Donald R “Don” Bollweg was born on February 12, 1921 in Wheaton, Illinois. The first baseman was signed by the St Louis Cardinals in 1942 and played with the Washington Red Birds of the Class D Penn State Association his rookie year. In 112 games, he batted .295 with a league-leading 25 home runs and second-best 105 RBIs.
In 1942, Bollweg entered military service with the Army and was stationed at Camp Beale, California, where he regularly played baseball. In 1944, he was assigned to the Army Air Force at Sioux Falls Army Airfield in South Dakota, where – together with Monty Basgall – he played baseball with the Sioux Falls Marauders for former major leaguer Art Bramhall.
The Marauders were a powerhouse team and on July 14, 1945, Joseph “Roundy” Coughlin wrote the following tribute in the Wisconsin State Journal to Corporal Bollweg’s diamond skills: “Don Bollweg at first is the slickest thing ever to step on first base around here in years. Don is a great fielder, a fancy dan out there, can reach out and cut runners off by inches with his reach and smoothness. He belongs to the St Louis Cards … he can rap that ball, when he hits that apple it sings brother where to go from here. And he is a long ball hitter, in the Cards park they would call him two bagger Don.”
Bollweg returned to the Cardinals’ organization in 1946 and played for the Columbus Cardinals of the South Atlantic League where he batted a disappointing .222. In 1947, the 26-year-old returned to form and was a South Atlantic League all-star selection for Columbus, batting .293 with 18 home runs and 115 RBIs. He played for the Houston Buffaloes of the Texas League in 1948 and 1949, advancing to the Rochester Red Wings of the International League in 1950. After hitting .313 during the regular season with the Red Wings, Bollweg was called up by the Cardinals and made his major league debut on September 28, 1950.
Bollweg opened the 1951 season with the Cardinals but after nine games he was traded to the New York Yankees and spent the rest of the season with the Kansas City Blues of the American Association where he batted .303 with 20 home runs. Still with Kansas City in 1952, Bollweg continued to demonstrate his power clouting 23 home runs for a .325 average and had a 27-game hitting streak, earning him MVP honors. He joined the Yankees for 1953 and in 70 games, he batted .297 for the season, but at the all star break he had been leading the American league with a .375 batting average. For some reason, Casey Stengel pulled him out of the regular line-up, and he was used mostly as a pinch hitter the rest of the year. He did, however, appear in three World Series games against Brooklyn and went hitless in two at-bats. After being called out on strikes on one of those at-bats, Dodgers' catcher, Roy Campenella, came over to the Yankee dugout to tell Don that the umpire's call on his strikeout was the worst call he'd ever seen.
Bollweg was traded to the Philadelphia Athletics for the 1954 season and played 103 games but his average dropped to .224. He stayed with the Athletics when they moved to Kansas City the following season but played only 12 games before returning to the American Association for the rest of the year. Bollweg ended his playing career after the 1956 season and went into the real estate business, then later sold insurance. In the 1960s, he made promotional appearances for Wheaton, Illinois, developer Jay Stream. From 1981 he worked for the DuPage County Board of Elections.
In 1993, Don Bollweg suffered a disabling stroke that left him unable to speak. He and his wife of 27 years, Blanche, quickly went through their life savings because of medical bills and the Baseball Assistance Team (BAT), an organization that provides financial help to former players in need, stepped up to help.
Don Bollweg passed away on May 26, 1996 at the DuPage County Convalescent Center in Wheaton, Illinois. He was 74.
Thanks to Don's brother, Bob Bollweg, for help with this biography.