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Hoyt Wilhelm

Hall of Famer Wounded in Combat


Date and Place of Birth: July 26, 1922 Huntersville, NC
Date and Place of Death:    August 23, 2002 Sarasota, FL
Baseball Experience: Major League
Position: Pitcher
Rank: Staff Sergeant
Military Unit: Company H, 395th Infantry Regiment, 99th Infantry Division US Army
Area Served: European Theater of Operations

James H. "Hoyt" Wilhelm was born on July 26, 1922, in Huntersville, North Carolina. He became interested in the knuckleball while he was playing for Cornelius High School in North Carolina. He had read a story about knuckleball pitcher Dutch Leonard and started to experiment with the pitch. “As a kid in high school I just didn’t have a fast one,” he told The Sporting News on June 10, 1953, “and I picked up the knuckler. Nobody taught me. I just found out about throwing it.”

He was signed out of high school in 1942 by the Mooresville Moors of the Class D North Carolina State League. “When the manager saw my knuckler,” Wilhelm recalled, “he sent me home. But I was back for another look in two weeks, and when I used the knuckler to win a game, and then go on to win nine straight, nobody objected against the pitch.”

But Wilhelm’s fledgling baseball career was put on hold when he entered military service with the Army at Camp Croft, South Carolina, in November 1942. He pitched and played first base for the 393rd and later the 395th Infantry Regiment in 1943 and 1944, at Camp Maxey, Texas, helping the 395th clinch the 99th Infantry Division championship in 1944.

The 99th Infantry Division sailed for England in September 1944, and arrived in France in November of that year. Staff Sergeant Wilhelm was in combat with the 395th and was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received during the Battle of the Bulge.

Wilhelm was 23 years old when he returned to the Mooresville club in 1946 and won a spectacular 21 games. The following year he won a further 20, and the North Carolina State League all-star was purchased by the Boston Braves in October 1947. His time with the Red Sox was short-lived. The following month he was drafted by the New York Giants and played in their farm system at Kacksonville, Knoxville and Minneapolis, until making his major league debut on April 19, 1952, aged 29. In his first major league season, Wilhelm made 71 relief appearances for an incredible 15-3 won-loss record and 2.43 ERA. Furthermore, in his debut at the Polo Grounds on April 23, he hit a home run in his first at-bat. It was to be the only home run of his career.

In a career that lasted from 1952 to 1972, Wilhelm compiled a 143-122 record with 227 saves and a 2.52 ERA for nine different teams. He was an All-Star in 1953, 1959, 1961, 1962 and 1970. On September 20, 1958, he started a game for Baltimore at old Memorial Stadium and pitched a no-hitter against New York. In 1959, the year after pitching a no-hitter, he was kept in the starting rotation and finished the season with a 15-11 record and a league-leading 2.19 ERA. While his pitch baffled opponents, it terrorized Baltimore's catchers. The team set a record with 49 passed balls.

He pitched at the major league level for the last time on July 21, 1972, for the Los Angeles Dodgers, retiring a week before his 50th birthday. When he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985, he was the first relief pitcher to receive that honor.

Hoyt Wilhelm passed away on August 23, 2002, in Sarasota, Florida. He was 79 years old and is buried at Palms Memorial Park, Sarasota.

Date Added December 20, 2017

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