On November 16, 1932, Cardinals shortstop Charlie Gelbert accidentally shot himself in the leg while hunting in the mountains of Pennsylvania. The 26-year-old had tripped over a vine, and within an instant his life and major league career were forever changed. The accident sidelined him, but it did not end his career. He had a long road ahead, and by the time he got to the end of that road he had led a life worth remembering.
Gelbert helped the Cardinals take the National League pennant in 1930, then in 1931 he helped the club win their second World Series title. His star was just beginning to shine before that gun went off. As we all know everything can change in the blink of an eye, and it did that day. The initial reports had the shortstop listed in "good" condition. His spirits were high as he lay in a hospital bed recovering, and even as early as January of '33 he was talking about reporting for Spring Training. That was not going to be the case. In fact, he had setback after setback that required multiple surgeries.
While Gelbert held onto optimism, Branch Rickey had to scramble to figure out who would man the position if things did not work out the way everyone involved wished. It led to a deal in the Spring of '33 that put the Birds on the Bat across the chest of Leo Durocher. The acquisition of Durocher was a move that had to be made, and it proved to be a good one, as held down short through 1936, and was a key member of the '34 Championship winning club.
Before that Gashouse Gang got together in '34, Gelbert had hopes of joining them. However, gangrene set in, and for a short while there was fear that he would lose his leg. By March of '34 the news hit the wires that Gelbert would be lost for yet another season. Through it all Gelbert remained optimistic. He was determined to return to the diamond, and his determination did pay off.
When the calendar turned to 1935 the rest of Charlie Gelbert's life began. He had turned a page on a dark chapter in life. The team announced he would be on the roster in the coming year. Finally some good news. Gelbert ended up playing in 62 games for the in '35, and cranked out a .292 average. He returned in '36, and played in 93 games, but his average dipped to .229. That proved to be his last year with the Birds, as the club sold him to the Reds in December of that year. He bounced as utility man until the end of the 1940 season, then hung up his baseball cleats.
As mentioned before the accident did not define the man that Charlie Gelbert was. His days on the diamond were far from over. In 1946, Gelbert joined the ranks of college coaching when he took a job managing the Lafayette Leopards in Easton, Pennsylvania. The ole ballplayer turned coach had been a multi-talented athlete in his youth, and helped coach the school's football and basketball teams as well. He made his true mark on the diamond though as he led the team to five Division II World Series appearances. He coached the Leopards until he passed away suddenly in at the age of 60 in 1967. The impact he made at that school will never be forgotten, they honored his legacy in 2004 by retiring his number 20. The man who had suffered an unfortunate accident in he Fall of '32 would forever be remembered as a great coach, and today I look at him with great admiration as someone who would not give up after being knocked down time and time again.
You can view Charlie Gelbert's career numbers here: