Once upon a time in the mid-to-late 2000s, one might be seated at US Cellular Field (as it was then called) and "Touch Me" by the Doors would begin to blare from the speakers. This was the cue for a wispy red-haired 6'4" 180-pound righthanded reliever to stalk toward the mound.
His hat constantly fell off his head while delivering a pitch. In a phone interview with the Chicago Tribune's David Haugh, his mother said, "He lets his hair grow out long so his hat will stay on."
It was Robert Meiklejohn MacDougal. But you can call him Mike.
Born March 5, 1977 (Paul Konerko's first birthday) in Las Vegas, Nevada (he'd finish his career with 71 saves – most by anyone born in that state), MacDougal was drafted three times – in 1996 by the Orioles (22nd round) out of Mesa High School in Arizona, 1997 again by the Orioles (17th round) out of Wake Forest and finally by the Royals in 1999 (1st round; 25th overall) again out of Wake Forest. His finest moment as a Demon Deacon was March 12, 1999, when he tossed a no-hitter against Duke – the first Wake Forest no-hitter since a combined effort in 1939 and their first solo no-hitter since George Wirtz in 1938.
"His slider was the class of the 1999 draft" touted the 2001 Baseball Prospectus annual. That slider was seen in a Major League game for the first time on September 22, 2001, at Comiskey Park (before it was US Cellular Field). MacDougal started the game for the Royals and went 4.1 innings allowing 6 hits, 3 runs, and a walk (to Ray Durham – the first batter he faced) with one strikeout (Royce Clayton). A few weeks later on October 4, he suffered a freak injury in the 4th inning of a game against the Indians in Kansas City. Teammate Carlos Beltrán's bat flew out of his hands and hit MacDougal in the head as he leaned on the rail of the Royals dugout. He had suffered a non-displaced skull fracture and the impact left MacDougal unable to speak for several minutes. There was a crack on the upper portion of his left temple.
In a 2010 article by Joe Capozzi in the Palm Beach Post, MacDougal said:
"My hand was numb for about a year. Still, I don't have perfect feeling in it,′ he said, rubbing his thumb across his fingertips and then touching his beard.
"It's like maybe a little Latex glove feeling. I don't feel my face with my right hand - it's always with my left because I can feel a little better.′
MacDougal struggled with control as he regained the ability to properly grip a baseball, and he spent the majority of 2002 in the minors. 2003 was a different story.
On opening day 2003, MacDougal earned his first career save with a 1-2-3 ninth inning against the White Sox. A José Valentín flyout, Frank Thomas strikeout looking and Magglio Ordoñez groundout. Three players who would combine for 1,064 career MLB home runs. MacDougal would earn a nickname – Mac the Ninth – and earn the lone All-Star Game selection of his career (though he didn't appear in the game). He finished the season with 27 saves, including a stretch where he earned a save in five consecutive games (June 22-27). Quite a comeback, even if he stumbled down the stretch to a 4.08 season ERA. Unfortunately, the next few years were filled with injuries and inconsistency. After making it back to the mound after a shoulder injury, he was dealt in July 2006 to the White Sox for minor leaguers Tyler Lumsden & Dan Cortes.
MacDougal had a stellar 2006 for the Sox – 1.80 ERA, 1.000 WHIP over 25 innings in 25 appearances. But 2007 was a season to forget. Early struggles, a stint at Charlotte (AAA), more shoulder woes and a horrific finish to the season left MacDougal with a 6.80 ERA for the season. 2008 was spent shuffling back between Charlotte and Chicago. His 2.12 ERA in 16 Major League appearances was nice, but the 12 walks in 17 innings was not. MacDougal was released by the White Sox in late April 2009 after five poor outings (4.1 innings, 7 hits, 6 runs, 7 walks).
MacDougal finished his White Sox career with 100 appearances… and strangely enough, given his track record, no saves. He's the only pitcher in White Sox history with 100 or more relief appearances and no saves.
While MacDougal's stuff looked electric, there was no controlling it. So much movement. You had a tall, gangly guy on the mound who looked like he was twisting himself into a pretzel, but then who knew where that high-90s gas was headed. Unfortunately, it just didn't work out in Chicago.
So, on he went, to a host of teams. Had a few more stints in the Majors for the Nationals, Cardinals & Dodgers. His last extended stay in the bigs was 2011 for the Dodgers, where he had a solid 2.05 ERA in 69 games. But just like that, the magic was gone the next season. Had a bunch of minor and Major League caps fly off his head along the way as he flung baseballs plateward looking for his next big opportunity. He plied his craft for various Triple-A clubs in Iowa (Cubs), Louisville (Cincinnati) & Lehigh Valley (Philadelphia). His last gasp was an attempt to make it to the Mariners in 2014, but he got no further than Tacoma.
Born in the Silver State. MacDougal went to High School in the Copper State. He played his final MLB game for a team in the Golden State. You could say he showed his metal. He showed his mettle too. There was a moment where Mike MacDougal's promising career seemed like it might be over before it even got off the ground. A year and a half later he was an All-Star. He was a Major leaguer for nearly ten more years. It was a good career. Mike MacDougal. Mac the Ninth. You remember that guy.