Grant Dunlap possessed a variety skills. He was a winning coach in multiple sports, an accomplished author and a pinch-hitter deluxe for the Cardinals.
A Stockton, Calif., native, Dunlap, 17, was signed by the Reds in 1941. He was given an $870 bonus and used the money to pay for surgery for his mother. A year later, he joined the Marines and served in the South Pacific and China during World War II.
In 1952, Dunlap was the Texas League batting champion, hitting .333 for Shreveport. The first baseman, a right-handed hitter, was purchased by the Cardinals in December 1952 and placed on the big-league roster. The Cardinals said Dunlap would compete with Steve Bilko and Dick Sisler for the everyday first base role.
Ready to hit
A 29-year-old rookie, Dunlap made a favorable impression when he joined the Cardinals at their spring training camp at St. Petersburg, Fla., in February 1953.
In its March 11 edition, The Sporting News reported, “Perhaps the outstanding ‘sleeper’ in camp is Grant Dunlap … In the early batting drills, he attracted attention and in the first squad game he swung at the first pitch and whacked the ball far over the left field wall into Tampa Bay. Dunlap looks like a hitter. He poises his bat and is ready for every pitch.”
Said Cardinals manager Eddie Stanky: “Dunlap looks pretty shifty around first base, too.”
Two weeks later, The Sporting News wrote, “Grant Dunlap is another substantial hitter on the Cardinals squad and may remain because of his prowess with the war club.”
Late in spring training, during an exhibition game against the Braves, Dunlap suffered an injury that derailed his chances of winning the first base job. After stroking a single, Dunlap was on first when Hal Rice hit a grounder to second baseman Jack Dittmer. Dunlap braked to avoid a tag and Dittmer threw out Rice at first.
First baseman Joe Adcock then pursued Dunlap, who got trapped in a rundown. In the frenzy, Adcock accidently stepped on Dunlap’s left foot. Dunlap suffered “a five-suture spike wound” near the instep and was “carried off the field on a stretcher to minimize bleeding,” The Sporting News reported.
Bilko opened the season as the Cardinals’ starting first baseman. Stanky kept Dunlap on the roster as a pinch-hitter.
St. Louis slugger
Dunlap’s first two big-league hits were significant.
In his third big-league at-bat, Dunlap got his first hit _ a pinch-hit home run off Ken Raffensberger in a 5-2 Reds victory at Cincinnati on May 10. Boxscore
A month later, Dunlap got his second hit. This one produced a Cardinals victory.
On June 12 at New York’s Polo Grounds, the Giants led the Cardinals, 1-0. In the seventh, with Cardinals runners on first and second, one out, Dunlap drove a pinch-hit triple off the right field wall against Dave Koslo. Ray Jablonski and Rip Repulski scored, giving the Cardinals a 2-1 lead. Pitcher Harvey Haddix ran for Dunlap and scored on Solly Hemus’ sacrifice fly. The Cardinals won, 3-1. Boxscore
Used primarily as a pinch-hitter, Dunlap batted .353 (6-for-17) for the Cardinals. But he couldn’t displace Bilko at first base and he wasn’t getting at-bats. In August, the Cardinals sent Dunlap to their minor-league affiliate at Houston. Stanky predicted Dunlap would be “a terrific man” for Houston given the chance to play regularly.
On Aug. 11, Dunlap went 5-for-5 for Houston in a game against Dallas. He hit .277 in 35 games for Houston.
Life after baseball
After the season, the Cardinals sold Dunlap’s contract to their Rochester affiliate. In December 1953, Rochester traded Dunlap to another Class AAA club, Minneapolis, for pitcher Bill Connelly.
Dunlap spent the 1954 and ’55 seasons in the minor leagues. Then he began a successful second career.
An all-conference baseball and basketball player at Occidental College, Dunlap returned to the Los Angeles school in 1955 to coach both sports teams.
In 30 years as Occidental baseball coach, Dunlap had a 510-316 record and won nine conference titles. He was 205-156 with five league championships in 16 years as Occidental basketball coach. Dunlap also was the Occidental athletic director from 1971-76. He retired in 1984.
Dunlap wrote an acclaimed mystery novel “Kill the Umpire” that was published in 1998. Dunlap was praised for his vivid, lively prose, drawing on his minor-league experience to recreate the feel of the Texas League towns of the 1940s and what it was like to be a ballplayer in that time. The book is available on Amazon.
Previously: The story of how Tom Alston integrated Cardinals