September 22, 1903|
|Died: February 18, 1971
Fort Collins, Colorado
|Batted: Left||Threw: Right|
|April 18, 1944 for the Detroit Tigers|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 23, 1945 for the Detroit Tigers|
|Runs batted in||22|
Charles Cloyd Hostetler (September 22, 1903 – February 18, 1971) was a Major League Baseball outfielder for the Detroit Tigers in 1944 and 1945. He is remembered as baseball's oldest rookie, making his debut in 1944 at age 40, and as the player whose base running error at age 42 cost the Tigers Game 6 of the 1945 World Series.
The minor leagues
Born in 1903 in McClellandtown, Pennsylvania, Hostetler was considered a great prospect with the Boston Braves, but he was released in 1929. He later played for the Akron Tyrites in the Central League in 1929, hitting .360 in 104 games. He next played later for the Tulsa Oilers in the St. Louis Browns organization, and then in the Washington Senators farm system.
Eventually, Hostetler says, "I gave up the idea of playing in the majors." He noted: "When a fellow reaches 35 the thought of playing in the majors is wishful thinking." After nine years in the minor leagues, Hostetler retired—sort of. He left the minor leagues and took on various industrial jobs. But he kept one foot in baseball, playing four or five games a week at semi-pro ball in Wichita, Kansas, and Texas, when his work schedule permitted.
Hostetler reaches the majors at age 40
World War II had decimated the rosters of most major league baseball teams. Players who had been passed over suddenly were in demand. So it was that Detroit Tigers contacted Hostetler in 1943. Hostetler noted that when the Tigers contacted him, "I was really a surprised rookie."
Hostetler hit .350 during spring training at Evansville, Indiana. Hostetler's hot hitting and a leg injury to center fielder Roger Cramer, won Hostetler a spot on the Tigers' 1944 major league roster. Born in 1903, he was 40 years old when he played his first major league game, making him the oldest rookie in the history of the game.
Hostetler's debut in April 1944 drew attention from the press. He reported his age as 38 (he was actually 40). The wire services ran several articles about Hostetler's unusual achievement. One article noted: "Chuck is a rookie at 38, something unheard of even in wartime baseball." Another article noted: "A 38-year-old rookie who's been out of organized baseball for seven years is making the Detroit Tigers believe that life begins at 40 -- or 38 at least. Yet another referred to Hostetler as a player "snatched out of a factory two years ago to add depth to a garden depleted by the war."
When the regular season got underway, Hostetler took full advantage of the opportunity and was the hottest hitter in baseball that spring. As of May 3, 1944, the Associated Press reported that "the over-age recruit has 12 hits in 26 tries for a fat .462 average." On May 2, he collected three hits, including a triple, to lead the Tigers to a 4–3 win over the St. Louis Browns.
Three weeks into the season, Hostetler was still leading the league with a .444 batting average and had become the talk of the baseball world. Baseball writer Chip Royal referred to Hostetler as "a 38-year-old veteran from the sandlots with a terrific wallop at the plate."
Detroit manager Steve O'Neill noted that Hostetler was not much of a pull hitter, "but he's hustling all the time. That's why Chuck is keeping some pretty good men on the bench." By June 27, 1944, Hostetler's average had dipped to .318, but he was still fifth in the American League in batting average. For the season, Hostetler played 90 games, hit for a .298 batting average, scored 42 runs, collected 20 RBIs, 21 walks, four stolen bases, nine doubles, two triples, and a .350 on-base percentage.
The "Hostetler flop"
Hostetler remained with the Tigers in 1945 as they won the American League pennant and advanced to the 1945 World Series. When the World Series was played, Hostetler was 42 years old. Hostetler "begged" Detroit manager Steve O'Neill for a chance to appear in the World Series. Ultimately, Hostetler appeared as a pinch hitter three times in the World Series but did not get a hit. However, he is most remembered for the "Hostetler flop" in Game 6.
In the seventh inning of Game 6, with the Cubs ahead 4–1, Hostetler pinch hit for Skeeter Webb to start the inning. He hit a ground ball and was safe on an error. He advanced to second on a ground out by Eddie Mayo, and when Doc Cramer hit a single to left field, Hostetler ran through manager Steve O’Neill’s stop sign at third base. He tried to put on his brakes half way home, lost his footing, fell to the ground, and was tagged out while scrambling around on all fours.
One press account described it this way: "Hostetler fell flat on his face between third base and home in the seventh inning and was tagged out, helping break up a two-run Tiger rally." Detroit sports writer Joe Falls later called it "the Hostetler flop." Another account described Hostetler's efforts to swim home: "He tripped and fell rounding third base and tried unsuccessfully to 'swim' to the plate."
After Hostetler was thrown out, Hank Greenberg hit a home run that would have scored Hostetler if he had held up. Instead, the game went into extra innings, and the Tigers lost, 8–7. As a result, Hostetler was the goat. One writer noted that Greenberg's home run would have ended the Series if only Hostetler had "stayed on his feet." After the game, a dejected Steve O'Neill said: "We would have won if Chuck Hostetler had only caught my signal to hold up when he was rounding third."
In January 1946, the Associated Press reported: "Chuck Hostetler, utility infielder who gained questionable fame for his world series high dive rounding third base, has been released." In fact, Hostetler did not appear in another major league game after his base running error in the 1945 World Series.
Years later, Hostetler spoke with baseball historian Fred Smith and recalled the embarrassing incident: "I’ll never forget it. I played only two years in the majors with the Tigers but this is what anyone ever talked about." Fifty years later, baseball writer Joe Falls was still peeved about Hostetler's blunder. In a column in the Detroit News, Falls wrote: "If anyone symbolized the futility of wartime baseball — both in Detroit and America — it was outfielder Chuck Hostetler of the Tigers, the man who fell on his face in the 1945 World Series."
Hostetler died in 1971 at age 67 in Fort Collins, Colorado. His obituary noted: "Hostetler gained some degree of fame when he was blamed for the Tigers loss of the sixth game of the 1945 World Series."
- "Hustling Hostetler Hits Peak". The Portsmouth Herald. 1944-07-19.
- "Aged Rookie Aids Tigers". The Ogden Standard-Examiner. 1944-05-03.
- "Chart of oldest players at time of MLB debut". B-R PI. Retrieved 2007-12-20.
- "Prim Tests Tigers in Fourth Game: Hostetler Gets Chance Twice As Pinch-Hitter for Detroit". The Ogden Standard-Examiner. 1945-10-06.
- Royal, Chip (1944-04-30). "Card Fielder Gets Tough Job of Year". The Ogden Standard-Examiner.
- Royal, Chip (1944-06-27). "Walker Dixie Walker Tops Rivals". The Ogden Standard-Examiner.
- "1945 World Series Game Log".
- "Cubs Top Tigers 8–7 in 12 Innings". The Kingsport News (Tenn.). 1945-10-09.
- Falls, Joe (1999-09-22). "1945 Series featured the Hostetler flop". The Detroit News. Retrieved 2007-12-20.[dead link]
- "Funeral Services for Ex-Tiger". The Holland Evening Sentinel (Mich.). 1971-02-22.
- "From the Ballpark to the Battlefield: The Detroit Tigers during World War II". Michigan History Magazine. September 1995. Retrieved 2007-12-20.
- Kenesson, Frank (1946-01-27). "Stars Sign for New Race". The Ogden Standard-Examiner.
- Career statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference, or Baseball-Reference (Minors)
- Detroit News: 1945 Series featured the Hostetler flop