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Emil Bildilli (Hill Billy)

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Emil Bildilli was born, appropriately enough, in the western Indiana town of Diamond, near Terre Haute. He attended Clinton High School and played sandlot and semi-professional baseball before signing his first professional contract.

In 1937 the left-handed curveball specialist started his professional career pitching for the Terre Haute Tots of the Class B Three I League where he came up with a 7 won, 7 lost record, pitching 92 innings while allowing only 45 earned runs. He also was with the Johnstown Johnnies of the Class C Middle Atlantic League where he finished with a 5 win 4 loss record and a 4.97 ERA in 45 innings.

His contract was then purchased by the St. Louis Browns of The American League in August. His big league debut came Aug. 23 at Sportsman's Park in St. Louis, when he started against the Washington Senators. The Senator team drove Bildilli from the mound in a five-run fourth inning, en route to a 9-6 win. The loss was Bildilli's lone decision in four starts for the 1937 Browns.

With the Springfield Browns, In 1938, Bildilli's 185 strikeouts led the Three-I League. He posted a 3.07 earned run average to go with an 18-4 record, tying Floyd Giebell of the Evansville Bees for the most wins in the circuit. Bildilli briefly rejoined St. Louis in '38 and posted a 1-2 record in five games.

Bildilli spent most of the 1939 season with the San Antonio Missions in the Texas League, compiling a 22-9 record, pitching 287 innings and building a 3.20 ERA. Back with the Browns for the tail end of the campaign, he pitched two complete games for St. Louis and was 1-1 with a 3.32 ERA.

In 1940, Bildilli began the season with the Browns. On April 30 at Yankee Stadium, St. Louis manager, Fred Haney started Bildilli after Lefty Mills, the scheduled starter, came down with the flu and couldn't pitch. Emil allowed the The Yankees only two base hits and retired the last 19 batters he faced. Later that season the Detroit Tigers offered St. Louis $200,000 for Bildilli, third baseman Harlond Clift and first baseman George McQuinn. The Browns nixed the deal, and Bildilli went on to post a 2-4 record in 28 games as a reliever and spot starter.

After two appearances and an 0-0 record in 1941, the Browns dispatched Bildilli to the Toledo Mud Hens of the American Association. Bildilli, who won five and lost nine for the Mud Hens, quit baseball after the season and moved from Terre Haute to Muncie, where he joined the Muncie Fire Department in October 1941.

Bildilli returned to the semipro ranks as a member of the Muncie Citizens Baseball Club for the 1942, '43 seasons.The Citizens folded due to WW II and he joined the Fort Wayne Electrics club for the 1944, '45, and '46 seasons.

While with the Fort Wayne team, Bildilli pitched and won exhibition games for the Electric semipro squad against the Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies, the Homestead Grays of the Negro League, and the famed House of David club.

On Saturday, Sept. 14, 1946 Bildilli was scheduled to pitch a night game against an all-star team at Fort Wayne's Dwenger Park. .

Bildilli got the win in Fort Wayne's 9-3 victory over the all-star squad. Afterwards, he visited friends in the Fort Wayne area. Early on Sunday, Sept. 15, Bildilli was heading south on State Road 3, some five miles north of Hartford City, Ind., when he apparently fell asleep at the wheel. Bildilli's auto veered off the road, sideswiped a tree and plowed through a fence.

They found Bildilli unconscious, but still alive. He had suffered multiple injuries, including severe head lacerations and a fractured skull. Bildilli was taken to Blackford County Hospital in Hartford City, where doctors didn't expect him to survive the night. He died on his birthday date, September 16.

The day of Bildilli's funeral, all offices in the Muncie City building were closed.

In 1981, with his family attending the ceremony, Emil Bildilli was inducted into the Delaware County Hall of Fame in Muncie, IN.


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SABR Data base
Baseball-Reference.com
Delaware County Hall of Fame
Image: Courtesy Frank Russo, Author




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