Donald Loren Gile was born in Modesto, Calif., on April 19, 1935. He would be nicknamed “Bear” in his playing days, probably due to his size — he was 6’6″ tall. He was large even as a freshman tackle on the San Mateo High School football team, where he tipped the scales at 225 pounds. He was athletic for a big man though, and played baseball and football. When he was a senior in 1952, known for his power, batted .342 and was named to the All-Peninsula Athletic League team as its catcher. After graduation, he spent some time at San Mateo Junior College before attending the University of Arizona.
Don and his Arizona teammates became Border Conference champions in 1954. He was a part-time catcher but hit .516 with 3 home runs when he wasn’t battling a back injury. Given a chance to catch full-time in 1955, he hit .323 in the regular season and .366 in the College World Series tournament. One of his regular-season homers was believed to be the longest homer hit in the history of Arizona’s stadium. It cleared the 425-foot fence and was still at top speed as it sailed past the wall. Don hit two home runs against Oklahoma, though it wasn’t enough to keep Arizona from losing 5-4 to be eliminated from the tournament. Shortly after that loss, the Boston Red Sox signed him to a $4,000 contract. He reported to San Jose of the California State League, but scout Tom Downey had given some assurances that he would be promoted to AAA within a year.
Don did make it to AAA, but it didn’t come in Downey’s timeframe. He played in 39 games for San Jose in 1955 and clubbed 9 homers with a .328 average, and he remained in the Class-C California League for all of 1956, too. The Times of San Meteo reported that Gile was a major drawing card in his brief stay with the team in ’55. When the team was sold to new ownership, the sale came with the stipulation that Don stay with the team to keep the attendance high.
Drawing card or no, Don moved on from San Jose and continued to take his immense power further up the Red Sox organization. He hit .303 for Greensboro in 1957, but he was only able to appear in 51 games. It appears that the physical stress of being a 6-foot-6 catcher was starting to take a toll on his body, as he had lingering knee problems that eventually required multiple surgeries. Greensboro moved him to first base for a time, and he started to play more at first and the outfield as he moved up the organization.
The Sox had to keep Don in A-ball longer than they wanted because he could never stay healthy enough to move up. He slammed a club record 23 homers for Class-A Allentown in 1958 and had a brief stay with AA Memphis. He reported to AAA Minneapolis in 1959, but he was still recovering from a recent knee surgery and was limited to a single pinch-hitting appearance before he want back to Allentown for rehab. The Red Sox brought him to the majors anyway to see how the 24-year-old would do. He made his MLB debut against the Washington Senators on September 25, 1959. Don picked up his first major-league hit in his first start on September 26. It was a double off Washington’s Camilo Pascual. In 3 games, he had 2 hits in 10 at-bats for a .200 average and an RBI.
He started the season with the Red Sox in 1960, but manager Billy Jurges used him very infrequently. He was sent down to the minors at the end of May with a .182 average. Shortly after Don was demoted, Jurges was replaced. When the big catcher came back in September, the Red Sox skipper was Mike “Pinky” Higgins. He gave him a few starts at first base, and while the hitting didn’t improve, Gie hit the first MLB home run of his career on September 27th. He appeared in a total of 29 games on the year.
The 1961 season was largely a repeat of the ’60 campaign. Don was hardly used at the start of the season, going hitless in his only at-bat. The team kept working on him as a first baseman to take better advantage of his power, but they kept him on the bench in favor of the largely powerless first baseman Pete Runnels. He was then demoted to Seattle of the Pacific Coast League in May, when the team signed veteran Joe Ginsberg. Don launched 15 homers and hit over .300 with Seattle. When he was brought back to the Red Sox in September,.
Don stuck around with the Red Sox for the entire 1962 season but hardly ever played. The Red Sox catching corps wasn’t anything special, but they had abandoned the idea of Gile behind the plate and thought of him as a first baseman. Unfortunately for him, Runnels was the full-time first baseman, and he won the 1962 batting title with a .326 average. Don ended up spending so much time without a job that he started throwing batting practice.
He played first base in both ends of a doubleheader (probably to protect Runnels’ lead in the batting race) and whacked a single in the first game against the Senators. He then hit a walk-off 2-run home run in the second game to give the Red Sox a 3-1 win. It was his last at-bat in the majors.
The Red Sox sold Don outright to their team in Seattle, removing him from their roster entirely. He spent 1963 between Seattle and Tacoma, another PCL team that was in the Giants organization. He continued to hit big home runs before calling it quits after the season.
In four years with the Red Sox, Don appeared in a total of 58 games with 18 hits in 120 at-bats. He homered 3 times, along with 2 doubles and a triple, and he drove in 9 runs. In 8 seasons in the minors, he batted .280 with 104 homers.
Don played a little big of semi-pro ball in California upon his retirement, but he jumped into a successful sales career in the pharmaceutical industry. He worked for companies line Upjohn and Squibb, as well as the dental health company Oral B. He retired from his long sales career in 1988 and settled in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
Don Gile died of natural causes on March 5th at the age of 85.