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Whitehall History: Ebba St. Claire

Ebba St. Claire
Ebba St. Claire

Edward "Ebba" Joseph St. Claire, Jr. was born in Whitehall on August 5, 1921. Ebba was a stand-out athlete in high school; he played football, track, and baseball. He was a switch-hitter and excelled as a pitcher, with one no-hitter and only four losses in four years. In addition, Ebba played Legion baseball and his team won the New York State championship.  As state champs, the team earned the right to play at the dedication of the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown in June, 1939.

The year before he graduated from high school, the Pittsburgh Pirates came calling, awarding Ebba a $3000 bonus in return for his promise to sign with them in the future. After graduation, Ebba headed to Colgate University. There he played football under coach Andy Kerr and baseball under Eppie Barnes, who had Ebba dabble as an outfielder and a catcher in addition to pitching.

Ebba graduated with a BA degree in 1942 and the Pirates placed him in the outfield with their farm team in Albany, NY (Class A, Eastern League) where he batted .317. However, he remained there for only a month before volunteering for the Army. He served 18 months with the ski troopers during World War II. Following this, Ebba took a physical education director position with the Ausable Forks, NY school district, where he also coached basketball and baseball.

Ebba returned to baseball in 1945, this time with the PONY League (Class D, Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York League) at Hornell, NY (also a Pittsburgh Pirates farm team). It was there that Ebba once again took on the position of catcher. The regular catcher became ill and another had been thrown out of a game by the umpire, so Ebba stepped in. He liked it so much that he remained there, and he brought to the position his ability to throw a bullet to second base and his 6' 1", 219-pound frame to block home plate. In addition, his .347 batting average earned him a trip back to Albany the next year. There he hit .315 as a switch-hitter.

Ebba retired from professional baseball to manage the Rutland Royals (semi-pro Northern League), where he also played catcher and first base, in 1947. In 1948, he returned to the minor leagues with another Pittsburgh Pirates farm team, the New Orleans Pelicans (Class AA, Southern Association), where he batted .275. However, Ebba decided to leave baseball once again to play in Canada with Sherbrooke in 1949.

The following year, Ebba went back to the Class AA Southern Association, this time with the Atlanta Crackers, a farm team for the Boston Braves. Manager Dixie Walker motivated Ebba, who admitted to having reported overweight and not really having any incentive to play ball. Walker provided the spark, and Ebba hit .280, with 9 home runs and 107 RBIs.

The following fall, Ebba, 29, was purchased by the Boston Braves as their No. 2 catcher behind Walker Cooper. Ebba stayed with the Braves for three seasons, the last of which the team had moved to Milwaukee. The best of the three was his first, in which he hit .282 with 1 home run and 25 RBIs.

In 1954, Ebba was traded, along with pitchers Johnny Antonelli and Don Liddle, rookie Billy Klaus, and an undisclosed amount of cash, to the New York Giants for outfielder Bobby Thomson and second-string catcher Sam Calderone. Ebba had 42 at bats that season, with two home runs and a .262 average before being farmed out to the Minneapolis Millers (Class AAA, American Association) on a 24-hour recall basis.

The Braves had thought the trade of Ebba, etc. for Bobby Thomson and Sam Calderone was an even swap and would help them in the 1954 pennant race. Ironically, and partly due to Thomson's breaking his ankle in spring training, it was the Giants who went to the World Series and won the pennant that year.

After the Series, Ebba was sold outright to the Giants farm team, the Minneapolis Millers. He was later released from his contract and never played professional baseball again. He returned to Whitehall where he spent the rest of his days until his death in August, 1982.

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