Dick Bokelmann, among the suburbs' first major leaguers, dies at 93

  • Dick Bokelmann's 1953 Topps baseball card. Bokelmann, an Arlington Heights native, pitched in 34 games over three seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals.

    Dick Bokelmann's 1953 Topps baseball card. Bokelmann, an Arlington Heights native, pitched in 34 games over three seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals. Courtesy of Cheryl Bokelmann

  • Richard "Dick" Bokelmann was among the first Northwest suburban natives to make in the major league baseball. The lifelong Arlington Heights resident died Dec. 27 at 93 years old.

    Richard "Dick" Bokelmann was among the first Northwest suburban natives to make in the major league baseball. The lifelong Arlington Heights resident died Dec. 27 at 93 years old. Courtesy of Cheryl Bokelmann

 
By Eileen O. Daday
Daily Herald correspondent
Updated 1/8/2020 2:41 PM

Richard "Dick" Bokelmann drew attention for his professional baseball career throughout his entire life. In fact, just three days before he died, he was asked to sign one of his baseball cards for a star-struck fan.

Bokelmann, who pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1951-1953, passed away Dec. 27. The lifelong Arlington Heights resident was 93.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Dick was my boyhood hero growing up in Arlington Heights," says Bob Frisk, former longtime Daily Herald sports editor, who visited Bokelmann often in his final months. "He was the first area graduate in the major leagues.

"We reminisced about his pitching days with the Cardinals and the local semipro Arlington Redwings that played Sunday doubleheaders at Recreation Park," Frisk added. "Dick remembered it like it was yesterday."

Bokelmann was a standout player at Arlington High School and went on to play at Northwestern University, where he participated in ROTC during World War II. One month after graduating in 1947, he signed his first pro contract with the Rochester Red Wings, the Cardinals Triple-A affiliate at the time.

In a memoir he wrote for his family, Bokelmann recalled receiving a signing bonus of $500 and earning $250 a month while in the minors. When he was called up by the Cardinals on Aug. 1, 1951, Bokelmann drew an annual salary of $5,000.

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"It was a memorable moment for me to put on a Major League uniform for the first time," he wrote, "and even more memorable when I relieved Harry Brecheen that same night in the eighth inning against the Giants.

"We were leading by two runs with a man on third, one out and I retired five batters in a row to save the game," he added. "That was quite a thrill."

During his three years with the Cardinals, Bokelmann made 34 appearances, mostly as a relief pitcher. He posted a 4.90 ERA in 68 innings pitched, with 27 strikeouts.

What he remembered most about his time in the majors were his teammates, such as Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst and Enos Slaughter -- and playing against opponents including Jackie Robinson, Ralph Kiner and Willie Mays, to name just a few.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"There were so few teams back then (16 in the major leagues) and so many players," said his daughter, Cheryl Bokelmann of Arlington Heights. "He always felt very blessed to have been able to play."

Bokelmann walked away from professional baseball in 1954, finishing his career with a 10-4 record that season with the Double-A Tulsa Oilers. Already married and with a daughter starting school, he felt compelled to go to work and went on to carve out a career with Prudential Insurance, retiring after 30 years.

In retirement, Bokelmann volunteered at St. Peter Lutheran Church in Arlington Heights, while also tutoring adults to read and playing golf regularly. His daughter recalls that he was a scratch golfer, and could still shoot his age into his 90s.

"Throughout his life, requests for his autograph would come in," Cheryl Bokelmann added. "He never liked to boast about his career, but he was proud of what he accomplished."

Bokelmann was preceded in death by his wife, Dodie. Besides his daughter, he is survived by a son James (Deborah) Bokelmann, as well as two grandchildren and two great granddaughters.

Visitation will take place at 9:30 a.m. before an 11 a.m. memorial service, both on Friday, at St. Peter Lutheran Church,111 W. Olive St. in Arlington Heights.

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