Hoyt Wilhelm Got Off To Rough Start As Rookie

ALSO: REMEMBERING THE 29-RUN GAME

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Pregame Pepper

Did you know ...

The Philadelphia Phillies were Baker Bowl tenants until 1938, when they left the rusting 19th-century stadium for Shibe Park, which they shared with Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics. Shibe Park, later renamed Connie Mack Stadium, was in major-league service from 1909-70 before the Phils moved to the brand-new Veterans Stadium . . .

Parc Jarry, the original home of the Montreal Expos, had sun delays. At a certain angle, the sight of the sun shining through a narrow crack in the left-field corner blinded the first baseman to some of the throws from the infielders . . .

The St. Louis Browns and St. Louis Cardinals switched the tenant-landlord relationship after Anheuser-Busch bought the Cards in 1953 . . .

During the days when the Atlanta Crackers were a minor-league power, Ponce de Leon Park featured a giant magnolia tree in fair territory until 1946, when the team moved the fences in so that outfielders could not collide with the tree. Only two players ever hit the tree on the fly.

Leading Off

Wilhelm’s Rough Beginnings Weren’t True Indicator Of Later Success

By Brett Honeycutt

Nearly 70 years ago, Hoyt Wilhelm’s long, winding major league career began, inauspiciously, in Phoenix, on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 1952.

After seeing his stats from the previous minor league season and his performance that day, most would likely have guessed his shot at the majors was done.

That’s the day the future Hall of Famer arrived in the New York Giant’s major league camp for the first time as a 29-year-old rookie who would be turning 30 in the middle of the season.

Wilhelm’s trip to get there had also taken him on a winding path, where he labored with teams at minor-league outposts from 1942-1951 in Mooresville, N.C., a neighboring town of Cornelius and Huntersville, where he was born and played high school baseball; Knoxville, Tenn.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Minneapolis, as well as two seasons (1950-52) of winter ball in Havana, where he was playing just days before his major-league camp debut.

Sandwiched between those stops, from 1943-1946, he fought in World War II’s Battle of the Bulge and earned a Purple Heart from injuries he sustained.

That Feb. 26 day, though, saw Wilhelm arrive with Sal Maglie and Marv Blaylock – both of whom seemed to contrast each other’s careers.

Maglie was coming off an All-Star campaign (23-6, 2.93 ERA), and was headed toward another All-Star year in 1952. Blaylock, a rookie first baseman, had played one game for the Giants in 1950, and wouldn’t make the team in 1952. Blaylock would resurface in 1955 with the Philadelphia Phillies.

There was one similarity between Maglie and Blalock, though – both would be out of the majors (Blalock in 1957 and Maglie in 1958) nearly 14 years before Wilhelm retired with an achievement-rich career.

Wilhelm earned eight All-Star nods, won ERA titles in each league (1952, NL; 1959, AL), pitched a no-hitter (1958), broke Cy Young’s record for most games pitched (1968), helped the Atlanta Braves win their first division title in 1969 (as a late-season addition), and nearly helped the Los Angeles Dodgers win a division title in 1971 (as another late-season addition), finishing one game behind the San Francisco Giants.

That day in 1952, though, Wilhelm was an aging rookie trying to find his way onto a team that had advanced to the 1951 World Series (before losing to the New York Yankees 4-2) by impressing legendary manager Leo Durocher.

Durocher was so excited to see Wilhelm’s knuckleball that he had Wilhelm skip out on Habana for the Caribbean Series (after Habana won the 1951-52 Cuban Winter League), scheduling him to pitch an inter-squad game for the Giants on Feb. 29.

Durocher had even written an article for the Associated Press where he wrote that Wilhelm was one of the team’s best newcomers, despite Wilhelm posting less-than-stellar campaigns for the Giants’ AAA team, the Minneapolis Millers (11-14, 3.94 ERA, 40 games) and Habana (2-5, 3.52 ERA, 17 games).

For a soon-to-be 30-year-old, this seemed to be his best, and possibly last, chance.

Wilhelm was impressive at first, and then he wasn’t.

The last of six pitchers used in a six-inning game, with each pitcher pitching both the top and bottom of the innings, Wilhelm came in a tied 0-0 game. Only three hits had been given up. Wilhelm retired the side in the top of the sixth, giving the 3,000 fans at Phoenix Municipal Stadium hope for another strong season of pitching (the Giants had led the league with 98 wins and was second with a 3.48 ERA in 1951).

But then, just as spectacularly as Wilhelm had quieted the Giants bats, they came alive, hitting two homers. Dave Williams homered to left and Whitey Lockman hit his over the right-field fence.

It seemed Durocher’s expectations were too high and that those 1951 stats were indicative of a pitcher on the decline.

As we know now, though, Durocher’s hunch was right and his notion to use Wilhelm in relief in 1952 produced an ERA title (2.43) and league-leading numbers in games pitched (71) and winning percentage (.833), while also going 15-3 with 11 saves and 108 strikeouts in 159.1 innings.

A career that could have easily been shelved, either by Durocher, the Giants, or even Wilhelm, was just starting to take off.

Brett Honeycutt began as a freelance writer for seven years, then joined a daily newspaper staff for 10 years before managing a national magazine for nearly nine. Freelancing again, his various projects include directing a high school hall of fame and coaching high school track and cross-country. He also runs a Hoyt Wilhelm Fan Page on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/wilhelm_hoy. Brett’s e.mail address is brettrhoneycutt@hotmail.com.

Cleaning Up

The Night The Braves Scored 29 Runs

By Dan Schlossberg

The best thing about baseball is that each game is about as predictable as a tsunami. Momentum might be a factor in a playoff series but carries little weight during the regular season.

Consider the sad case of the Miami Marlins. On September 8, 2020, they blanked the Atlanta Braves, a team well on its way to taking its third straight National League East title.

Perhaps embarrassed at the whitewash by the weak-hitting Floridians in their home ballpark, the Braves rewrote the record book the very next night, scoring more runs in a single game than any team in National League history.

Stuffing all their runs into six consecutive innings, the Braves fried the Fish to a crisp with 29 runs, 23 hits, seven home runs, and 46 total bases.

The final score of 29-9 was a baseball first.

With Truist Park fans displaced by a sea of cardboard cutouts because of the raging pandemic, the Braves spotted the Marlins a 2-0 lead. In fact, their starting pitcher proved almost as ineffective as Miami’s bullpen.

Tommy Milone, a soft-tossing southpaw who was Baltimore’s Opening Day starter, gave up eight runs, fanned four, and walked two in three-and-a-third innings that left him with an earned run average of 14.90. It wasn’t long before he left the team, and probably the game, for good.

But nobody was watching Malone except for a few of his relatives. All eyes were focused on Atlanta’s bats.

All hell broke loose in the bottom of the second.

The first runs scored innocently enough, on a groundout to first by Ozzie Albies and a sacrifice fly to center by Ender Inciarte.

Singles by Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna scored two more, bringing Travis d’Arnaud to the plate. The catcher hit a 393-foot home run to left, bringing home three runs and upping the score to 7-2.

But wait! There’s more.

After an Austin Riley single scored Dansby Swanson, Adam Duvall ripped a 405-foot, opposite-field homer to right-center, pushing the run tally into double digits.

Inspired by what he just saw, diminutive second baseman Ozzie Albies hit one even further – 424 feet – to center. That capped an 11-run inning.

In the third, Freeman’s two-run blast scored Ronald Acuña Jr. and the Braves had a baker’s dozen.

An inning later, Freeman dunked a double to shallow right-center, clearing the bases as Acuña, Duvall, and Albies all scored on the hit. It was only the fourth inning but the Braves already had 16 runs.

They were just getting started.

In the fifth, Duvall hit his second home run of the game, a 348-footer to left, pushing Swanson and Riley across ahead of him. Then Acuña hit another three-run shot, scoring Albies and Inciarte, and the Braves led, 22-8. At least it was an official game by that point.

Without Little League rules relative to run ceilings, however, the teams pressed on.

In the sixth, Acuña doubled to deep right, where catcher Jorge Alfaro was mercifully moved to give him a break from being the backstop. But his throwing error allowed Inciarte to come home, while Swanson and Riley scored on other misadventures by the Marlins defense.

The Seventh Inning Stretch allowed the Braves to catch their breaths. They loaded the bases for Duvall, who had already hit a two-run homer in the second and a three-run homer in the fifth.

This time, he cranked a titanic, 450-foot home run that cleared the bases and gave him nine runs batted in for the night. No National League team of the modern era (since 1900) had ever scored 29 runs in a game and no player in Braves franchise history had ever produced a pair of three-homer games in a season – let alone eight days, as Duvall did.

Atlanta came this close to scoring a 30th run in the eighth when Acuña’s long drive was caught at the wall. It would have been a solo shot but would have tied the modern record of 30 runs, achieved by the Texas Rangers in a 30-3 win at Baltimore on August 22, 2007. Like the Braves, the Rangers scored all their runs within a six-inning span, erupting after the game was scoreless for the first three innings.

Oddly, the Texas manager in that game was Ron Washington, the third-base coach when the Braves threatened that single-game record for runs. And Nick Markakis, who watched his teammates parade around the bases from a cozy seat on the bench, had a better vantage point than he did in the 30-run game when he was the starting right-fielder for the losing Orioles.

As third-base coach, Washington probably got tired of pumping his arms all night.

By the time the dust cleared on Windy Hill, the Cobb County Braves had a Night to Remember.

In addition to Duvall’s nine RBI, Freeman had six, Acuña five, d’Arnaud three, and Albies two. Oddly, Duvall didn’t have a perfect night; the Marlins actually retired him once without incident.

Atlanta did a pretty good job of spreading the wealth; nobody had more than three hits while everybody but Swanson had at least one run batted in.

The Braves eventually won the season’s series from Miami, 6-4; won their third straight NL East crown; and swept the Marlins in the best-of-five Division Series. Atlanta won seven consecutive postseason games before finally losing to Los Angeles in a seven-game Championship Series.

Thanks to his three-homer games in the final month, Adam Duvall hit 11 home runs to win NL Player of the Month honors for September. As a “reward,” he was the only one of eight arbitration-eligible Braves whose contract was not tendered. He later signed with the team he obliterated: the Miami Marlins.

In addition to the Braves and Rangers, only two other teams have scored at least 29 times in a game during the modern era. The Chicago White Sox beat the Kansas City Athletics, 29-6, on April 23, 1955, while the Boston Red Sox buried the St. Louis Browns, 29-4, on June 8, 1950, with Hall of Famer Bobby Doerr hitting three home runs in his team’s one-sided attack.

The previous modern mark for most runs scored by a National League team occurred on July 6, 1929, when the St. Louis Cardinals pulverized the Philadelphia Phillies, 28-6. A 10-run first inning helped.

Other ridiculous modern-era run totals:

Royals 26, Tigers 5, Sept. 9, 2004

Rangers 26, Orioles 7, April 19, 1996

Cubs 26, Rockies 7, Aug. 18, 1995

Phillies 26, Mets 7, June 11, 1985

Indians 26, Browns 3, Aug. 12, 1948

Giants 26, Dodgers 8, April 30, 1944

Cubs 26, Phillies 23, Aug. 25, 1922

Reds 26, Boston Rustlers 3, June 4, 1911

Red Sox 25, Marlins 8, June 27, 2003

Yankees 25, Athletics 2, May 24, 1936

Indians 25, Athletics 7, May 11, 1930

Brooklyn Superbas 25, Reds 6, Sept. 23, 1901

Giants 25, Reds 13, June 9, 1901

Eight teams scored at least 30 runs in a game, topped by the Chicago Colts, who beat the Louisville Colonels, 36-7, on June 29, 1897.

The Chicago White Stockings, forerunners of the Cubs, did it three times, in 1876, 1882, and 1883.

Oddly, no team has ever scored 27 times in a game – even though eight teams plated 26.

And nobody piled up 29 until September 9, 2020.

HERE’S THE PITCH Weekend Editor Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ also writes baseball for forbes.com, Latino Sports, Ball Nine, and USA TODAY Sports Weekly. His latest book is The New Baseball Bible: Notes, Nuggets, Lists and Legends From Our National Pastime. Contact Dan via e.mail at ballauthor@gmail.com.

Timeless Trivia

The construction cost of Baker Bowl, a long-time home of the Philadelphia A’s and Phillies, was $80,000 when it opened on April 30, 1887. That was equivalent to the average major-leaguer’s salary in 1978 . . .

The Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox played a 2015 game at Camden Yards in a stadium devoid of fans after civil unrest swept the city . . .

The Los Angeles Angels, a 1961 American League expansion team, played home games at Wrigley Field, a compact California ballpark best known as the film site for Home Run Derby. The combination of cozy dimensions and weak expansion-year pitching yielded 248 home runs, a record that stood for 38 years . . .

When the 1947 Pittsburgh Pirates shortened their home run distances at Forbes Field, the new section was called Greenberg Gardens because Hank Greenberg often hit balls there. After he left, the area was renamed Kiner’s Korner after Ralph Kiner, who became the team’s top slugger when Greenberg retired after the ‘47 campaign.

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