Sept. 8, 1958
Famous Duluth athlete Wally Gilbert dies
Duluth’s greatest all-around athlete is
Walter J. (Wally) Gilbert, 57, passed away at
3:55 p.m. yesterday at St. Luke’s Hospital after a long illness.
Gilbert was what’s known in the sports trade
as a “natural.” He played football, basketball and baseball
so well that he became a professional at each. He also was nearly
unsurpassable as a curler.
It would be as hard to say that Gilbert was “better”
at any one sport than another as it would be to say whether you
liked your right or left arm better. But Gilbert’s accomplishments
on the football field somehow would stand out glaring in a spotlight.
Gilbert and Superior’s Vern Lewyllen were
considered two of the greatest punters in the National Football
League when Gilbert played with the Duluth Eskimos. One of Gilbert’s
greatest feats is not recorded in the record books. He drop-kicked
a football 61 yards for an unofficial record.
Once, when the Eskimos were playing at Rock Island,
Ill., Gilbert punted from the back of the Duluth goal out of bounds
on the Rock Island 2-yard line.
The stadium was one with an open end and the great
Jim Thorpe, then playing with Rock Island, in the safety man position,
said, “I thought I’d have to go into the Mississippi
River to retrieve it.”
Gilbert was not just a great punter, but passed
well and was an excellent broken field runner. He also played semi-pro
football with the Kelly-Duluth team. In all, he played about 10
years of pro football.
But Gilbert was a “fair-to-middlin’”
baseball player, too. Just a few years ago, he was chosen to the
all-time Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team as a third baseman. Gilbert
played most of his major league career with the Dodgers, but also
played with Cincinnati and Philadelphia.
But Gilbert’s greatness at virtually any
sport he attempted never went to his head. He had an infectious
likeable quality about him to the end. In 1925, teammates voted
him the most popular player on the team.
He started his baseball career in the North Dakota
League with Bismarck, went to the Western League to play with St.
Joseph and also played in the American Association in Minneapolis.
Gilbert also played with Atlanta in the Southern League.
He was sold by the New York Yankees to the Brooklyn
Dodgers, seemingly one of the very few poor moves the Yankees have
Gilbert played with both Wausau and Winnipeg in
the Northern League and managed the Wausau club. It seems a bit
of his championship tint rubbed off on his team as he piloted Wausau
to the pennant in 1941.
Gilbert was eight years in the major leagues and
spent about 20 in baseball.
Gilbert also was a crack basketball player. He
toured with the Two Harbors All-Stars from coast to coast —
Maine to California. He also played with the Duluth Tank Corp.,
the Denver (Colo.) Tigers and the Buffalo (N.Y.) All-Americans.
Gilbert was a star curler with the Dick Wade rink,
known in the 1920s as the “kid rink.” This rink, with
Dewey Scanlon and Arne Anderson, topped the bonspiel and won a number
Gilbert played football and basketball at Duluth
Denfeld, from which he graduated in 1920. He went on to Valparaiso
University in Indiana where he starred with the gridders when they
had such clubs as Yale and Harvard on their schedule. Gilbert helped
his club to a victory over Harvard one year.
Gilbert was born Dec. 19, 1900 at Oscoda, Mich.,
and had called Duluth his home for more than 50 years. He lived
on Lakewood Road.
Gilbert is survived by his wife, Mary M., daughter
Mary (Patt) Gilbert and son John W., all of Duluth.