Obituary: Fred Marolewski (1928-2023)

RIP to Fred Marolewski, who played in one inning of one game for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1953. The first baseman and outfielder also played for 8 seasons in the minor leagues. Marolewski died on February 28 at the Northwestern Medicine Palos Hospital in Palos Heights, Ill. He was 94 years old.

Frederick Daniel Marolewski was born on October 6, 1928, in Chicago. His father, Steve, was a Polish immigrant who operated a crane at Carnegie-Illinois Steel Corp. Fred, frequently called “Fritz,” was one of five children of Steve and his wife, Eugenia. Fred was a good basketball player at James Harvey Bowen High School in Chicago. He didn’t play baseball until his senior year, but he hit over .400 in that year. He graduated in 1946, but instead of getting signed to a contract by a pro baseball team, he spent a couple of years playing amateur ball for a Ban Johnson League team in Beloit, Kan. The young first baseman eventually attracted the attention of the St. Louis Cardinals, who signed him in 1948 and assigned him to Albany (Ga.) of the Class-D Georgia-Florida League.

Fred Marolewski was a good basketball player and played during the offseasons in Calumet. Source: The Daily Calumet, February 19, 1949.

Marolewski showed off his hitting skills pretty quickly. He batted .271 and drove in 89 runs for Class-D Albany in 1948, and he hit a combined 11 home runs while playing for Omaha and St. Joseph in 1949. During the winters, he could come back home and play for basketball teams in the Calumet area. Then during each baseball season, he would advance a little further, with the end goal of becoming the Cardinals’ first baseman. Marolewski made great strides in 1950 when he spent most of the year at Class-B Allentown and slammed 24 home runs, leading the Interstate League. His progression was halted by the U.S. military, as Marolewski was inducted into the Army and spent two years out of pro ball. He still played for the Fort Devens (Mass.) Hornets baseball team and hit well over .400 for the team in 1951.

Marolewski returned to pro ball following his discharge and spent most of 1953 with the Double-A Houston Buffaloes of the Texas League. He had a hard time adjusting to a higher level of pitching, as his .253 batting average would indicate, but he homered 23 times and had a .331 on-base percentage. When the Texas League season ended, the Cardinals promoted Marolewski to the majors. The ’53 Cardinals were an also-ran team, comfortably above the .500 mark but hopelessly behind the dominant Brooklyn Dodgers in the standings. Their starting first baseman was Steve Bilko, a hulking first baseman who hit more than 300 home runs in an extensive minor-league career but had just a couple of full seasons in the major leagues. Marolewski made it into just one game, and it was on September 19, 1953 against the Chicago Cubs in Busch Stadium.

Bilko was given the start that game and struck out in his two official at-bats, and he also walked 3 times. Each team scored 2 runs in a pitcher’s duel between Chicago’s Bob Rush and Vinegar Bend Mizell of St. Louis. The game was still knotted at 2 in the 11th inning when Bilko drew a leadoff walk. He was replaced by pinch-runner Dick Schofield, who reached third base but was stranded as the Cardinals were retired. Marolewski entered the game at first base in the top of the 12th inning. The Cubs exploded for 3 runs, with Ralph Kiner’s bases-loaded double scoring the go-ahead 2 runs. Neither the contemporary game recaps nor the Retrosheet box score describe all the Cub outs in the inning, so it’s hard to tell if Marolewski saw any action at first base. The Cubs’ Eddie Miksis and Dee Fondy both reached on bunt base hits, but there’s no way to know if they were taking advantage of the rookie first baseman or not. In the St. Louis half of the inning, a couple of batters reached base, but the game ended when Cubs reliever Johnny Klippstein struck out Ray Jablonski. Marolewski was standing in the on-deck circle when the game ended. It was as close as he ever got to having a major-league at-bat.

In 2017, Marolewski was interviewed by about being a modern-day Moonlight Graham — a player who reached the majors but never batted in his only game. He recalled being awed at Busch Stadium. “I’d been in big parks, but never in a major league park,” Marolewski said. “I turned around and said, ‘Oh, my God. What a place.'”

Source: St. Louis Globe-Democrat, April 4, 1954.

The Cardinals brought Marolewski to spring training in 1954 as one of a group of players set to challenge Bilko for the first base job. The role ended up being split between Tom Alston and Joe Cunningham during the season, and Marolewski was sent back to Houston. He again hit with power, to the tune of 23 home runs, but his batting average remained stuck in the .250s. From then on, he was on the move frequently. Houston sent him to Birmingham in 1955, where he played well at first base but didn’t hit, and was shipped to Oklahoma City. “You don’t come across nicer young fellows than the Chicago youngster. We’re going to miss him,” wrote the Birmingham Post-Herald when the news broke.

Marolewski bounced around the Texas League for several more seasons. He was a fine-fielding first baseman and kept showing tremendous power — he homered 31 times for San Antonio and Oklahoma City in 1956 — but he never hit for enough of an average to merit a return trip to the majors. Marolewski finished his career in 1957 with San Antonio and Columbus. In 8 seasons in the minor leagues, he hit 113 home runs and had a .257 batting average.

After quitting baseball, Marolewski took a job at Western-Southern Life Insurance Co. Soon after joining the company, he was offered a tryout in the Texas League, but he decided to stay retired. He remained at the company for 32 years before retiring. He held no particular bitterness for his short stint in the majors. “It happens. You get a chance, and if you’re lucky you get to play. If you’re not lucky, you don’t,” Marolewski told MLB. “Sometimes you’ve got to be in the right place at the right time. That’s it.”

For more information: Forsyth Gould Funeral Home

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