-hander to a minor league contract. Kilgour and his wife packed up their 1936 Chevy and took off for Dallas for the salary of $200 a month.
Now, that is daily meal money for major leaguers today. “That wasn’t bad money for that time. I told my wife, Barb, that I would give it three years, then get a job. I didn’t want to lose my education. No matter where we went or how bad it was, she never complained once,” he said.
After the shoulder injury, Kilgour gave it up and took a job with Central Maine Power that lasted 38 years and brought him to Rockland. Kilgour was a familiar face on the golf course, at Rotary Club meetings and other civic affairs where he displayed an endless number of jokes and stories. But he never took his eye off his first love — baseball.
“I just cannot believe the $20 million salaries today. There has to be a cap somewhere. The average guy can’t afford to go to a game and buy a hot dog and beer. That $200 a month was the most I ever got.”
Kilgour always took intense pleasure in yelling at the Red Sox broadcasts, just like the rest of us.
But he got to wear his Maine Hall of Fame hat when he watched. And he loved to retell the story about that 38 cents.
If the Red Sox win another World Series, they are going to have to do it without the support, and advice, from Don Kilgour.