The Cardinals thought so highly of Gene Freese they offered to trade Ken Boyer for him in 1957.
Fortunately, the deal collapsed and Boyer remained a Cardinals third baseman who developed into a seven-time all-star and five-time Gold Glove Award winner.
A year later, Freese did get traded by the Pirates to the Cardinals.
Freese made his big-league debut with the Pirates in 1955. Splitting his time between third base and second base, Freese hit .253 with 14 home runs in 134 games as a rookie.
In 1957, Cardinals general manager Frank Lane tried to acquire Freese and, according to multiple newspaper accounts, was offering Boyer in the deal.
Jack Herman of The Sporting News reported: “Frank Lane once thought so highly of Gene Freese that he was willing to offer Ken Boyer and pitcher Willard Schmidt for the Pirates’ hustling utilityman and slugger Frank Thomas. Anheuser-Busch brass is understood to have frowned on the proposed deal.”
Bing Devine replaced Lane as general manager after the 1957 season. On June 15, 1958, Devine acquired Freese and utility player Johnny O’Brien from the Pirates for shortstop Dick Schofield and cash.
Freese appealed to the Cardinals as a player who could back up Don Blasingame at second, Eddie Kasko at short or Boyer at third. In late July 1958, Blasingame was injured and Freese got his first stretch of starts for the Cardinals. Soon after Blasingame returned to the lineup, manager Fred Hutchinson, unhappy with the weak hitting of Kasko and backup Ruben Amaro, installed Freese as the starting shortstop.
Though he lacked range, Freese did provide pop in the lineup. On Aug. 8, Freese, batting second, was 3-for-5 with a double and three runs scored in the Cardinals’ 12-1 victory over the Giants at St. Louis. Boxscore
Freese also was part of a historic power performance against the Dodgers at the Coliseum in Los Angeles. On Aug. 17, center fielder Curt Flood and Freese led off the game with back-to-back home runs to left field off Sandy Koufax. It was only the fifth time in National League history a team had opened a game with consecutive homers. Freese, who also doubled against reliever Carl Erskine, was 3-for-5 with three runs scored in the Cardinals’ 12-7 victory in the opener of a doubleheader. Boxscore Freese slugged three home runs in the four-game series.
Impressed, The Sporting News reported: “Since coming to the Redbirds, the 24-year-old Freese has been a life-saver. He’s filled in competently at both second base and shortstop … Neither the ex-Pirate nor the Cards’ high command has any illusions about his defensive talent. He doesn’t pretend to be a premier shortstop, but Hutchinson reluctantly sacrificed defense to get some hitting at the key position.”
Freese ended up hitting .257 with six home runs in 62 games for St. Louis, but his on-base percentage was a poor .294. He committed eight errors in 28 games at shortstop and four errors in 14 games at second base.
On Sept. 29, a day after the 1958 season ended, the Cardinals traded Freese to the Phillies for infielder Solly Hemus, who became St. Louis’ player-manager, replacing Hutchinson.
Freese became the starting third baseman for the 1959 Phillies, belting 23 home runs. His best season was 1961. As the everyday third baseman for the NL champion Reds, Freese posted single-season career highs of 26 home runs and 87 RBI.
Freese, 79, died on June 19, 2013, in New Orleans.