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Gil Coan, original member of 1954 Orioles, dies at 97

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 2/8/2020 Gus Martin, USA TODAY

Gil Coan, an original member of the 1954 Baltimore Orioles who recorded the team's first hit, died Tuesday afternoon at the age of 97.

Coan was Major League Baseball's third oldest living player. He played his best seasons on the Washington Senators, batting .303 in back-to-back seasons from 1950-1951.

Born in Monroe, North Carolina, Coan became a Brevard College baseball legend by the time he graduated in 1942. He was named "Minor League Player of the Year" by The Sporting News before playing on four teams in 11 seasons in the major leagues from 1946-1956.

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After retiring from baseball at the age of 34, Coan returned to Brevard to run the Brevard Insurance Agency until his retirement in 1986.

Coan managed to find success in baseball despite missing most of his left thumb, which he lost because of an infection he suffered at the age of 10. 

"They tried to get me to use a fake thumb, but that just got in the way," Coan said in an undated interview with Ed Attanasio for thisgreatgame.com. "Eventually I just learned how to play without it.”

He discussed his career and some of his favorite moments in the interview, including meeting President Henry Truman and Baseball Hall of Famer Connie Mack on opening day in 1949. Coan described it as a "big day" and went 3-for-5 in the game.

Known as a fast baserunner, Coan competed in multiple promotional races before games. In 1946 he challenged five-time AL stolen base champion George Case to a foot race at Griffith Stadium. Although he "just barely" lost, he was happy he met Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower afterword.

Coan later proved he could still run with the best in 1956 when he raced a racehorse to promote a game for his Minor League Minneapolis Millers. With a head start he beat the horse and was "thrilled" to win $25.

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

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Gil Coan, original member of the 1954 Baltimore Orioles, dies at 97

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