Saturday, April 17, 2010

Almost a Brownie???

In 1956, the St. Louis Hawks traded the No. 2 pick in the draft - Bill Russell - to the Boston Celtics.

In the late 1940s, the St. Louis Browns had a chance to sign a Commerce, Okla. high school baseball star. The Browns couldn't afford to put him up in a hotel and Mickey Mantle wound up signing with the New York Yankees.

By Dan O'Neill contributor

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bob Dillinger, 1949 St. Louis Browns: One All Star Game

Dillinger came up to the majors in 1946 with the St. Louis Browns at the age 27, spending the 1943-1945 years in military service during World War II. Despite a career batting average of .306 in his six seasons in the majors, Dillinger played in only one All-Star game.

He was named to the 1949 American League squad that defeated the National League, 11-7. Dillinger entered the game in the sixth inning as a pinch-runner for Tigers third baseman George Kell and scored on a Roy Campanella error. Dillinger remained in the game and had his only at-bat in the top of the sixth inning at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, singling off Cardinals pitcher Howie Pollet to drive home Joe DiMaggio from second base.

"I made it once and had a good game," Dillinger said. "You hate to be a bust in the All-Star game, but I did pretty good. I pinch-ran and scored a run. Then singled off Howie Pollet. It was a great experience and I had fun. I actually had a better year in 1948, but didn't get the votes to be elected. You weren't going to get much support playing for the Browns regardless of how good you were because we drew maybe 2,500 people to our games. In those days, the St. Louis votes went to the Cardinals."

In 1947, Dillinger hit .294 and led the A.L. with 34 stolen bases. The following season--his best in the majors--the right-handed hitting third baseman led the junior circuit with 207 hits and 28 steals while batting .321 and scoring 110 runs. In '49, he hit .324 and led the A.L. in steals for the third straight year with 20 before being traded and splitting the 1950 campaign with the A's and Pirates and the 1951 season with the Pirates and White Sox.

Dillinger could always hit, but it was his defense that prevented him from getting a longer stay in the majors.

"I was a good hitter and fielder, but to be honest, I had a lousy throwing arm. I could field the ball but was scared to throw it. I was like Steve Sax. I spent the 1952-1955 seasons in the Pacific Coast League where I moved to the outfield and led the league in hitting with a .366 mark in 1953. I thought that would get me back to the majors, but it didn't work out. I was 35, and probably too old. If I were in my twenties and put up those numbers, I might have made it back to the big leagues."

Dillinger said the mid-summer classic was different than it is today. "We played hard and played to win. You wanted to do good," he said. "Even though it was my first and only All-Star game, I played in those types of games before. During the war, I played on the special service team with guys like Joe DiMaggio, Ferris Fain, Jerry Priddy and other big leaguers. I played center field for DiMaggio's club in Guam in front of 40,000 troops.

"Baseball was good to me, but today, I don't think any All-Star player is worth a million dollars. In my time, we worried about getting winter jobs. I worked construction in the off-season and when I left baseball, I worked for the city of Los Angeles as a construction inspector.

"I could have been on other All-Star teams," Dillinger said, "but I was picked for only one. I'm glad I got the chance and did well."