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So long, Augie

June 21, 2013 - John Mehno
Gene Freese died a few days ago in New Orleans at age 79.

If you go way back with the Pirates, you probably remember Freese. He was originally signed by the Pirates and played with them from 1955-58. He was traded to St. Louis in the deal that brought Dick Schofield to the Pirates.

He was with several teams, including the 1961 Reds who won the National League pennant (He hit 26 home runs for them that season). He came back to the Pirates as a part-time player in 1964, and lasted about a season and a half. One of his 115 major league home runs came in the first game I ever saw, Aug. 8, 1964 against the Cubs.

Freese moved on to the White Sox, and finished up with Houston for 21 games in 1966. His career was over at age 32. A broken ankle sustained in 1962 dramatically affected his career.

He was nicknamed "Augie," and that came from an interesting story. The Pirates were playing on the road and the public address announcer had a lineup sheet with only last names listed. In those days, the PA announcer was sometimes at field level. The announcer leaned over to one of the Pirates players and asked what Freese's first name was. The player, seeing that Augie Donatelli was the plate umpire, told the announcer that Freese's first name was Augie. So Augie Freese was announced as the Pirates' third baseman, and that mistake gave him a nickname that lasted the rest of his life.

It never bothered Freese, who was a fun-loving guy. How much so? Take a look at his 1965 baseball card, posted at right here. He's posing as a lefthanded hitter. Freese was righthanded, just having a little fun with the Topps photographer.

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Gene Freese