Chuck Essegian, a Renaissance man who played the violin, studied to be a doctor, became a lawyer, and excelled at baseball and football, began the 1959 major-league season as a Cardinals reserve and ended it as a World Series hero for the Dodgers.

Sixty years ago, on Dec. 3, 1958, the Cardinals acquired Essegian from the Phillies for shortstop Ruben Amaro.

Essegian was an outfielder with a weak throwing arm, but the Cardinals were intrigued by his power.

After a short stint with them, Essegian was demoted by the Cardinals to the minor leagues in June 1959 and nearly quit baseball to pursue a medical career, but reconsidered after the club offered to relocate him to a West Coast franchise.

Four months later, Essegian achieved an unprecedented feat in the World Series.

Stanford standout

Essegian (pronounced Uh-see-jee-un) was born in Boston and moved with his family to Los Angeles when he was a boy. Essegian’s father was an Armenian immigrant who became a mail carrier.

Essegian was a standout baseball and football player at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles as well as a promising violinist. “If he could belt a tune the way he batters that baseball, the Philharmonic missed a hot bet,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

He enrolled at Stanford, played baseball and was a linebacker and fullback in football, appearing in the 1952 Rose Bowl game against Illinois. Essegian earned a degree in biology and considered pursuing a career as a doctor or dentist, but first tried professional baseball.

From 1953-55, Essegian played mostly for unaffiliated minor-league clubs. In 1956, he led the Northwest League in batting at .366 for Salem (Ore.).

Essegian asked the National Association, the organization overseeing minor-league baseball, to declare him a free agent because of irregularities in the handling of his 1956 contract. On Dec. 4, 1956, National Association president George Trautman ruled in favor of Essegian, granting him free agency and giving Salem 30 days to appeal, The Sporting News reported.

The next morning, Dec. 5, 1956, the minor-league draft was held and the Cardinals’ Rochester farm team, unaware Essegian was a free agent, selected him off Salem’s roster.

Rochester was allowed to cancel its selection and choose another player, but stuck with Essegian, hoping the free agency ruling was reversed on appeal.

While awaiting the results of the appeal, Essegian took graduate courses, “which may lead to a career in dentistry,” the Capital Journal in Salem reported.

On Feb. 15, 1957, an executive committee of the minor leagues rejected Salem’s appeal.

Free to make his own deal, Essegian signed with the Phillies.

Cards come calling

Essegian spent 1957 in the Phillies’ farm system and led the Eastern League in batting at .355 for Schenectady.

In 1958, Essegian reached the major leagues, batted .246 for the Phillies and hit his first big-league home run on May 6 against Sandy Koufax of the Dodgers. Essegian became a friend of Phillies second baseman Solly Hemus, who after the season was named manager of the Cardinals. Hemus suggested the club acquire Essegian.

Essegian, 27, displayed impressive power for the 1959 Cardinals in spring training. On March 15, he hit two home runs against Dick Donovan of the White Sox in an exhibition game at Tampa and the next day he hit another home run off the Yankees’ Don Larsen at St. Petersburg.

Essegian “doesn’t have a good throwing arm, a result of a football injury,” but “is eager to give baseball a good try before returning to medical school at his alma mater,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Essegian made the Opening Day roster and in his second regular-season game for the Cardinals he drove in three runs against the Dodgers. Boxscore

Highlights were few, however. Essegian hit .179 and on June 3, 1959, the Cardinals assigned him to Rochester.

Essegian balked at reporting and “talked of quitting baseball unless he could spend more time on the West Coast,” according to The Sporting News.

After the Cardinals assured him they’d try to accommodate him, Essegian went to Rochester and hit four home runs in 10 games. Good to their word, the Cardinals traded Essegian and pitcher Lloyd Merritt to the Dodgers on June 15, 1959, for infielder Dick Gray.

Series slugger

Essegian was sent to Spokane and hit nine home runs before being called up to the Dodgers on Aug. 4, 1959. Batting .304 over the last two months of the season, Essegian earned a World Series roster spot against the White Sox.

In Game 2 at Comiskey Park in Chicago, the White Sox led, 2-1, in the seventh when Essegian, batting for pitcher Johnny Podres, got a high slider from Bob Shaw and drove it deep into the upper deck in left for a home run, tying the score. “It had to be the best ball I ever hit,” Essegian said. The Dodgers won, 4-3, and Essegian was credited with sparking the comeback. Boxscore

The Dodgers led the decisive Game 6, 8-3, in the ninth at Chicago when manager Walter Alston, playing a hunch, had Essegian bat for Duke Snider. Essegian lined the first pitch from Ray Moore into the lower left-field stands, capping a 9-3 championship-clinching triumph.

“He broke his bat on that homer, you know,” said Dodgers coach Pee Wee Reese. “How about that for power?” Boxscore

Essegian became the first player to hit two pinch-hit home runs in a World Series. Another former Cardinal, Bernie Carbo, matched the feat in 1975 for the Red Sox against the Reds.

Essegian also became the second athlete to play in a Rose Bowl and a World Series. The other, Jackie Jensen, appeared in the 1949 Rose Bowl for Cal and the 1950 World Series for the Yankees.

Law and order

Even with his World Series heroics, Essegian barely survived the last roster cut at spring training in 1960 and his name was omitted from the Opening Day game program.

A crowd of 67,550 filled Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to see the defending World Series champions open the 1960 season against the Cubs. With the score tied 2-2 in the 11th, Essegian batted for pitcher Don Drysdale and hit a slider from Don Elston high into the left-field seats for a walkoff home run. Boxscore

The 1960 season was Essegian’s last with the Dodgers. In 1961, he played for three American League teams _ Orioles, Athletics and Indians. He became an everyday player for the first time in the big leagues in 1962 and hit 21 home runs for the Indians. “Because of his medical school aspirations, (teammates) are calling him Dr. Essegian and Ben Casey,” The Sporting News reported. “He’s handsome and has the scowl. All he needs is the stethoscope.”

Traded back to the Athletics, Essegian played his last year in the big leagues in 1963. He spent 1964 with the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes of the Japan Pacific League and hit 15 home runs.

Essegian never did become a doctor or dentist. Instead, he earned a law degree and became a prosecutor in Pasadena before entering private practice.

Though often asked about the World Series home runs, Essegian downplayed the feat.

“I didn’t think that was so spectacular,” he told the Baltimore Sun. “I was just doing a job. Luck has a great deal to do with something like that. You have to have the right situation, the right pitch and be lucky enough to hit it.”

In a 2006 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Essegian said, “I’m not sure, but I think those home runs probably hurt my career. You kind of get labeled as a certain kind of player. If you’re a pinch-hitter, you’re a pinch-hitter because you’re not good enough to play everyday.”

In 161 regular-season plate appearances as a pinch-hitter in the major leagues, Essegian hit three home runs. In four World Series plate appearances as a pinch-hitter in the 1959 World Series, he hit two.

In seeking a third consecutive pennant, the Cardinals traded six players to get a No. 5 starter for their rotation.

Fifty years ago, on Dec. 3, 1968, the Cardinals acquired pitcher Dave Giusti from the Padres for infielder Ed Spiezio, outfielder Ron Davis, catcher Danny Breeden and pitcher Philip Knuckles.

Two months earlier, on Oct. 11, 1968, the Cardinals got Giusti and catcher Dave Adlesh from the Astros for catchers Johnny Edwards and Tommy Smith, but three days later the Padres selected Giusti in the National League expansion draft.

The Cardinals, who won league championships in 1967 and 1968, were determined to add Giusti to a 1969 starting rotation with Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, Nelson Briles and Ray Washburn, but the payoff didn’t match the price.

In exchange for Edwards, Smith, Spiezio, Davis, Breeden and Knuckles, the Cardinals got a pitcher who earned three wins in his lone season with them.

Houston calling

Giusti was a successful college pitcher at Syracuse and nearly signed with the Cardinals when he turned pro in June 1961. The Cardinals and Houston Colt .45s each offered Giusti a signing bonus of $35,000 and Giusti was leaning toward choosing St. Louis, partly because his former Syracuse roommate, Doug Clemens, was a Cardinals outfielder.

“If the Cardinals had hurried just a bit at that point, they undoubtedly would have landed Giusti,” The Sporting News reported.

Giusti opted for the Colt .45s, who were entering the National League as an expansion club in 1962, because he said “it would be the fastest way to the big leagues.”

Giusti made his major-league debut in April 1962 and developed into a durable starter for the club, which was renamed the Astros in 1965. In each of three consecutive seasons (1966-68), Giusti reached double digits in wins and topped 200 innings pitched.

During the off-seasons, Giusti, who earned a master’s degree in physical education, was a substitute teacher in a Syracuse suburb.

Giusti was delighted when the Cardinals acquired him from the Astros. With Dal Maxvill at shortstop, “I’ll have more experience behind me at that spot than I’ve had before,” Giusti said, and with an outfield of Lou Brock, Curt Flood and Vada Pinson to chase down drives “you don’t have to worry about making the perfect pitch all the time.”

Come and go

To help stock the rosters of the expansion Expos and Padres, the National League held a draft on Oct. 14, 1968, consisting of six rounds. The Expos and Padres each were allowed to select five players per round from the existing National League franchises.

Each existing team initially could protect 15 players. A team could protect three more players each time one was taken from its list of unprotected.

After the Cardinals got Giusti from the Astros, he asked general manager Bing Devine whether he’d be protected and Devine “didn’t say yes or no,” Giusti said.

The Cardinals wavered until the last minute before protecting Washburn instead of Giusti, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. The Cardinals would have protected Giusti in the second round if another one of their players was chosen in the first round, according to the Post-Dispatch, but Giusti was the first Cardinals player drafted. The Padres selected Giusti with their second pick in the first round.

“I’m very disappointed,” Giusti said. “Nobody in St. Louis told me this was going to happen. I wanted to work for a championship club.”

Let’s make up

Trade offers for Giusti poured in to the Padres from the Reds, Orioles, Astros and Cardinals. The Reds were offering shortstop Leo Cardenas or outfielder Hal McRae, The Sporting News reported.

Devine came up with the package of four players at positions the Padres were looking to fill. “We needed numbers and the Cards wanted the proven starting pitcher,” said Padres president Buzzie Bavasi.

Devine called to inform Giusti he’d been reacquired by the Cardinals and said, “You can stop being mad at me. We’ve got you back.”

In addition to a fastball and slider, Giusti threw a palmball, which is similar to a changeup. “The difference is the pitcher grips the ball back in the palm rather than with the fingertips,” the Post-Dispatch explained.

“Learning to throw the palmball was a matter of survival,” Giusti said. “I found out early that the hitters up here can hit the fastball. I had to come up with another pitch.”

Said Cardinals pitching coach Billy Muffett: “He can throw the palmball over the plate just about any time he wants. He’s not afraid to throw it no matter what the situation. He never tips off the pitch.”

Starter to closer

In his first regular-season appearance for the Cardinals, on April 12, 1969, Giusti pitched a shutout and scored the lone run in a 1-0 victory over the Mets. The run came in the third inning when Giusti doubled and scored on Flood’s double against Don Cardwell. Boxscore

Giusti pitched a three-hitter against the Cubs for his second Cardinals win. Boxscore.

His season began to unravel in late May when he wrenched his back while fielding during batting practice. He was on the disabled list for a month and in his absence Chuck Taylor and Mike Torrez won spots in the rotation. Giusti was relegated to long-inning relief in August and September as the Cardinals faded from contention.

He finished the season at 3-7 with a 3.61 ERA in 22 appearances.

On Oct. 21, 1969, the Cardinals traded Giusti and catcher Dave Ricketts to the Pirates for outfielders Carl Taylor and Frank Vanzin. Pirates general manager Joe Brown made the deal on the recommendation of outfielder Roberto Clemente, who told him Giusti “always had good stuff and he is a tough competitor.”

The Pirates converted Giusti into a closer and in 1971 he led the National League in saves (30) for the World Series champions. Giusti pitched 5.1 scoreless innings against the Orioles in the 1971 World Series and earned a save in Game 4 when he retired all six batters he faced. Boxscore

In seven seasons (1970-76) with the Pirates, Giusti was 47-28 with a 2.94 ERA and 133 saves.

As a big-league shortstop, Khalil Greene had special physical skills, but a mental health condition rendered him unable to continue his playing career.

Ten years ago, on Dec. 4, 2008, the Cardinals acquired Greene from the Padres for pitchers Mark Worrell and Luke Gregerson unaware Greene suffered from social anxiety disorder.

The Cardinals were seeking a replacement at shortstop for Cesar Izturis, who became a free agent, and Greene appealed because he hit for power and, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, was “an above-average defender.”

Greene also was shy, or introverted, but those personality traits, the Cardinals found out, carried deeper meaning.

Early success

Khalil Thabit Greene was born in Butler, Pa., and went to high school in Key West, Fla. His father was a jeweler and his mother was a teacher.

Greene was brought up in the Baha’i Faith, whose followers “believe the crucial need facing humanity is to find a unifying vision of the future of society and of the nature and purpose of life,” the organization’s website explains.

According to the Post-Dispatch, Khalil translates to “friend of God” and Thabit means “steadfast.”

Greene enrolled at Clemson University and earned a degree in sociology. He also excelled at baseball, completing a four-year career as Clemson’s all-time leader in hits, doubles, RBI, extra-base hits and total bases.

The Padres chose Greene in the first round of the 2002 amateur draft and he made his big-league debut with them on Sept. 3, 2003.

From 2004 through 2007, Greene averaged 18 home runs and 72 RBI per year and had his best season in 2007 when he produced 27 home runs and 97 RBI.

Greene was limited to 105 games in 2008 because of a season-ending injury on July 30 when he fractured his left hand after punching a storage chest in frustration. “I would say that was very out of character,” Greene told Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch.

Though Greene batted .213 in 2008, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak was unhesitant in dealing for him. “It’s our strong belief that last year (2008) was an aberration,” Mozeliak said.

Seventy percent of respondents to a stltoday.com poll gave the trade a thumbs up.

Under pressure

At spring training with the Cardinals in 2009, Greene, 29, impressed, hitting .408 with 17 RBI in exhibition games.

Regarding his quiet demeanor, Greene told the Post-Dispatch, “I internalize more and that leads people to assume different things about me.”

The Cardinals’ high expectations for Greene were evident in the season opener on April 6, 2009, when manager Tony La Russa batted him in the cleanup spot between Albert Pujols and Ryan Ludwick. Boxscore

Greene struggled, batting .219 in April and .171 in May. Teammates noticed Greene punishing himself during the season’s first road trip, the Post-Dispatch reported.

On May 29, 2009, the Cardinals placed Greene on the disabled list because of social anxiety disorder.

“We’re trying to take some things off him for a while,” La Russa said.

Greene’s condition “is brought on by fatigue caused by incessant stress,” Joe Strauss of the Post-Dispatch reported. “Any failure, such as a strikeout or an error, reinforces a sense of frustration that finds release only through verbal or physical outbursts, followed by embarrassment and regret.”

Said Greene: “It’s about trying to find balance, about not being too hard on myself and being able to let it go sometimes.”

Tough tests

The Cardinals reinstated Greene on June 18, 2009, and he hit home runs against the Royals in each of his first three games back. After that, he went into a slump, the anxiety resurfaced and the Cardinals returned him to the disabled list on June 29, 2009.

“When he had success in Kansas City, that wasn’t really the test,” La Russa said to the Associated Press. “The test is when you struggle and how you handle it.”

Greene went home to South Carolina to spend time with his wife and parents and receive treatment.

Brendan Ryan had taken over as Cardinals shortstop and was playing well, so when Greene returned to the club for the last two months of the season he primarily was used as a pinch-hitter and reserve infielder.

“I need to get a sense of gratification when things are going well while being able to see any shortcomings in a way that’s not such a debilitating thing,” Greene said.

On Aug. 28, 2009, Greene hit the first pinch-hit home run of his big-league career, tying the score at 2-2 in the eighth inning against the Nationals. The Busch Stadium crowd gave him a standing ovation and his teammates pushed him toward the top step of the dugout to make a curtain call and tip his cap, telling him, “Get out there. You earned it.” Boxscore

Greene finished the 2009 season with a .200 batting average, six home runs and 24 RBI in 77 games. He did hit .353 (12-for-34) with runners in scoring position.

In November 2009, Greene entered free agency and two months later signed a $750,000, one-year deal with the Rangers, who projected him for a utility role.

“This is a situation that will be good for me in a lot of ways,” Greene said. “It’s an exciting team to play for and it looks like a neat place to play.”

On Feb. 25, 2010, the Rangers voided the contract, saying a private matter would keep Greene from reporting to spring training. At age 30, he was finished as a professional ballplayer.

Bo Belinsky, a playboy pitcher with a powerful left arm, a playmate wife and penchant for publicity, appealed to the Cardinals as a possible answer to a bullpen need.

Fifty years ago, on Dec. 2, 1968, the Cardinals selected Belinsky in the Rule 5 draft of unprotected players.

Because of the departures of Wayne Granger to the Reds in a trade and Larry Jaster to the Expos in the expansion draft, the two-time defending National League champion Cardinals were seeking another left-hander to join Joe Hoerner in the bullpen.

Belinsky was a surprising and controversial choice. He’d spent the entire 1968 season in the minors after a subpar year with the Astros in 1967 and he maintained a legendary reputation for off-field carousing and feuds with baseball management.

As Bob Broeg noted in a column for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Belinsky had let “a loose tongue and 10-cent brain offset the potential brilliance in a million-dollar arm.”

Going Hollywood

Belinsky spent six seasons in the minors before getting a chance in the big leagues with the 1962 Angels. On May 5, 1962, Belinsky pitched a no-hitter for the Angels against the Orioles, boosting his record to 4-0 and rocketing him to the top among sports celebrities in image-conscious Los Angeles. Boxscore

A pool hustler who craved fame and fun, Belinsky was drawn to the Hollywood nightlife and became a fixture on Sunset Strip.

“He tooled around town in a candy-apple Cadillac convertible burning more midnight oil than he drank, squiring some of the long-stemmed beauties of Hollywood,” Broeg observed.

Belinsky dated actresses Ann-Margret, Tina Louise, Connie Stevens and Juliet Prowse and was engaged for a few months to Mamie Van Doren, who told the New York Times, “Our life was a circus.”

While Belinsky’s partying peaked, his pitching plummeted. In three seasons with the Angels, his record was 21-28 and he was traded to the Phillies on Dec. 3, 1964.

Happy in Hawaii

Belinsky floundered with the Phillies. He was 4-9 with a 4.84 ERA in 1965 and 0-2 in 1966, but he was effective against the Cardinals. In five starts versus St. Louis in 1965, Belinsky was 2-2 with a 2.72 ERA.

On May 17, 1965, Belinsky pitched a five-hitter in a 2-1 Phillies victory at St. Louis (Boxscore). A month later at Philadelphia, he pitched a six-hitter in a 7-1 triumph over the Cardinals (Boxscore).

The Astros claimed Belinsky in the Rule 5 draft in November 1966 and he was 3-9 with a 4.68 ERA for them in 1967. When Belinsky went to spring training with the Astros at Cocoa, Fla., in 1968, he was visited by Jo Collins, a Playboy magazine playmate of the year. Belinsky asked the club for permission to stay out with Collins after the midnight curfew, but the Astros refused his request and Belinsky left camp, The Sporting News reported.

By mutual request, the Astros sent Belinsky to the Hawaii Islanders of the Pacific Coast League for the 1968 season. Belinsky, who developed a screwball to go with a formidable fastball, pitched better for Hawaii than his 9-14 record indicated. He threw three shutouts, including a no-hitter, struck out 181 batters in 176 innings and posted an ERA of 2.97.

Taking a chance

Cardinals scout Bill Sayles was impressed by Belinsky’s pitching and said in his report to the club, “This guy is a big-league pitcher. He has the best arm I’ve seen all year and he has the stuff to go with it.”

Warren Spahn, the former big-league ace who was manager of the Cardinals’ Tulsa farm club, supported Sayles’ assertions and St. Louis scouting supervisor Harrison Wickel also watched Belinsky and liked what he saw.

After the 1968 season, the Hawaii club returned Belinsky to the Astros and they assigned him to their Oklahoma City affiliate, making him eligible for the Rule 5 draft. Cardinals general manager Bing Devine and manager Red Schoendienst agreed they’d select Belinsky at the cost of $25,000.

“We felt we might as well take a chance on someone who has a good arm,” Schoendienst said to the Post-Dispatch.

Asked about Belinsky’s reputation, Devine told The Sporting News, “His off-field activities don’t bother me … Sure, he’s a character and he likes girls, but he’s single and I’d say that’s a reasonably normal situation.”

Actually, Belinsky and Collins quietly had married in Hawaii three months earlier in September 1968, the Post-Dispatch and The Sporting News later reported, and she was pregnant. Belinsky and Collins were together in Venezuela, where Bo was pitching winter baseball, when the Cardinals called to tell him they’d drafted him.

Belinsky’s stay in Venezuela ended in a dispute when he refused to pitch in a game, saying his arm was sore. The club suspended him and Belinsky returned to the United States with Collins, saying he would sue to recover withheld pay.

Bo and Jo

At Cardinals spring training camp in St. Petersburg, Fla., Belinsky told Broeg, “I’m broke and if I don’t make it with the Cardinals, a good ballclub, I’ll be hurting.”

Reflecting on his life, Belinsky said, “I had a hell of a good time, but I burned the candle at both ends,” then added, “Though I don’t believe I’ve ever quite fit the portrayal of a finger-snapping, gum-cracking, girdle-snapping cool cat.”

“I think I’d have been better off in baseball in the Babe Ruth era when this wasn’t such a fragile game,” Belinsky said. “I like baseball, but maybe I haven’t had the temperament to be a truly dedicated player.”

Belinsky, 32, and his wife Jo, 23, arrived in Florida toting a .32-caliber automatic pistol and a .22-caliber rifle because they “like to go target shooting,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

Smoking a Tiparillo, a thin cigar popular in the 1960s, Jo told the Post-Dispatch, “I’m not really the typical baseball player’s wife. I’m not the domestic type.”

For instance, Jo said, she hadn’t cooked a meal since she married Bo and didn’t intend to. “It ruins the whole mood when you have to get up and cook,” she said.

“Bo and Jo like room service,” the Post-Dispatch reported. “They like having a maid bring their food and a valet to take care of their clothes. They like living in hotels and have done so since they were married last September.”

Jo also complained about the drivers in St. Petersburg. “This is an old folks town … They ought to take away their licenses when they’re 50,” she said.

Aloha, Bo

Belinsky posted a 1.92 ERA in spring training, but he walked 16 batters in 12.2 innings. “He’s been too wild,” Schoendienst said. “He’s gone to 3-and-2 counts on everybody.”

Between appearances, Belinsky avoided workouts as much as possible, prompting Cardinals physical fitness director Walter Eberhardt to teasingly present him a certificate for “his remarkable ability to perform strenuous exercises without exerting a single muscle.”

The Cardinals decided to keep journeyman Mel Nelson rather than Belinsky as the second left-handed reliever.

On March 31, 1969, the Cardinals offered the Astros the chance to take back Belinsky for half the $25,000 price the Cardinals paid for drafting him, but they declined. The Cardinals placed Belinsky on waivers, but there were no takers.

Belinsky complained of feeling “suppressed” by lack of work in spring training games and said, “I feel the Cardinals cheated themselves and that I was cheated, too.”

The next night, on April 1, 1969, Belinsky collapsed from nervous exhaustion and was taken to a hospital, the Post-Dispatch reported. “I felt as though I was going to die,” Belinsky said.

Unsympathetic, Cardinals trainer Bob Bauman said, “He did most of his training in the clubhouse, talking to the press. That’s where he got his fatigue, from talking too much.”

On April 3, 1969, the Cardinals did Belinsky a favor, returning him to the Hawaii Islanders for $10,000. “Bo was too good a bargain to pass up,” said Hawaii general manager Jack Quinn.

Almost four months later, on July 30, 1969, Belinsky got back to the big leagues when the Pirates purchased his contract from Hawaii.

On Sept. 10, 1969, Belinsky started for the Pirates against the Cardinals in the second game of a doubleheader at Pittsburgh. Belinsky faced seven batters, gave up two hits, walked three, allowed two runs and was lifted with two outs in the first inning (Boxscore).

Ray Jablonski was an infielder who couldn’t field or throw well, but he excelled at stroking line drives for extra-base hits and generating large numbers of runs.

Seventy years ago, on Nov. 24, 1948, the Cardinals selected Jablonski from the Red Sox in the minor-league draft.

The minor move turned into a big deal for the Cardinals, who sought a right-handed batter with power to balance a lineup with left-handers Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter. Jablonski produced more than 100 RBI in each of his two seasons with St. Louis.

As a third baseman, though, Jablonski had the skills of a designated hitter. When prospect Ken Boyer proved ready to move from the minor leagues and play third base for the Cardinals, Jablonski became expendable.

Climbing the ladder

Ray Jablonski was born and raised in Chicago. As a youth, he was “an accomplished singer and piano player,” according to a biography by the Society for American Baseball Research.

A coach encouraged him to play high school baseball and he showed an ability to hit the ball hard and often. Jablonski enlisted in the Army in July 1945, spent most of his military service in France and was discharged in January 1947.

When he returned to Chicago, he attended a Red Sox tryout camp in Elgin, Ill., and was the only one of the 300 participants to get a contract offer, according to The Sporting News. The Red Sox assigned Jablonski to their Class D affiliate in Milford, Del., and he hit .326 in 1947 and .354 in 1948, primarily as a shortstop.

After the 1948 season, the Red Sox fired their farm director, former Cardinals shortstop Specs Toporcer, and in the reshuffling that followed the Red Sox left Jablonski exposed to the minor-league draft. He was selected by the Cardinals and assigned to their Class A Columbus (Ga.) club.

The leap from Class D Milford to Class A Columbus was a steep one and after Jablonski hit .275 for Columbus in 1949 he was sent down to Class B Lynchburg, Va., in 1950. Lynchburg was a turning point in Jablonski’s career because the manager there was Whitey Kurowski, the former third baseman who played in four World Series for the Cardinals. Kurowski put Jablonski at third base and mentored him.

After hitting .289 for Lynchburg, Jablonski played for Class B Winston-Salem in 1951 and led the Carolina League in batting at .363.

The Cardinals promoted Jablonski to Class AAA Rochester in 1952 and he played all four infield positions, committing 33 errors and batting .299 with 103 RBI.

Jablonski “has strong wrists and can get the bat through at the last split-second,” The Sporting News reported.

Competition at third

Billy Johnson was the incumbent at third base for the Cardinals. Johnson played in four World Series for the Yankees and was an American League all-star in 1947 before being traded to the Cardinals on May 14, 1951. A smooth fielder with a strong arm, Johnson gave the Cardinals “the best defensive play they’ve had at the hot corner in years,” according to writer Bob Broeg.

In 1952, Johnson hurt his elbow and the injury affected his throwing. Depriving Johnson “of his shotgun arm would be like taking a paint brush away from Rembrandt,” Broeg observed.

At spring training in 1953, the three contenders for the Cardinals’ third base job were Johnson, Jablonski, and Vern Benson, who’d spent parts of the 1951 and 1952 seasons with St. Louis.

Broeg concluded Jablonski’s “defensive play might be the drawback that could cost him the job.”

After observing Jablonski, former Cardinals infielder Frank “Creepy” Crespi said, “He’s got a lot to learn defensively and needs plenty of work, but he’s got a big thing in his favor and that’s willingness to listen and practice.”

In preseason exhibition games, Jablonski batted .302 with six home runs.

On April 14, when the Cardinals opened the 1953 regular season at Milwaukee in the Braves’ first game since relocating from Boston, Jablonski made his major-league debut as the starting third baseman.

He and two other newcomers to the starting lineup, first baseman Steve Bilko and center fielder Rip Repulski, became known as the Polish Falcons.

Jablonski finished his rookie season with 21 home runs and 112 RBI. He made 27 errors, the second-most among National League third basemen.

Too many errors

In 1954, Jablonski hit .296 with 104 RBI for the Cardinals and he was the starting third baseman for the National League all-star team, but his 34 errors were the most by any third baseman in the league.

Post-Dispatch sports editor J. Roy Stockton, citing Jablonski’s fielding problems, described him as “a defective player who broke the hearts of the pitchers.”

Cardinals pitcher Gerry Staley “was openly critical of the slow defensive reactions and uncertain throwing of Jablonski,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

In his two seasons with St. Louis, Jablonski had many of his best games against the Reds. He had five hits versus the Reds on July 8, 1953 (Boxscore), and he twice produced five RBI against them _ on May 28, 1953 (Boxscore) and on May 23, 1954 (Boxscore). Jablonski hit .315 with 20 RBI against the Reds in 1953 and .359 with 22 RBI versus them in 1954.

In December 1954, the Cardinals offered to trade Staley to the Reds for reliever Frank Smith. The Reds wanted second base prospect Don Blasingame as well but the Cardinals “flatly refused,” according to the Post-Dispatch.

The Cardinals, desperate to improve their relief pitching, countered by giving the Reds their choice of Jablonski or infielder Solly Hemus. On Dec. 8, 1954, the Cardinals dealt Jablonski and Staley to the Reds for Smith.

Cardinals general manager Dick Meyer admitted “we might have given too much,” but added, “We felt the need for relief pitching was that great.”

The Cardinals were influenced by the emergence of Boyer, a highly regarded prospect who was ready to take over at third base in 1955. Cardinals scout Joe Mathes predicted Boyer “could become the greatest third baseman in Cardinals history” and former Cardinals manager Eddie Dyer said Boyer “will hit the ball as far as any third baseman in the National League and he’ll outrun any third baseman I know of in the league.”

Boyer fulfilled those expectations and Jablonski, unable to overcome his fielding deficiencies, went on to have a journeyman career. After two seasons (1955-56) with the Reds and two seasons with the Giants (1957-58), Jablonski and Bill White were traded by San Francisco to the Cardinals on March 25, 1959, for pitchers Sam Jones and Don Choate.

Used in a reserve role, Jablonski hit .253 with the 1959 Cardinals and on Aug. 20 he was claimed on waivers by the Athletics. He ended his major-league career with the Athletics in 1960 and played another four years in the minors.

Jablonski was 58 when he died of kidney failure on Nov. 25, 1985.

After an accidental shooting ended his major-league pitching career, Monty Stratton made a courageous comeback to professional baseball, inspired an Oscar-winning movie and experienced more personal tragedy.

Eighty years ago, on Nov. 28, 1938, Stratton had his right leg amputated above the knee because of a bullet wound inflicted when his pistol discharged in its holster.

Stratton, 26, was a starting pitcher for the White Sox who earned 15 wins in each of the previous two seasons.

Determined to play competitively again, Stratton taught himself to pitch, hit and field on a prosthetic wooden leg. In 1946, eight years after the accident, he accomplished his goal, pitching a full season in the minor leagues and compiling 18 wins.

Hollywood came calling and three years later, in 1949, “The Stratton Story,” starring Jimmy Stewart, was released in movie theaters.

After that, Stratton led a mostly peaceful life on his Texas farm until another tragic incident occurred.

Rise and fall

Monty Franklin Pierce Stratton was born in 1912 in the east Texas prairie community of Wagner, near Greenville. His parents were farmers who produced cotton and grain. After his father died, Stratton, who was a teen, helped his mother run the farm. He also played for local semi-pro baseball teams, became a professional in 1934 when he joined a minor-league club and got signed by a White Sox scout.

A 6-foot-5 right-hander, Stratton made his major-league debut with the White Sox in June 1934. He came to prominence in 1937 when he was named an American League all-star and posted a 15-5 record and 2.40 ERA. Stratton followed that with a 15-9 mark in 1938.

On Sunday, Nov. 27, 1938, Stratton, his wife Ethel and their son Monty Jr. visited his mother at her farmhouse. In the afternoon, Stratton took his .32-caliber automatic pistol and went out alone into the nearby woods “with the promise he’d bring back some rabbits, or, failing in that, would at least get some practice in marksmanship,” The Sporting News reported.

After taking a shot at a rabbit, Stratton put the pistol in a belt holster and was walking along a thicket, about a half-mile from the house, when the gun discharged. The bullet entered below his right hip, severed an artery and lodged near his knee. Stratton, weak from blood loss, crawled to within about 250 yards of the house. Ethel heard his shouts, got him into their car and rushed him to a hospital, the Chicago Tribune reported.

After receiving a series of blood transfusions, Stratton showed “great improvement,” but the next day, Nov. 28, 1938, gangrene set in and doctors determined amputation was imperative, the Tribune reported. The day of the amputation also was the birthday of 1-year-old Monty Jr.

On Dec. 2, 1938, Stratton, in his first interview since the accident, said from his hospital bed, “It’s been tough lying here, knowing that my baseball career is over, but I’m alive and have my wife and youngster and friends. What more could a man want?”

Moving on

Stratton’s misfortune was major news and stunned baseball fans. Cubs trainer Andy Lotshaw cautioned, “The only shooting a baseball player should do is in a 26 dice game and then only when the company is congenial.”

The White Sox and Cubs agreed to play an exhibition benefit game to raise funds to help with Stratton’s medical bills. White Sox owner J. Lou Comiskey told Stratton he would have a job with the club as long as he wanted.

The benefit game was played May 1, 1939, at Comiskey Park. The White Sox won, 4-1, beating Dizzy Dean before 25,594 spectators. Stratton delivered the ceremonial first pitch. “It was apparent, however, he couldn’t put his weight behind his pitches without losing balance,” the Tribune reported.

More than $29,000 was raised, according to the Tribune.

“Stratton still has aspirations to continue as a pitcher when he becomes accustomed to the artificial limb,” The Sporting News reported.

Stratton spent the next two years, 1940 and 1941, as a White Sox coach and sometimes pitched batting practice. A second son, Dennis, was born in 1940.

In 1942, Stratton became manager of the minor-league Lubbock Hubbers but quit after 10 days because the bus rides were too difficult on his leg, The Sporting News reported.

Comeback trail

Stratton spent another two years, 1942 and 1943, working on his pitching. Ethel was his catcher. When she was unavailable, he pitched to a target painted on the side of a barn and had his sons retrieve the balls, according to The Sporting News.

Ready to pitch competitively again, Stratton organized a semi-pro team in Greenville and pitched in games in 1944 and 1945.

In 1946, Stratton, 34, contacted the owner of the minor-league Greenville Majors of the East Texas League and asked for a chance to play, but the owner wanted him as a manager, not a pitcher. Stratton wrote to the other seven clubs in the league and heard from Art Willingham, owner of the Sherman Twins, who signed him to pitch.

On April 30, 1946, Stratton pitched a one-hitter in a 6-1 win against Greenville.

When he faced the Texarkana Bears, seven batters attempted bunts in the first six innings. Three of them struck out. The other four bunted, but Stratton fielded all flawlessly, throwing out three from a prone position.

“He can and does field bunts, even though he topples over easily,” The Sporting News observed. “Stratton believes that the more bunts attempted against him, the better he will be able to field them.”

In a rematch against Greenville, Stratton batted with a runner on first, two outs, and singled to center. As the throw went to second, Stratton “set out with that peculiar hop-skip he used and was about two-thirds of the way to first when he fell,” The Sporting News reported.

The crowd gasped and the infielder, seeing what happened, fired the ball to first. “When Monty fell, he started crawling,” writer D.A. Blocker observed. “The ball beat his last desperate lunge by an eyelash. Monty got up, brushed himself off and went on out to the mound to receive an ovation that lasted for at least 10 minutes. There was hardly a dry eye in the whole park.”

Stratton was visited that summer by screenwriter Douglas Morrow and signed a deal to give Morrow the movie rights to his life story.

Stratton finished the 1946 season with an 18-8 record and pitched 218 innings in 27 starts.

Lights, cameras

MGM agreed to make a movie based on Morrow’s screenplay. Sam Wood was hired to direct and filming was scheduled to begin in 1948. Wood had directed two Marx Brothers hits, “A Night at the Opera” (1935) and “A Day at the Races” (1937) as well as dramas such as “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” (1939), “The Pride of the Yankees” (1942) and “For Whom the Bell Tolls” (1943).

Stratton pitched one more minor-league season, posting a 7-7 record for the 1947 Waco Dons, before heading to Hollywood in 1948 to be the movie’s technical advisor.

MGM chose Van Johnson to play the role of Stratton and hired retired big-leaguers Harry Danning, Bob Meusel and Red Ruffing to coach him on how to be a ballplayer, but they “found it more difficult to teach Van to pitch and handle a bat than to balance peas on a knife,” The Sporting News reported.

MGM wanted Robert Taylor to replace Johnson, but Taylor declined. Ronald Reagan reportedly sought the role, but the studio preferred Jimmy Stewart or Gregory Peck. Stewart got the part and MGM cast June Allyson as Stratton’s wife. Agnes Moorehead as Stratton’s mother and Frank Morgan as a scout who signed and mentored Stratton. Morgan had played the roles of The Wizard and Professor Marvel in “The Wizard of Oz” (1939).

Several former and active major-leaguers appeared in the film. Indians pitcher Gene Bearden, retired catcher Bill Dickey, Cubs coach Merv Shea and former White Sox manager Jimmy Dykes got credited parts. Among the ballplayers making uncredited appearances were Gene Mauch and Hank Sauer.

Stratton was delighted by Stewart’s portrayal. “They’ll be sending him a contract after scouts get a squint at him in action,” Stratton said.

Said Dykes: “Stewart is doing an excellent job as a pitcher for an actor.”

The film opened in theaters in June 1949 and was a box-office success. Trailer

Daily Variety called it a “human drama as all-American as the sport which motivates it.”

The Hollywood Reporter surmised the film “touches the heart to just the same degree that it entertains.”

The movie fictionalized many key events, showing Stratton using a rifle instead of a pistol in the accident scene, and substituting an All-Star Game for the 1939 charity game, for instance.

Morrow won an Oscar for best writing, original story.

More misfortune

Stratton briefly played for minor-league teams in 1949, 1950 and 1953 before settling onto the family farm. He helped start the Greenville Little League program, according to the Greenville Herald-Banner.

Tragedy struck in June 1964 when Stratton’s youngest son, Dennis, 23, died. Dennis was found dead by his wife in the kitchen of their home, United Press International reported. A judicial officer ruled Dennis killed himself with a shotgun.

On Sept. 29, 1982, Monty Stratton, a longtime cigarette smoker, died of cancer at 70. Notified of Stratton’s death, Jimmy Stewart told United Press International, “We have exchanged Christmas cards ever since I did the picture … He was a very nice man who lived the sport of baseball and was a great credit to it.”

Ethel worked at a dress shop in Greenville and volunteered at a local hospital. She died in 2006 at age 90 at the home of a granddaughter.

Their eldest son, Monty Jr., served in the U.S Air Force and was 74 when he died on Oct. 18, 2012.