Hoyt Wilhelm in Mooresville

ALSO: HOW THE BRAVES REBUILT THEIR ENTIRE OUTFIELD

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Pregame Pepper

Did You Know?

Long-time Yankees captain Derek Jeter, now CEO of the Miami Marlins, says he’s happy fans can attend his Sept. 8 Hall of Fame induction but is only now thinking about his speech . . .

The Detroit Tigers have scored the most runs since the All-Star Break . . .

Atlanta second baseman Ozzie Albies not only leads the NL in extra-base hits but is on pace to become the first Braves middle infielder to post a 100-RBI season . . .

Cleveland pilot Terry Francona is out for season with medical problems but will he return to the rigors of managing? No manager has been fired this year but there’s a crowded hot seat shared by Torey Lovullo (Arizona), Rocco Baldelli (Minnesota), Derek Shelton (Pittsburgh), Dave Martinez (Washington), and Brandon Hyde (Baltimore) . . .

Bad behavior dept.: Washington released Starlin Castro, Los Angeles beat writers say the Dodgers don’t want Trevor Bauer back, and the charge against Atlanta’s Marcel Ozuna has been reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Leading Off

Four Days In September 

By Brett Honeycutt 

One of the most dominating pitching performances in pro baseball history happened in a four-day span in 1947. 

It wasn’t by future Hall of Famer Bob Feller, the 1947 American League wins (20) and strikeouts leader (196), or by Ewell Blackwell, that season’s National League wins (22) and strikeouts leader (193), who pitched a no-hitter that year. 

It wasn’t even by 1947 league ERA leaders Joe Haynes (AL, 2.42) or future Hall of Famer Warren Spahn (NL, 2.33). 

It was by a 25-year-old World War II veteran toiling away in the minors with the North Carolina State League’s Class D Mooresville Moors. 

And it happened in the playoffs…with his team down 3 games to 0…in the championship series. 

THE BUILDUP 

The performance was sandwiched between two major events for the war veteran, who would go on to a Hall of Fame career and come to be known for his hard-to-hit and hard-to-catch knuckle ball.  

Hoyt Wilhelm was two years removed from serving in World War II, where he fought in the Battle of the Bulge and earned a Purple Heart from injuries sustained in battle, and five years from his major league debut with the New York Giants, in 1952. 

Playing for the independent Moors, any chance at the majors was only a fantasy that, likely, only his family and a few locals believed was even a remote possibility for their hometown son (the town of Mooresville neighbors the former farming communities of Croft, Huntersville and Cornelius, where Wilhelm grew up). 

Wilhelm, who had shrapnel in his back from the war injury, finished the 1947 season with a 20-7 record and 3.38 ERA to help Mooresville (not affiliated with a major league  team) win the regular-season title by 4 ½ games over the Salisbury Pirates (a Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate).  

That followed his impressive 1946 season when he posted a 21-8 record and 2.47 ERA for Mooresville in his first year back in pro baseball after the war. Although Mooresville had finished 19 games behind the first-place Concord Weavers in the 1946 regular season, and only five games above .500, Wilhelm had helped the Moors win the four-team playoff, beating Concord 4 games to 2 for the 1946 league title. 

But Wilhelm’s performance in the 1947 playoffs was legendary, and if there weren’t newspaper accounts to verify his stunning performance, it could easily be chalked up to a tall tale one would expect to hear spun throughout the rural farmland of North Carolina in the 1940’s, when word of mouth traveled just as quickly as the written word in daily newspapers, or passed-down stories were given as much validity as current events heard on the radio or viewed on TV by the masses. 

The semifinal series against the Hickory Rebels (a New York Giants affiliate) helped set the stage for greater things to come.  

In that semifinal series, Wilhelm won Game 1 (10-3) on September 1, and after losing Game 4 (3-0) on September 4, he came back to pitch a two-hitter, go 4-for-4 at the plate with three doubles and a single, and win the deciding Game 7, 4-0, on September 10. Both of his wins were complete games.  

The Game 7 performance was a foreshadowing of his ability to deliver clutch performances and also set the tone for a storybook championship series against the Lexington A’s (Philadelphia A’s affiliate), who also went seven games to beat Salisbury in the other semifinal. 

LEGENDARY PERFORMANCE 

* With rain causing missed playing days for Mooresville in its series against Hickory, the Moors jumped into the championship series the day after their Game 7 victory. Lexington, however, had finished its series three days prior, on September 8, and the extra rest likely helped. The A’s beat Mooresville, 4-1. 

* The following day, September 12, Wilhelm pitched a complete game, but it wasn’t enough; the Moors lost, 4-3. Just like that, Mooresville was down, 2 games to 0. 

* Game 3 was September 13, and Lexington won, 4-2, to go ahead 3-0 in the series. With Game 4 on September 16 at Lexington, an A’s sweep and title seemed inevitable. 

* In Game 4, though, Wilhelm was nearly unhittable. He had to be, because Mooresville provided scant run support. The Moors won, 1-0, the lone run coming on an RBI-single in the third by player-manager, Norm Small. 

Wilhelm’s complete-game victory was highlighted by six strikeouts, as well as six walks. Two of the three hits he allowed came in the ninth, and the tying run was thrown out at the plate to preserve the win. 

* After Mooresville inched out another win in Game 5 on September 17, this time scoring three runs in the bottom of the ninth to win, 4-1, there was hope again. The Moors had narrowed the gap and trailed 3-2 in the series. 

* The following day, in Game 6 on September 18, Mooresville trailed, 5-4, heading into the ninth, but Moors’ runners reached base on two singles and an error to load the bases, before Martin Pollio hit a grand slam to put the Moors ahead, 8-5. Wilhelm, again, came through in the clutch. He was already pitching, having come into the game with two outs in the fifth and Mooresville trailing, 5-4. Including the ninth, he pitched the final 3 1/3 innings, striking out four and allowing only two hits to earn the win. He also went 1-for-2 at the plate. 

The series was even, 3-3, and Mooresville had momentum. 

* Game 7 began the following day, on September 19, with Wilhelm going to the mound one last time. 

He came through again, allowing one run on five hits, but this time there would be no nail-biting, last-inning, edge-of-your-seat victory. Mooresville hit five home runs on 20 hits, chased five Lexington pitchers and won, 20-1, to claim the North State League Series in stunning fashion. 

The improbable comeback had happened. 

Wilhelm had won three games in four days, including the final two, pitching two complete games, allowing 10 hits and 1 run in 21 1/3 innings. 

For the entire playoffs, he was 5-2 and pitched five complete games in a span of 19 days. 

He even came through at the plate in crucial do-or-die games – Game 7 of the semifinals (4-for-4) and Game 6 in the title series (1-for-2). 

It was a glimpse of even more to come, but those future major league feats, well-known to baseball fans now, were still years away – hitting his first home run in his first at-bat and never hitting another and winning the NL ERA title in his 1952 rookie season; a no-hitter in 1958; an AL ERA title in 1959; breaking Cy Young’s 906-games-pitched mark in 1968; pitching in a major-league record 1,000th game in 1970; appearing in eight All-Star games from his first in 1953 to his last in 1970, and pitching until days from his 50th birthday in 1972 before being released. 

In 1947, though, his legend was just beginning. 

Brett Honeycutt spent 25 years as a journalist - first as a free-lance writer for seven years, then on staff at a daily newspaper for 10 years. Then he managed a national magazine for nearly nine years. He is free-lancing again, working on various projects, including directing a high school hall of fame and coaching high school track and cross country and managing the Hoyt Wilhelm Fan Page on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/wilhelm_hoyt

Cleaning Up

With Two All-Stars Out, Braves Have Rebuilt Their Outfield

By Dan Schlossberg

Marcell Ozuna, who led the National League in home runs and RBI last year, fractured two fingers when he slid head-first into Boston third baseman Rafael Devers on May 26 in Fenway Park. Days later, he was caught by police in Sandy Springs, GA while allegedly trying to strangle his wife Genesis.

Ronald Acuna Jr. tore the ACL in his knee while trying to catch a Jazz Chisholm drive that went for an inside-the-park home run.

Without their left and right fielders, virtually every observer concluded that the Atlanta Braves had no chance of winning the National League East title for the fourth year in a row.

But wait! Not so fast.

General manager Alex Anthopouolos, whose teams have reached the playoffs eight years in a row, had an ace up his sleeve. No, make that six aces.

Between July 16 and the trading deadline two weeks later, he landed six bona fide veterans while yielding little more than so-so spot starter Bryse Wilson, an over-the-hill Pablo Sandoval, and a bunch of no-name prospects.

As a result, a writer from MLB.com wrote that the Braves won the trade deadline — making moves that were as good in quality as they were in quantity.

On Sunday, August 1, the Atlanta outfield from left to right featured Adam Duvall, Joc Pederson, and Jorge Soler. On the injured list but available soon was another newly-acquired outfielder, Eddie Rosario. Already contributing are catcher Stephen Vogt and righthanded closer Richard Rodriguez.

With slugging catcher Travis d’Arnaud and injured starters Ian Anderson and Huascar Ynoa both due back in the next week or two, the Braves seem poised to make a run at the front-running Mets, who miss injured shortstop Francisco Lindor and star starting pitcher Jacob deGrom.

It was just two years ago that Soler, for example, hit 48 home runs for the Royals to win the American League home run crown. And last season, Duvall became the only player in Braves franchise history to enjoy two three-homer games.

It was also last season that Pederson powered the Dodgers to their first world championship since 1988. He followed up by hitting eight home runs — eight — during 2021 spring training with the Cubs, who out-bid the Braves for his services on the free-agent market.

Atlanta also sought Duvall, at a discounted price, but had no place to play him once the designated hitter disappeared from the National League lexicon. The charge against Ozuna has been reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor but he still faces likely suspension — or at least administrative leave — from the league.

Any of the new outfield quartet are better than Abraham Almonte and Guillermo Heredia, who have been playing there, or erstwhile centerfielders Ender Inciarte (released) or Cristian Pache (demoted).

Once d’Arnaud comes back, the Braves will have 20-homer potential at every non-pitching spot in the lineup (Dansby Swanson just became the first shortstop to reach 20 homers for the Braves since Denis Menke in 1964). Few teams outside of Los Angeles can match that claim.

To say Anthopoulos pulled a rabbit out of his hat is the understatement of the summer. In fact, he found six of them. And you know what they say about rabbits multiplying.

So don’t count out these Braves. The tide is turning in their direction. Again.

Here’s The Pitch weekend editor Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ also writes baseball for Ball Nine, forbes.com, Latino Sports, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, and more. His e.mail is ballauthor@gmail.com.

Timeless Trivia

Anthony Rizzo, acquired by the New York Yankees last week, was in the Yankee Stadium stands for David Cone’s 1999 perfect game . . .

Because his parents grew up there, the Lyndhurst (NJ) Pastry Shop features an Anthony Rizzo Special that is half yum-yum and half chocolate Italian ice . . .

Rizzo was born in Florida but spent summers in North Jersey, where he visited his grandparents, played stickball, and went to Yankees games . . .

Joey Gallo, also acquired by the pinstripers at the trade deadline, has New York roots too: his dad Tony was born in Queens and went to East Rockaway High School.


Know Your Editors

HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [bchrom831@gmail.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [nymfan97@gmail.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [ballauthor@gmail.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.

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