Denfeld News

Sept. 8, 1958
Duluth News Tribune

Famous Duluth athlete Wally Gilbert dies

Duluth’s greatest all-around athlete is dead.

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 made.

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 of championships.

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.

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