Obituary: Dick Bokelmann (1926-2019)

RIP to Dick Bokelmann, a reliever for the St. Louis Cardinals for three seasons in the 1950s. He died peacefully on December 27, 2019 at the age of 93. Bokelmann played professional ball from 1947 through 1954 and played for the Cardinals from 1951-53.

Richard Bokelmann was born on October 26, 1926 in Arlington Heights, Ill. He played baseball at Arlington Heights High School and was a guard on the basketball team, as well. He also pitched for an amateur team from Glen Ellyn while attending Northwestern University. According to a 1951 profile, Bokelmann entered Northwestern in the U.S. Navy’s V-12 program and earned a liberal arts degree in three years. He was discovered by St. Louis while pitching for the Wildcats baseball team.

Bokelmann signed with the Cardinals in 1947 and made his professional debut, at the age of 19, with the Fresno Cardinals of the California League. He won 6 and lost 6 in 13 games, posting a 4.21 ERA. He walked 76 batters in 92 innings, but those control problems would be tamed in the coming years. In November of 1947, shortly after turning 20, Bokelmann married Dolores “Dodie” Hogreve. They would have two children, Cheryl and James.

Dick Bokelmann with his bride, Dolores “Dodie” Hogreve. Source: Arlington Heights Herald, November 21, 1947.

Bokelmann won 15 games for the Class-B Allentown Cardinals in 1948 with a fine 2.82 ERA. He also played a little bit of left field, though he was a better pitcher than hitter. He moved throughout the Cardinals’ system over the next couple of seasons, having some good performances and some struggles along the way. Pegged to be the ace of the Rochester Red Wings at the start of the 1950 season, he was clubbed pretty soundly and sent back to AA Houston, where he turned around his season with a 6-7 record and 4.15 ERA.

Pitching again for the Houston Buffaloes in 1951, Bockelmann was used almost exclusively as a reliever. Of his 30 appearances, 27 came out of the bullpen, and he turned into the Buffalo’s secret weapon. He won 10 games against 2 defeats with a microscopic 0.74 ERA. Though his minor-league statistics on Baseball Reference are incomplete, he was called “the strikeout king of the Texas loop.”

The Cardinals already had a couple of highly touted prospects on their pitching staff with Tom Poholsky and Joe Presko. Bokelmann joined them in the big leagues in August. He made an immediate impact too. He was called in from the pen to face the New York Giants on three straight days, August 3-5, to start his career. He threw a total of 3-1/3 perfect innings in those games, picking up a save in his first MLB game by preserving a 5-4 win by starter Harry Brecheen.

“I thought Poholsky and Presko were pretty good but this Bokelmann seemed to have a lot more equipment than either of them,” said an unidentified Giants player. “He threw me a curve like I never saw before.”

Tom Poholsky (left) and Dick Bokelmann (center) get some words of advice from Rochester Red Wings manager Johnny Keane. Source: Democrat and Chronicle, May 11, 1949.

Bokelmann eventually ran into some rough outings, but he helped solidify the Cardinals bullpen as the team won 81 games on the way to a third-place finish. His first MLB win came on September 7 against the Pirates. He threw 5 scoreless innings in relief of Poholsky, snuffing out a rally and coasting to an 11-4 win. He confounded Pittsburgh again two days later, tossing 5-2/3 scoreless innings in relief for his second win. For the year, he appeared in 20 games for the Cards, with one start. He had a 3-3 record with a 3.78 ERA, saved 3 games and struck out 22 batters in 52-1/3 innings. He suffered from a bit of wildness in the majors, with 31 walks.

Source: St. Louis Globe-Democrat, April 12, 1953.

Bokelmann broke camp with the Cardinals in 1952, but he was used relatively little in spring training and was wild at the start. He allowed 3 earned runs in an inning of work in his first outing against the Pirates on April 16 and walked the only two batters he faced against the Cubs on April 18. That poor outing helped turn a 4-1 lead into a 5-4 loss. He never really got on track and was sent to the minors at the end of May with a 0-1 record and 9.24 ERA. He struggled in Rochester as well but finally regained his stuff while pitching once more for AA Houston. He spent most of 1953 with Houston as well while also logging time in Rochester and the Cardinals. He appeared in 3 games for the Cards that year, allowing 2 runs in 3 innings.

Bokelmann appeared in a total of 34 games for the Cardinals over 3 seasons. He had a 3-4 record with 3 saves and a 4.90 ERA. He struck out 27 and walked 38 in 68 innings of work. He moved to the Reds organization in January 1954 in a straight cash deal. He pitched well in relief for the AA Tulsa Oilers, winning 10 games with a 1.80 ERA. That ended up being his last season in professional ball.

He returned to the Chicago suburbs and pitched for the semipro Arlington Heights Redwings in 1955. He was also a pretty competitive amateur golfer and bowler. Professionally, he joined Prudential Insurance Co. and spent 30 years with the company, retiring in 1984.

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