Hoyt Wilhelm

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Hoyt Wilhelm
Born: (1922-07-26)July 26, 1922
Huntersville, North Carolina
Died: August 23, 2002(2002-08-23) (aged 80)
Sarasota, Florida
Batted: Right Threw: Right
MLB debut
April 19, 1952 for the New York Giants
Last MLB appearance
July 10, 1972 for the Los Angeles Dodgers
Career statistics
Win–loss record 143–122
Earned run average 2.52
Strikeouts 1,610
Saves 227
Career highlights and awards
Induction 1985
Vote 83.8% (eighth ballot)

James Hoyt Wilhelm (July 26, 1922 – August 23, 2002) was an American Major League Baseball pitcher. During his career, he pitched for the New York Giants (1952–1956), St. Louis Cardinals (1957), Cleveland Indians (1957–1958), Baltimore Orioles (1958–1962), Chicago White Sox (1963–1968), California Angels (1969), Atlanta Braves (1969–1970; 1971), Chicago Cubs (1970), and Los Angeles Dodgers (1971–1972). He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985.[1]

Wilhelm was best known for his knuckleball, which enabled him to have great longevity; occasionally as a starting pitcher, but mainly as a specialist relief man (in which role he won 124 games, still the record for relief pitchers). He is recognized as the first pitcher to have saved 200 games in his career, and the first pitcher to appear in 1,000 games. He is also one of the oldest players to have pitched in the major leagues; his final appearance was 16 days short of his 50th birthday. Wilhelm retired with the lowest career earned run average of any major league hurler after 1927 (Walter Johnson) who pitched more than 2,000 innings.

Early life[edit]

Wilhelm played high school baseball in Huntersville, North Carolina. There, he began experimenting with a knuckleball after reading about Dutch Leonard.[1]

Wilhelm served in the United States Army in the European Theatre during World War II. Wilhelm participated in the Battle of the Bulge, where he was wounded, earning the Purple Heart for his actions.[1][2] He rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant. Because of his military service, he was nicknamed "Ol' Sarge".[3]


Wilhelm made his professional debut with the Mooresville Moors of the Class-D North Carolina State League in 1942. He returned to the Moors in 1946, following his military service.

The Boston Braves purchased Wilhelm from Moorsville in 1947.[4] On November 20, 1947, Wilhelm was drafted by the New York Giants from the Braves in the 1947 minor league draft.[4]

Wilhelm made his MLB debut with the Giants on April 18, 1952 at age 29. Pitching exclusively in relief, Wilhelm led the National League with a 2.43 earned run average (ERA) in 1952. On April 23, 1952, in his second game with the New York Giants, Wilhelm came to the plate for the first time in the majors. Facing rookie Dick Hoover of the Boston Braves, Wilhelm swung and sliced a home run over the short right-field fence at the Polo Grounds. Although he played 21 seasons and went to bat a total of 432 times in his career, he never hit another home run.[5]

In 1954 Wilhelm, pitching to Ray Katt, put Katt in the record books as Katt committed four passed balls in one inning to set the major league record, which was later matched by Gino Petralli catching knuckleballer Charlie Hough in 1987.[6] The record was again later tied by Ryan Lavarnway of the Boston Red Sox in 2013, catching knuckleballer Steve Wright in his first major league start.[6]

On February 26, 1957, Wilhelm was traded by the Giants to the St. Louis Cardinals for Whitey Lockman.[4] On September 21, 1957, he was selected off waivers by the Cleveland Indians from the Cardinals.[4]

In 1958, Cleveland manager Bobby Bragan used Wilhelm occasionally as a starter. Although he had a 2.49 ERA, none of the Indians' catchers could handle Wilhelm's knuckleball. General manager Frank Lane, alarmed at the large number of passed balls, allowed the Baltimore Orioles to select Wilhelm off waivers on August 23, 1958.[4]

Wilhelm in 1959.

On September 20, 1958, Wilhelm threw a no-hitter against the New York Yankees.[1] He allowed two baserunners on walks and struck out eight.[7]

Orioles catchers set an MLB record with 49 passed balls in 1959.[1] However, Wilhelm also won the American League ERA title with a 2.19 ERA. During the 1960 season, Orioles manager Paul Richards kept Wilhelm in the rotation, and devised a larger mitt so his catchers could handle the knuckleball.[1][8][9]

On January 14, 1963, Wilhelm was traded by the Orioles with Ron Hansen, Dave Nicholson and Pete Ward to the Chicago White Sox for Luis Aparicio and Al Smith.[4]

Wilhelm set MLB records with the most consecutive errorless games for a pitcher, games pitched for a relief pitcher, most career victories in relief, most games finished, most innings pitched in relief, and most games pitched during the 1968 season.[10] On October 15, 1968, Wilhelm was chosen in the 1968 expansion draft by the Kansas City Royals from the White Sox as the 49th pick.[4] That offseason, he was traded by the Royals to the California Angels for Ed Kirkpatrick and Dennis Paepke.[4]

"[Hoyt] had the best knuckleball you'd ever want to see. He knew where it was going when he threw it, but when he got two strikes on you, he'd break out one that even he didn't know where it was going."

- Brooks Robinson[1]

On September 8, 1969, Wilhelm was traded by the Angels with Bob Priddy to the Atlanta Braves for Clint Compton and Mickey Rivers.[4] On September 21, 1970, he was selected off waivers by the Chicago Cubs,[4] and then traded back by the Cubs to the Braves for Hal Breeden after the season.[4] As the Cubs acquired Wilhelm late in the season to bolster their playoff contention, which was a source of controversy, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn investigated the transaction.[11]

Wilhelm was released by the Braves on June 29, 1971. He signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 10, 1971, but they released him on July 21, 1972.[4] At the time of his retirement, Wilhelm pitched in a then-MLB record 1,070 games.[1]

Career perspective[edit]

His success as a reliever helped the gradual change in usage patterns of pitchers, and the popularity of the concept of a "relief ace." Wilhelm was the first relief pitcher elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.[1] Along with Phil Niekro, Wilhelm is considered by many as one of the greatest knuckleballers to have played the game.[citation needed]

Post-playing career[edit]

Wilhelm worked as a minor league pitching coach after his retirement.[1]

In other media[edit]

In the Billy Crystal directed movie 61*, Wilhelm was portrayed by fellow knuckleball pitcher Tom Candiotti.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Wilhelm first reliever elected to Hall of Fame". ESPN Classic (ESPN). Associated Press. August 29, 2002. Retrieved November 1, 2011. 
  2. ^ Allen, Thomas E. (2004). If They Hadn't Gone: How World War II Affected Major League Baseball. Springfield, Missouri: Southwest Missouri State University. pp. 150–152. ISBN 0-9748190-2-6. 
  3. ^ Lueck, Thomas (25 August 2002). "Hoyt Wilhelm, First Reliever in the Hall of Fame, Dies". New York Times. Retrieved 11 November 2010. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Hoyt Wilhelm Statistics and History". Baseball-Reference.com. Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved November 1, 2011. 
  5. ^ Jaffe, Chris. "60th anniversary: Hoyt Wilhelm’s only homer". TheHardballTimes.com. Retrieved 6 May 2012. 
  6. ^ a b "Red Sox catcher Ryan Lavarnway ties big league record with four passed balls". mlb.com. Retrieved September 27, 2013. 
  7. ^ "Hoyt Wilhelm Knuckeballs No-Hitter Over Yanks". Ocala Star-Banner. Associated Press. September 21, 1958. Retrieved November 12, 2011. 
  8. ^ Wilks, Ed (May 28, 1960). "Courtney Uses Out-Sized Mitt To Catch Wilhelm's Knuckler". The Tuscaloosa News. Associated Press. p. 7. Retrieved November 13, 2011. 
  9. ^ Neyer, Rob (2006). Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Blunders. New York City: Fireside. ISBN 0-7432-8491-7. 
  10. ^ Eisenberg, Harry (December 15, 1968). "45-Year-Old Hoyt Wilhelm Set Six Records in 1968". The Tuscaloosa News. Associated Press. Retrieved November 13, 2011. 
  11. ^ Couch, Dick (December 3, 1970). "The Old Man of the Majors Hoyt Wilhelm Causes Debate". Lewiston Evening Journal. Associated Press. Retrieved November 12, 2011. 

External links[edit]

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Jim Bunning
No-hitter pitcher
September 20, 1958
Succeeded by
Don Cardwell