Sports

Former East St. Louis pitcher, who Giants wanted instead of Bob Gibson, dies at 79

Don Choate, a 1956 graduate of East St. Louis, was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals and pitched a season with the San Francisco Giants.
Don Choate, a 1956 graduate of East St. Louis, was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals and pitched a season with the San Francisco Giants. Photo provided

Former East St. Louis High School star pitcher Don Choate, a right-hander who was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals and pitched one season with the San Francisco Giants, died Sunday in Fairview Heights after a battle with cancer.

Choate, who graduated from East Side in 1956, was 79.

One of Choate’s teammates with the Flyers was another pitcher, Tom McGraw.

“He was similar to (Bob) Gibson,” said McGraw, 79, who lives in Springfield, Mo. “He was no one to mess with. He was a hard-nosed competitor. He was a great friend.”

Don Choate
Don Choate Baseball Reference photo

Choate, who was born in Potosi, Mo., helped East St. Louis finish 22-1 in his senior year, posting a 0.33 ERA for coach Louis “Pick” Dehner. The Cardinals signed him after the season ended, but traded him to the Giants with pitcher Sam Jones for third baseman/outfielder Ray Jablonski and first baseman Bill White on March 25, 1959. White became a five-time All-Star in St. Louis and, later, president of the National League.

McGraw said the Cardinals wanted to trade Gibson instead of Choate, but the Giants instead insisted on Choate. Thus, Gibson, a Hall of Famer, never was in the same rotation with another Hall of Famer, Juan Marichal, in San Francisco. Gibson (251) and Marichal (243) combined for 494 big-league victories.

Choate reached the major leagues in 1960 and was 0-0 with a 2.25 ERA in four games, all in relief, with the Giants. He pitched just eight innings.

Choate’s career was ended by an arm injury suffered when he was attempting to move a cabinet during spring training 1961. He eventually became a firefighter in East St. Louis. He retired in 1998 after a 27-year career.

McGraw, meanwhile, signed with the Chicago White Sox in 1956, but was out of baseball by 1957.

David Wilhelm: 618-239-2665, @DavidMWilhelm

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