Essegian lived a dream, but someone pinched him
Delivering in the clutch for the Dodgers in the 1959 World Series triggered a curious turn of events for Chuck Essegian.
While his two pinch-hit home runs helped the Dodgers defeat the Chicago White Sox, four games to two, they also might have diminished the marketability of the journeyman outfielder from Fairfax High.
“I’m not sure,” says Essegian, a 75-year-old retired lawyer looking back all these years later, “but I think those home runs probably hurt my career. You know, you kind of get labeled as a certain kind of player. If you’re a pinch-hitter, you’re a pinch-hitter because you’re not good enough to play every day....
“It’s a hard tag to live down.”
Essegian was 28 and a veteran of only 80 major league games in October 1959. He made his major league debut only 18 months earlier.
But four years later the former Stanford linebacker was out of baseball for good, having retired after playing for six teams in six seasons. In 404 major league games, Essegian batted .255 with 47 home runs and 150 runs batted in, including a 21-homer, 50-RBI season with the Cleveland Indians in 1962.
As a lawyer, he started out as a prosecutor in Pasadena, opened a private practice in 1977 and retired 10 years ago. These days, he handles the occasional mediation or arbitration case “just to see if my brain still works.” A father of three and grandfather to five, he lives in Canyon Country with his third wife, Holly.
“For one reason or another, I just never played much in baseball,” says Essegian, who at 5 feet 11 and 200 pounds helped Stanford reach the 1952 Rose Bowl but chose a career in baseball because he believed it promised a longer, more lucrative career. “It just didn’t work out the way I’d hoped it would.”
But he treasures the memories.
How many others can say they played in the Rose Bowl and the World Series? Who else can say his teammates included Dodgers greats such as reliever Larry Sherry, a fellow Fairfax alum and the pitching star of the ’59 Series; Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Gil Hodges, Duke Snider, et al, and Bob Mathias, a two-time Olympic decathlon champion and Stanford fullback?
Only one other person, Bernie Carbo of the 1975 Boston Red Sox, can say he hit two pinch-hit home runs in a World Series.
A Dodger for about six weeks when the World Series opened in Chicago, Essegian was an unlikely October star. Traded from the St. Louis Cardinals on June 15, 1959, he spent two months in the minors before an Aug. 19 recall. In 85 major league at-bats that season, he hit one home run.
But with the Dodgers trailing, 2-1, and two out in the top of the seventh inning of Game 2 at Comiskey Park, Manager Walt Alston sent the powerfully built Essegian to the plate to bat for starting pitcher Johnny Podres. Against Bob Shaw, who was trying to protect the lead and give the White Sox a 2-0 advantage in the series, Essegian launched a 3-and-1 breaking ball halfway up the left-center-field stands, starting a three-run rally that carried the Dodgers to a 4-3 victory.
He pinch-hit again in the ninth inning of Game 6, this time with the Dodgers leading, 8-3, and having nearly completed a remarkable turnaround from a year earlier, when they finished two games out of last place in their inaugural L.A. season.
No pressure, right?
Except that this time Essegian batted for the great Snider, who had hit a two-run home run in the third inning and was destined for the Hall of Fame.
“On my way to the plate,” Essegian recalls, “Duke was walking back to the dugout and he said, ‘Not too many guys have ever pinch-hit for me, let alone in the World Series, so go hit another one.’ ”
Which Essegian did.
While breaking his bat.
“Hey!” third base coach Pee Wee Reese shouted to reporters after the game. “How about that bunch of muscles called Essegian? He broke his bat on that homer today, you know. How about that for power?”
But not everyone applauded the crowning blow.
“I can’t tell you how many letters I got from people all over the world chastising me because I changed their pool scores,” Essegian says, laughing. “They were counting their money, right? I thought, ‘Well, I’ll be darned.’ I got letters from Japan, from Canada, people all over the world, saying, ‘You didn’t have to do that. You had the series won and you cost me $100 in the pool.’ ”
Essegian, batting for Drysdale, hit another pinch homer on opening day in 1960, but in February 1961 his rights were sold to the Baltimore Orioles.
He had played in only 76 regular-season games with the Dodgers, hitting four home runs.
Saul Turteltaub reconnected last week with the father and son he mistakenly fleeced. On Oct. 7 at Dodger Stadium, Turteltaub sold tickets to Jeff Olson, 47, and Matt Olson, 9, of La Canada that neither the seller nor the buyers realized were not good for admission to that day’s playoff game against the New York Mets.
The Olsons made it into the game anyway -- another fan, unaware of their plight, gifted them two tickets -- and declined Turteltaub’s refund offer. Applauding Turteltaub’s effort to find him and the unidentified fan’s generosity, Jeff Olson said, “My unwavering faith in our fellow citizens is validated.”