Steve Bilko

Bilko was a slugger who posted phenomenal numbers in the minor leagues but never met expectations in the majors. He got his first call-up with the Cardinals in 1949 after hitting 34 HR in 139 games at Rochester (International League), but didn’t stick for a full season until 1953 (he had a broken arm in 1952). He played every game for St. Louis that year, but his 125 strikeouts, just 9 fewer than the ML record at the time, cut into his productivity. On May 28, 1953, he struck out five times in a ten-inning game. He hit .251, and his 21 HR, 84 RBI, 72 runs, and 70 walks were all career highs. He never played regularly again. Bilko was sold to the Cubs for $12,500 in April 1954 and was let go after the season.

In the next three years, Bilko built a legend. Playing for Los Angeles in the Pacific Coast League (which had an extended schedule due to the good weather – in 1955 he played 168 games), he led the league in HR each year, with totals of 37, 55, and 56. He won the Triple Crown in 1956 with a .360 batting average and 164 RBI while also leading the league with 163 runs scored, and he hit .300 all three seasons. This earned the 6’1″ slugger, charitably listed at just 240 pounds, another major league trial in 1958, with the Reds. He hit .264 with four HR in 31 games and was traded to the Dodgers with Johnny Klippstein for Don Newcombe in June. He hit just .208 with seven HR for Los Angeles. After spending 1959 at Spokane (Pacific Coast League), where he hit 26 HR and led with 92 RBI, he was picked up by Detroit for 1960 and recorded nine HR and a .208 average. In 1961 the expansion Angels were desperate enough to try Bilko, and he had his best season, hitting .279 with 20 HR (but 81 strikeouts) in 294 at-bats. He hit .287 in 1962, but a leg injury cut into his season. After one last tour with Rochester (International League) in 1963, he retired. He hit 313 HR and batted .312 in his minor league career.