Pitcher Gene Stechschulte made 116 appearances for the St. Louis Cardinals from 2000 to 2002, all in relief. In fact, he started just once in his entire professional career, which lasted from 1996 through 2002, plus brief stints in the independent Atlantic League in 2004 and 2005. As described by The Sporting News in 2002, the 6-foot-5, 210-pound Stechschulte “frequently uses a sidearm delivery for his out pitch… [and] can throw any of his pitches – fastball, slider, and changeup – from that arm angle.”1
Stechschulte earned six saves in the majors, all in 2001 for manager Tony La Russa. Yet one of Stechschulte’s most memorable moments came with the bat, as he homered on the first pitch that he faced in “The Show.” In six big-league plate appearances overall, he went 2-for-5 with a walk and a 1.000 slugging percentage. Stechschulte had been an infielder in college, which (in unorthodox fashion) was where he developed his sidearm delivery.2
Eugene “Gene” Urban Stechschulte (pronounced stek-SHUL-tee) Jr. was born on August 12, 1973, to Eugene and Mary Jane (née Quinn) Stechschulte in Lima, Ohio. Gene’s father served in the Korean War “as a medic in the 112th Medical Battalion of the 37th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army. While in the service, he played baseball for the Army AAA Flaks in Germany.”3 There was other talent in the family. His older brother, William, had played 13 games in the Class D Ohio State League in 1941 as an outfielder for the Findlay Browns.4
The elder Eugene was a farmer, and he “worked for Scot Lad Foods in Lima… for 34 years before retiring.”5 He and Mary Jane had seven children, of whom Gene was the youngest (Lynn, Dave, Mark, Lori, Michele, and Leslie preceded him).6
By the time Gene reached Kalida High School, the Wildcats had not won the Putnam County League (PCL) baseball championship since 1975, but Stechschulte led them to a league title during his 1991 junior season. As a pitcher, he compiled a 7-1 record, including a no-hitter with 16 strikeouts (he had two 16-strikeout outings that season). He was also a force with the bat, producing a .482 batting average with 40 RBIs. He added 24 stolen bases; deservedly, he was a first-team PCL selection.7
Stechschulte had strong statistics again as a senior, earning first-team all-league honors and helping Kalida to another league title, yet no colleges showed much interest in him as a ballplayer.8
He decided to attend Ashland University in central Ohio. As had been the case in high school, his junior year foreshadowed his future success – but not as a pitcher. Rather, as a shortstop, Stechschulte hit .391 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs in 58 games in 1995. Six triples helped fuel his .745 slugging percentage. He was named to the all-region first team while also being honored as American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Regional Player of the Year. Furthermore, he was an Academic First Team All-American.9 To top it off, Stechschulte was named the ABCA/Rawlings D-II First Team All-American shortstop. He later joined Brett Tomko as the only two Division II players recognized on that team to make it to the majors.10 The Ashland Eagles advanced to the Division II College World Series. That summer in Cali, Colombia, Stechschulte helped the United States win the bronze medal at the first (and only) edition of the Pacific Ocean Games.11
While Stechschulte had another good year on the field in 1996, he didn’t reproduce his 1995 performance. He continued to shine academically, graduating “first in his class from Ashland’s school of business and economics with summa cum laude honors,” but there wasn’t much evidence that he was on his way to a major-league career.12 Ashland University was not a professional baseball hotbed, having produced only former White Sox and Cubs pitcher Ken Kravec to that point.
His first professional stop was with the New Jersey Cardinals of the short-season Single-A New York-Pennsylvania League, where he was used exclusively as a pitcher. Stechschulte became the only hurler from that team to make the majors. In 20 games (including his lone professional start), he finished with a 1-2 record and a 3.27 ERA in 33 innings. He didn’t allow any homers, but his 1.727 WHIP was high.
Back with New Jersey in 1997, Stechschulte finished second on the team with 30 pitching appearances. He earned his first professional save while going 1-1 with a 3.22 ERA in 36 1/3 innings and lowering his WHIP slightly to 1.679.
Stechschulte later noted that he faced adversity in his early years as a pro because coaches didn’t spend much time with him. On his own, without much support, he needed to work harder than his teammates.15
In 1998 Stechschulte moved up to the full-season Peoria Chiefs, where he saved a Class A Midwest League-leading 33 games with a 2.59 ERA and captured the Best Relief Pitcher Award.16 He advanced to the Double-A Texas League in 1999, where his success with the Arkansas Travelers earned him a brief promotion to St. Louis’ top farm club, the Memphis Redbirds of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, in July. After just two appearances he was returned to Arkansas and placed on the disabled list with shoulder tendinitis shortly thereafter. At the time, Stechschulte was leading the Texas League with 19 saves. His injury caused the Cardinals’ proposed trade for right-hander Darryl Kile to fall apart, as Stechschulte and southpaw Darren Oliver were the players the Colorado Rockies expected to receive in exchange.17 (In November, St. Louis obtained Kile in a seven-player deal.)
For Memphis in 2000, Stechschulte finished 38 of his 41 appearances and notched a team-record 26 saves.18 His 4-1 record, tidy 2.45 ERA, and improved control – he lowered his walks from 4.3 per-nine-innings to 3.4 – were all impressive, as was the fact that those numbers were sandwiched between five call ups to the majors.
The first came on April 20, and he made his Cardinals’ debut that evening at Busch Stadium against the San Diego Padres. The situation likely couldn’t have been less stressful. St. Louis led, 14-0, when Stechschulte came out of the bullpen to begin the sixth inning after Cardinals starter Rick Ankiel had thrown 110 pitches. Stechschulte replaced third baseman Fernando Tatís in the sixth spot of the batting order on a double-switch. The first batter he faced, Mike Darr, struck out looking on a 2-2 pitch, but trouble followed. A walk to Wiki González and double by John Roskos put runners at second and third with one out, and Chris Gomez’s groundout delivered a run. After Al Martin grounded out to end the inning, Stechschulte’s first major-league appearance was in the books. The Cardinals cruised to a 14-1 win.
Stechschulte was sent down in early May after three more outings but was recalled again on June 23 to replace the injured Jesse Orosco. That night at Busch Stadium, Stechschulte earned his first big-league win against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He entered in the 11th inning with the Cardinals trailing, 6-5, after Dave Veres had surrendered a leadoff homer to Paul Lo Duca and a double to Alex Cora.19 Stechschulte walked Jim Leyritz, and a passed ball put two runners in scoring position. Following a strikeout and a fielder’s choice, the dangerous Gary Sheffield batted with runners at the corners, but he popped up Stechschulte’s second pitch to end the inning. After St. Louis tied the score in their half of the frame, Stechschulte walked Adrián Beltré in the 12th but escaped unscathed. He earned the “W” on Craig Paquette’s walk-off, three-run homer.
Stechschulte was sent down after appearing in another St. Louis victory the next day. “Tony [La Russa], to me personally, said they wouldn’t have won those games without him,” reported Cardinals farm director Mike Jorgensen. “That automatically increased his value.”20 Stechschulte did not see action when the Cardinals called him up briefly in July. He came back to the majors in August but was shuttled to Memphis once more near the end of the month; thus, he was not eligible for the postseason (St. Louis reached the NL Championship Series). “We’ve never sent him down because he didn’t pitch well,” explained Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan. “They were all roster situations and he knows that.”21 Stechschulte returned yet again when rosters expanded in September and spent the rest of the season with St. Louis. He finished his rookie year with a 1-0 record and 6.31 ERA in 20 games in the majors.
As The Sporting News analyzed the Cardinals’ pitching that winter, the publication identified Stechschulte as “the top reliever in the Pacific Coast League” and projected him to play an important role out of the bullpen in 2001.22 Indeed, the 27-year-old made the Opening Day roster, and he went on to appear in 67 games that season, tied for third on the staff.
In the 26th game of his career – on April 17 at Busch Stadium – Stechschulte entered as a pinch-hitter instead of a pitcher for the first time. He batted for fellow hurler Mike James with the Cardinals trailing the Diamondbacks, 15-1, and rookie Albert Pujols on first base. The first major-league pitch Stechschulte saw was a thigh-high outside fastball from Armando Reynoso. Extending his arms like his slugging teammate Mark McGwire, Stechschulte promptly drove it over the left-center field fence to become the 11th NL pitcher to go deep in his first major-league at-bat.23 No pitcher before him had pinch-hit a homer on the first pitch he faced in his career.24
After the game, Stechschulte said the home run didn’t “make too much sense,” while adding that that “most of the guys back home still think of me as a hitter and not a pitcher… so they’re probably more surprised that I’m pitching.”25 When Stechschulte pinch-hit again nine days later, he drew a walk. During a pitching appearance against the Pirates on May 10, he delivered a run-scoring single. He finished the season with a .667 (2-for-3) batting average.
Stechschulte registered his first big-league save on April 25 against Montreal. He entered the game in the seventh and, after a baserunner reached second with two outs, maintained the Cardinals’ 5-2 lead. After a leadoff single, a double play got him out of the eighth, and a walk was his only blemish in the ninth inning.
June 13 was an especially bad night for Stechschulte and some of his teammates. On the field, he did well, throwing 1 2/3 hitless innings in relief of Matt Morris, but the game ended with a 4-1 loss to the Royals in Kansas City. Things went from bad to worse when Stechschulte and eight other players returned to the Fairmont Hotel and discovered that their rooms had been broken into and approximately $10,000 worth of property had been stolen.26
Entering play on September 8, the Cardinals were six and a half games behind in the NL Central, in third place behind the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs, but St. Louis soared into a share of the division lead with a 15-2 stretch around six postponements due to the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. Stechschulte saved three of the victories, and Duncan remarked, “The more he pitches, the more consistent he becomes. The more reliable he is, the more confidence you have in him to put him in significant situations.”27
“I’m still learning how to pitch,” said Stechschulte. “I’ve got a long way to go in order to be a full-time closer. My first three years, I didn’t throw a sinker or a slider. Now that’s all I throw.”28
When the Astros arrived at Busch Stadium on October 5 to begin the season-ending three-game series, the Cardinals led the NL Central by one game and needed two victories at home to secure the division. Unfortunately, St. Louis lost the opener, 2-1, with Stechschulte taking the loss. He walked Craig Biggio to start the ninth inning, and Lance Berkman’s two-out double drove home the decisive run. The teams finished with identical 93-69 records, but the Cardinals were relegated to the wild card status by the tie-breaker formula.
The Cardinals faced the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL Division Series. In Game One, with St. Louis trailing, 1-0, Stechschulte relieved Morris in the bottom of the eighth inning. After he surrendered two hits and recorded one out, Veres replaced him and stranded the runners, but Arizona prevailed on Curt Schilling’s complete game shutout.
Stechschulte threw only one more pitch in the series. It came in the top of the ninth in Game Three on October 12. With the Cardinals trailing, 5-3, he faced Reggie Sanders, who singled to left field leading off the inning. Steve Kline then replaced Stechschulte. The Cardinals fell in five games to the eventual World Series champions.
Stechschulte finished the season with six saves and a 1-5 (3.86 ERA) record over 70 innings in 67 games. La Russa clearly had confidence in him because he entered a game with runners on base 25 times, second only to Kline’s 40 such appearances. Stechschulte led the team’s relievers by pitching multiple innings 25 times.
After using a “closer by committee” approach in 2001, the Cardinals signed Jason Isringhausen to be their full-time stopper in 2002, which limited save opportunities for Stechschulte and the other relievers.29
For the second consecutive year, Stechschulte made the Cardinals out of spring training. By May 27, he had a 6-1 record and 3.52 ERA in his first 19 appearances. The team was 13-6 in games in which he had appeared. He was credited with four holds, and opponents were hitting only .225 against him. When some questioned whether the Cardinals’ bullpen was being overworked as starters Morris, Kile and Woody Williams returned to health, Stechschulte said, “Then, we’ll sit out there and be bored for seven, eight innings… We might as well take our innings now.”30
In Stechschulte’s 10 outings from May 31 through June 30, opponents batted .257 against him. One game in that stretch soon proved notable for a tragic reason. Stechschulte retired the only batter he faced to help secure a 7-2 win over the visiting Anaheim Angels on June 18, but the pitcher he replaced – the 33-year-old Kile – died from a heart attack four days later in Chicago.
On June 27, Stechschulte pitched a clean top of the 10th inning against the Brewers, but he walked three consecutive batters in the 11th when Milwaukee scored five times to win, 7-2. That performance led La Russa to say, “This is the big leagues… You can’t go out there and walk three guys.”31
Three days later, Stechschulte allowed a homer to the first batter he faced. He had allowed six hits, four walks and six runs (five earned) over three innings in what proved to be his final four major-league appearances. Before Stechschulte was optioned to Memphis on Monday, July 1, La Russa said, “It’s hard for me, and I told him too, to think about our ballclub in the second half without him being a part of it.”32
In 10 games with Memphis, Stechschulte compiled a 1.80 ERA and five saves. Unfortunately, his final appearance of the season and in affiliated baseball took place on July 17.33 He was shut down for the remainder of the year with shoulder and elbow problems but did not require offseason surgery.34
In early February 2003, Stechschulte signed a one-year contract with St. Louis.35 Later that month, though, he “felt some shoulder stiffness… [and had to be] held back from regularly scheduled [spring training] drills.”36 By early March, he was diagnosed with a torn labrum, which the Cardinals expected to keep him out of action for at least three months.37 He underwent surgery on March 28, and “no significant rotator [cuff] damage was found.”38
Stechschulte began the season on the 60-day disabled list and ultimately never took the field.39 The Cardinals did not offer him a contract for 2004.40 In three major-league seasons, he finished with an 8-7 (4.58 ERA) record and six saves in 116 games, logging 127 2/3 innings pitched – and his one memorable home run.
In 2004, Stechschulte returned to New Jersey, where he had started his professional career, and signed with the Somerset Patriots of the independent Atlantic League. Under manager Sparky Lyle, a former Cy Young Award winner, he worked 2 2/3 innings in three appearances. Stechschulte returned to Somerset in August 2005 and pitched four innings in four games (finishing three), with a 2.25 ERA and no decisions. They were the final outings of his professional career.
Stechschulte joined the coaching ranks after his retirement, managing the Ottawa (Ohio) American Legion Post 63 and Lima Locos of the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League. In 2012, he became the head coach at Ohio Northern University, a Division III program based in Ada.41 He remained in that position as of 2022.
A 2019 feature on the Findlay Living website noted, “Stechschulte has coached over 40 players who have gone on to play baseball professionally. He takes his role as a mentor seriously, both with his team and with youth in the surrounding area who attend camps at ONU… He holds his team to a ‘standard of excellence,’ meaning that they are expected to exhibit hard work and dedication in everything they do. This holds true in the classroom as well.”42
In 2016, Stechschulte was inducted into the Great Lakes Valley Conference Hall of Fame for his exploits at Ashland University.43
Stechschulte and his wife Krista (Wilpert) have three children: Andrew, Katelyn, and Ava.44
Findlay Living noted, “For Stechschulte, baseball has opened doors in his life. ‘What was once just a hobby turned into a very focal part of everything I have done in my adult life. I’ve gotten more from the game than I had ever dreamed about.’”45
Last revised: November 6, 2022
This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and Malcolm Allen and fact-checked by James Forr.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com.
1 Kyle Veltrop, “St. Louis Cardinals,” The Sporting News, May 13, 2002: 42.
2 Veltrop, “St. Louis Cardinals.”
3 “Eugene U. Stechschulte,” Love-Heitmeyer Funeral Home, https://www.lovefuneralhome.com/obituary/Eugene-Stechschulte (accessed October 10, 2021).
4 Obituary of an aunt, “Mary Kreinbrink (Stechschulte) Ellerbrock,” Love-Heitmeyer Funeral Home, September 2, 2018, https://www.lovefuneralhome.com/obituary/Mary-Kreinbrink-Ellerbrock (accessed August 20, 2022). See also the Sporting News contract card for William Stechschulte: https://digital.la84.org/digital/collection/p17103coll3/id/141437/rec/1 (accessed August 21, 2022).
5 “Eugene U. Stechschulte.”
6 “Eugene U. Stechschulte.”
7 KHS Baseball Records, http://kalidaschools.org/Athletics/baseball/records.html (accessed October 24, 2021).
8 Anita Doseck, “Getting to Know Coach Gene Stechschulte,” Findlay Area Living, May 31, 2019, https://findlayliving.com/feature/profile/getting-to-know-coach-gene-stechschulte/ (accessed October 24, 2021).
9 “Baseball Record Book,” Ashland University Eagles Baseball: 20, 21, 23, 28, 29. https://goashlandeagles.com/documents/2020/4/22/Record_Book_through_2018.pdf (accessed October 24, 2021).
10 “1995 ABCA/Rawlings NCAA Div. II All-America Teams,” American Baseball Coaches Association, https://www.abca.org/ABCA/Awards/All-Americans/NCAA_Division_II/1995.aspx (accessed October 24, 2021).
11 Gene Stechschulte, Howe Sports Data publicity questionnaire, August 30, 1996.
12 retrosimba, “Gene Stechschulte: Pitcher with pinch-hit power,” RetroSimba, https://retrosimba.com/2021/04/16/gene-stechschulte-pitcher-with-pinch-hit-power/ (accessed May 26, 2022).
13 “1996 Baseball Draft,” Baseball Almanac, https://www.baseball-almanac.com/draft/baseball-draft.php?yr=1996 (accessed November 14, 2021).
14 “Gene Stechschulte,” Retrosheet, https://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/S/Pstecg001.htm (accessed November 14, 2021).
15 Doseck, “Getting to Know Coach Gene Stechschulte.”
16 Tim Glon, “Former Major League pitcher Gene Stechschulte named head baseball coach at Ohio Northern,” Ada (Ohio) Herald Media, June 1, 2001, https://adaherald.com/Content/Social/Social/Article/Former-Major-League-pitcher-Gene-Stechschulte-named-head-baseball-coach-at-Ohio-Northern/-2/-2/105903, (accessed May 1, 2022).
17 Mike Klis, “Double-A Reliver Broke Up a Kile-Oliver Trade,” Denver Post, August 6, 1999: D6
18 Marlon W. Morgan, “Youngsters Sparked ‘Birds,” Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee), August 24, 2000: D1.
19 “McGwire moves past Schmidt on career HR list,” Santa Cruz Sentinel, June 24, 2000: 37.
20 Marlon W. Morgan, “’Bird Closer Having Banner Year,” Commercial Appeal, July 12, 2000: D1
21 Rick Hummel, “Stechschulte is Getting Used to Quick Moves,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 14, 2000: B5.
22 Rick Hummel, “St. Louis,” The Sporting News, January 15, 2001: 70.
23 “First At-bat Homers by Pitchers,” Herald (Jasper, Indiana), August 20, 2015: 35.
24 Jayson Stark, “Ready for a double-dip? Sure, let’s do it,” ESPN Baseball Week in Review with Jayson Stark, April 20, 2001, https://www.espn.com/mlb/columns/stark_jayson/1176351.html (accessed August 20, 2022).
25 Stark, “Ready for a double-dip? Sure, let’s do it.”
26 “Cardinals’ hotel rooms burglarized,” Indiana (Pennsylvania) Gazette, June 15, 2001: 15.
27 Rick Hummel, “Cardinals Make Do Without a Conventional Closer,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 2, 2001, E1.
28 Hummel, “Cardinals Make Do Without a Conventional Closer.”
29 “Isringhausen will close for St. Louis,” Index-Journal (Greenwood, South Carolina), February 24, 2002: 2B
30 Matt Crossman, “Spring Flings,” The Sporting News, May 13, 2002: 24.
31 “Dodgers finish sweep of Rockies,” Hays (KA) Daily News, Friday, June 28, 2002: B3.
32 “Former Ashland University baseball play Stechschulte inducted into GLVC Hall of Fame,” Times-Gazette, https://www.times-gazette.com/story/sports/2016/02/09/former-ashland-university-baseball-player/19077845007/ (accessed May 26, 2022).
33 “Gene Stechschulte,” Stats Crew, https://www.statscrew.com/minorbaseball/stats/p-8db255a0 (accessed May 1, 2022).
34 “St. Louis Cardinals,” The Sporting News, December 2, 2002: 63.
35 “Major sports roundup,” Ukiah (California) Daily Journal, February 9, 2003: A-8.
36 “Injuries plague Cardinals,” Ukiah Daily Journal, February 24, 2003: 7.
37 “St. Louis Cardinals,” The Sporting News, March 10, 2003: 56.
38 “Gene Stechschulte,” NBC Sports Edge, https://www.nbcsportsedge.com/baseball/mlb/player/16938/gene-stechschulte?category=news (accessed May 1, 2022).
39 “Team-by-Team Disabled List,” Indiana Gazette, April 13, 2003: C-7.
40 “Garcia waits on Seattle,” Indiana Gazette, December 21, 2003: C-5.
41 “Gene Stechschulte,” Ohio Northern University Polar Bears, https://www.onusports.com/sports/bsb/coaches/stechschulte?view=bio (accessed May 26, 2022).
42 Doseck, “Getting to Know Coach Gene Stechschulte.”
43 “Former Ashland University baseball play Stechschulte inducted into GLVC Hall of Fame.”
44 “Gene Stechschulte,” Ohio Northern University Polar Bears.
45 Doseck, “Getting to Know Coach Gene Stechschulte.”