Wednesday, June 15, 2011

#276 Hoyt Wilhelm

#276 Hoyt Wilhelm
This is a card that I'm particularly excited to have. I wonder if Hoyt Wilhelm ever got tired of posing for photos while exhibiting his knuckleball grip. I mean, it is the pitch that made him famous.

Fun facts about Hoyt Wilhelm:

-Hoyt was born in Huntersville, NC. After graduating from high school, he pitched for Mooresville of the independent North Carolina State League in 1942. He was then drafted into the U.S. Army and served three years in World War II, earning a Purple Heart for being wounded in the Battle of the Bulge.

-In 1946, he returned to Mooresville and won 41 games in two seasons. The Braves acquired him, but lost him in a minor league draft to the Giants a month later.

-Wilhelm was 29 by the time he made the Giants' big league club in 1952, but he came equipped with a great knuckleball. He'd learned the pitch in his youth by emulating former Senators moundsman Dutch Leonard. Hoyt used the knuckler to go 15-3, leading the National League in winning percentage, ERA (2.43), and games pitched (71). He also compiled 11 saves, but finished a distant second to Dodgers reliever Joe Black, who put up comparable numbers but had the added benefit of playing for the pennant winner.

-Far from a skilled hitter (.088/.139/.106 career AVG/OBP/SLG), he hit his first and only career home run in his first at-bat! It came off of Braves pitcher Dick Hoover on April 23, 1952.

-He went to the first of five career All-Star Games in 1953, but had his best year as a Giant in 1954. That season, he went 12-4 with 7 saves and a 2.10 ERA (194 ERA+). He appeared twice in the club's four-game World Series sweep of the Indians, allowing a single hit in two and a third scoreless innings and picking up a save in Game Three.

-After his performance slipped in the ensuing seasons, the Giants traded him to the Cardinals in February 1957. He was then waived twice within a year, going first to Cleveland and then to Baltimore. It's somewhat surprising that the Tribe put him on waivers, as he had a 2.49 ERA in 90.1 innings to that point, but it wound up paying almost instant dividends. On September 20, 1958, he no-hit the Yankees in just the ninth start of his career.

-In 1959, O's manager Paul Richards converted Hoyt to a full-time starter. In 32 games (27 starts), he went 15-11 with 13 complete games and a league-best 2.19 ERA.

-By mid-1960, Wilhelm was back in the bullpen. Over the next three seasons, he won 27 games and saved 40 more for the Orioles with a 2.63 ERA. Prior to the 1963 campaign, he was traded to the White Sox in a six-player deal that brought legendary shortstop Luis Aparicio to Baltimore.

-Though he was 40 when he arrived in Chicago, the cagey veteran (I've always wanted to say that) saved 92 games in six seasons with the team, compiling a 1.92 ERA in 675.2 innings. He seemed to be improving with age.

-As the 1960s lapsed into the 1970s, Hoyt passed through the clubhouses of the Angels, Braves, Cubs, and Dodgers, finally retiring after Los Angeles released him in mid-1972 at age 49. Amazingly, he made his last All-Star team in 1970 as a 47-year-old (6-5, 13 SV, 3.40 ERA). In parts of 21 seasons, he was 143-122 with 227 saves and a 2.52 ERA. His record of 1,070 games pitched stood until Dennis Eckersley broke it in 1998.

-He managed in the low minors for the Braves organization in 1973 and 1975. Wilhelm was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985, which was his eighth year on the ballot. He was 80 when he died of heart failure in Sarasota, FL in 2002.
#276 Hoyt Wilhelm (back)


  1. Kev, that's one of my favorite cards in the set as well. It's like he says "oh sure, I'll show you the grip, look"

    I just finished up a post on Clint Courtney and I say a bunch of pics of Hoyt while digging up a few of that oversized mitt that Paul Richards came up with for Courtney.

  2. I bet he didn't get tired of exhibiting the grip when he got paid.

    I don't understand why he became a reliever when he was clearly a pretty good starter. IN fact, it actually makes more sense to have a knuckleballer starting than relieving since the chance of a wild pitch or passed ball is so great. I suspect catchers didn't like having to catch him for 9 innings.

  3. Bob - Can you believe three teams got rid of Hoyt in his first 7 years? Another savvy move by Paul Richards.

    Marc - Yeah, you're probably never going to see a knuckleballer closer again. Any relievers that throw the knuckler are generally long relief guys, like Wakefield in between emergency starts.