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.
FROM THE BASEBALL CHRONOLOGY
»May 28, 1953:
Steve Bilko ties his 2nd major-league record in less than 24 hours. Bilko struck out five times in a row at Cincy last night, and today hits a record-tying two doubles (last done by the Braves' Bob Thorpe last season) in Cards 10-run 4th inning against the Braves. Gerry Staley still needs help in the 9th to win, 11–7.
»April 30, 1954:
The Cubs purchase 1B Steve Bilko from the Cardinals for $12,500, but will let the slugger go at the end of the year. Bilko will then lead the PCL in home runs three straight years before returning to the majors.