Friday, May 24, 2019

#46 Gene Freese - Pittsburgh Pirates


Eugene Lewis Freese
Pittsburgh Pirates
Third Base



Bats:  Right  Throws:  Right  Height:  5'11"  Weight:  175
Born:  January 8, 1934, Wheeling, WV
Signed:  Signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates as an amateur free agent, March 25, 1953
Major League Teams:  Pittsburgh Pirates 1955-1958; St. Louis Cardinals 1958; Philadelphia Phillies 1959; Chicago White Sox 1960; Cincinnati Reds 1961-1963; Pittsburgh Pirates 1964-1965; Chicago White Sox 1965-1966; Houston Astros 1966
Died:  June 19, 2013, New Orleans, LA (age 79)

Gene Freese was a journeyman infielder who played in parts of 12 big league seasons with six different teams, including two separate stints with the Pirates and White Sox.  He tallied a .254 average over 1,115 career games and was the primary starting third baseman for the 1959 Phillies, 1960 White Sox and 1961 Reds.  His 1961 season with the Reds was his best, as he helped the Reds win the N.L. pennant with career highs in home runs (26) and RBIs (87).

Building the Set
July 31, 1993 in Ocean City, NJ - Card #115
This is one of five 1956 Topps cards I purchased at the Ocean City baseball card show during the summer of '93.  My notes indicate we paid $6 for the card, and like the other 1956 Topps cards we purchased that day this card is flawless.

I wrote about the summer of '93 and the first of five cards purchased in my post for Frank House (#32).

The Card
The Topps photographer posed Freese near what seems to be the backstop at Forbes Field.  The grand slam referenced in the final panel on the back happened on May 10, 1955 in Milwaukee's County Stadium.  With the Braves ahead 2-1 heading to the top of the 8th, and with 2 outs, Freese homered off Dave Jolly, scoring Jerry Lynch (#97), George Freese and Toby Atwell (#232).  The Pirates scored eight times that inning, taking a 9-2 lead.

George was Gene's older brother, and he played in 61 Major League games with the 1953 Tigers, 1955 Pirates and 1961 Cubs.

If you're keeping score at home (I happen to be) this is the first appearance of the green-orange bar color combination on the front of a 1956 Topps card.  There have been eight color combinations so far, and I'll post the final tally for series one in a series one wrap-up post following card #100.

1956 Season
Freese slumped in his second season in the Majors, splitting time between the Pirates and their Pacific Coast League affiliate, the Hollywood Stars.  With the Pirates, Freese appeared in 65 games, hitting .208 with 3 home runs and 14 RBIs.  Frank Thomas (#153) had arrived on the scene for the Pirates and Freese essentially lost his third base starting job to him.

Freese would rebound in 1957, splitting time at third with Thomas that season before Thomas broke out with a monster 1958 season.  No longer in need of Freese's services, the Pirates traded him to the Cardinals on June 15, 1958 with Johnny O'Brien (#65) for Dick Schofield and cash.

Phillies Career
At the end of the 1958 season, the Cardinals traded Freese the Phillies for Solly Hemus.  The regular third baseman for the 1959 Phillies, Freese would lead the team in home runs (23) and finished third in RBIs (70) behind Wally Post (#158) and Ed Bouchee who had 94 and 74 respectivley.  His claim to fame while with the Phillies were the five pinch-hit home runs he hit between April 18th and May 31st, falling one short of the record of six pinch-hit home runs set by Johnny Frederick in 1932.  His pinch-hitting days ended when the Phillies traded Willie Jones (#127) to the Indians on June 6th and Freese took over the everyday third baseman's job.

Freese led the Majors with three grand slams during the 1959 season.  The photo at right shows him crossing the plate after his second grand slam on July 2nd.  #15 Joe Koppe, Richie Ashburn (#120) and #12 Dave Philley (#222) had scored ahead of Freese, and #5 Bouchee was on deck.

Freese's Phillies tenure was over after the 1959 season, as he was traded to the White Sox on December 9th for Johnny Callison.  The Phillies would use 7 different third baseman in 1960 in an attempt to replace Freese, but Callison would go on to become a three-time All-Star for the Phillies and a fan favorite.

Freese has two Phillies baseball cards - his 1959 Topps card and a 1979 Diamond Greats oddball issue.

1955 Topps #205
1959 Topps #472
1962 Topps #205
1966 Topps #319
Other Notable Baseball Cards
First Mainstream Card:  1955 Topps #205
First Topps Card:  1955 Topps #205
Representative Phillies Card:  1959 Topps #472
Last Topps Card:  1966 Topps #319
Most Recent Mainstream Card:  1981 TCMA '60s II #304

58 - Freese non-parallel baseball cards in the Beckett online database as of 3/30/19.

Sources:  
Baseball Reference
Beckett Database
The Phillies Room
The Trading Card Database
Wikipedia

In some cases, the first and last cards listed above are subjective and chosen by me if multiple cards were released within the same year.  Most recent mainstream card may also be subjective and does not include extremely low serial numbered cards, buybacks or cut autograph cards.

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