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Local

Decorated Rock Falls hall of fame athlete dies

Kolb, 79, played seven major league baseball seasons

Gary Kolb (left), Stan Musial and Mike Shannon share a moment on Sept. 29, 1963, as Musial is about to retire. Kolb, 79, a 1958 Rock Falls High grad, died Wednesday in West Virginia. He  played baseball for seven nonconsecutive seasons from 1960 to 1969 for the St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Braves, New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates.
Gary Kolb (left), Stan Musial and Mike Shannon share a moment on Sept. 29, 1963, as Musial is about to retire. Kolb, 79, a 1958 Rock Falls High grad, died Wednesday in West Virginia. He played baseball for seven nonconsecutive seasons from 1960 to 1969 for the St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Braves, New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates.

CROSS LANES, W. Va. – Gary Kolb, a 1958 graduate of Rock Falls High School, charter member of its athletic hall of fame, and professional baseball player for four major league teams in the 1960s, died Wednesday after a long illness. He was 79.

Kolb played baseball for seven nonconsecutive seasons from 1960 to 1969 for the St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Braves, New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates.

He made his major league debut on Sept. 7, 1960 for the Cardinals.

Kolb’s claim to fame came on Sept. 29, 1963 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis; he pinch ran for Stan Musial after the hall-of-famer singled in his final career at-bat.

Nearly 40 years later, Kolb shared memories of that moment with former Daily Gazette Sports Editor Joshua Welge.

"They gave him a standing ovation, and as Stan went by he said, 'They love you, kid.'"

Kolb played baseball, basketball, football and ran track and field for the Rockets. While baseball eventually became his primary sport, he was an NCIC all-conference selection in each sport he played. 

He helped lead the 1957-58 Rockets basketball team to a second-place finish at the IHSA state tournament: He played guard on a team that finished with 33 wins and two losses, the last of which came against Chicago Marshall in the state championship game. The year before, Kolb helped lead a 23-7 Rockets squad to a regional title.

As an all-state running back on the 1957 Rockets, Kolb led the team to its best season in 15 years with an 8-1 record. 

He played baseball and football at the University of Illinois after graduating high school, and signed with the Cardinals after his sophomore season.

In the only year he played college football, Kolb was a left halfback for the Fighting Illini; the 1959 Illinois squad finished 5-3-1, tied for third place in the Big Ten Conference, and peaked at No. 13 in The Associated Press poll. Kolb was a backfield teammate of future Chicago Bears defensive lineman Ed O’Bradovich, who led the Bears to the 1963 NFL title.

On the diamond, Kolb’s 1960 team finished 21-10 and 6-8 in conference play.

Kolb played many positions over the course of his professional career, except pitcher, and finished his career with a batting average of .209, 94 hits, six home runs and 29 RBI. 

His first major league hit came against Paul Toff of the Chicago Cubs in 1962, and his first home run was off of the Braves’ Tony Cloninger the following year.

Kolb never played a full season in the big leagues, but his best season came in 1963, when he played 75 games, finished with a .275 average, hit three home runs and drove in 10 runs. The only other season he played more than 70 games was in 1968 with the Pirates, when he hit two home runs and had six RBIs.

After his Major League days ended in 1969, Kolb played four more seasons in Triple-A ball with the Columbus, Ohio Jets and Charleston, West Virginia Charlies, both Pirates affiliates, before his retirement in 1973. 

While with the Jets and Charlies, Kolb became teammates with several younger players who went on to win the 1979 World Series with the Pirates, such as Bruce Kison, Dave Parker, Ed Ott, Rennie Stennett and Kent Tekulve. He also was teammates with established baseball veterans Gene Garber, Milt May and Richie Zisk.

Along with “Stan The Man,” Kolb was teammates with several hall-of-famers during his career, including Hank Aaron, Jim Bunning, Roberto Clemente, Bob Gibson, Eddie Mathews, Warren Spahn and Willie Stargell.

Together with his accomplishments as a Rock Falls Rocket and professional athlete, Kolb was one of six charter members of the Rock Falls High School Athletic Hall of Fame. Ken Siebel, who graduated from Rock Falls in 1959 and had an accomplished basketball career at the University of Wisconsin, was a teammate of Kolb’s in high school and another charter hall of fame member. The 1957-58 basketball team was inducted in 2002. 

Kolb lived and coached in West Virginia after his retirement as a professional player. He later retired as a supervisor for a construction company, and had lived in Cross Lanes since 1972.

The family legacy carried on, and nearly 30 years after Gary’s career ended, his cousin Dan made it to the major leagues. Dan Kolb played 2 years of baseball at RFHS before transferring to Walnut, where he graduated in 1993. Dan Kolb played nine seasons of major league ball, and was an all-star in 2004.

Kolb was born March 13, 1940 in Rock Falls, one of nine children of Ernest and Josephine (Baker) Kolb. 

He is survived by his wife, Jeani; daughter, Lisa; son, Todd; grandsons Matt, Jordan, Max and Keegan; brother, Jack; sisters, Judy and Paula; and many nephews, nieces and cousins.

Cooke Funeral Home and Crematorium in Nitro, West Virginia is handling arrangements.

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