Hoyt Wilhelm

Position: Pitcher
Teams: 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; Los Angeles Dodgers, 1971-1972

Hoyt Wilhelm
In 1952, Hoyt Wilhelm became the
first hurler in major-league history
to win an ERA crown without pitching
a single complete game.

Hoyt Wilhelm blazed the way for the modern relief specialist and was the first career reliever to enter the Hall of Fame. He got into more games than any pitcher in history, and he retired with more relief wins than any other major-leaguer.

James Hoyt Wilhelm (1923-2002) was a native of Huntersville, North Carolina. He grew up listening to radio broadcasts of the Senators, and he became a fan of Washington pitcher Dutch Leonard, who was one of the first pitchers to rely almost exclusively on the knuckleball.

Wilhelm studied a 1939 newspaper article describing the mechanics of throwing the pitch and eventually became a master. He was successful in his first pro season with Mooresville in the North Carolina League in 1942, but World War II intervened. Wilhelm served three years and saw action in the Battle of the Bulge.

A winner of the Purple Heart, Wilhelm returned to Mooresville in 1946, had two good seasons, and moved to the South Atlantic League in 1948. He was bombed, but returned the next season and mastered the circuit. He moved up to Minneapolis of the American Association in 1950. He stayed for two seasons, had a .500 record, and allowed four and one-half runs a game.

In 1952, Hoyt made the Giants as a reliever. He burst out of nowhere to lead the National League with 71 games pitched, 15 relief wins, a 2.43 ERA, and an .833 winning percentage. He had 11 saves that season. On April 23, during the first at bat in his career, he smashed a home run. In his second at bat, he smacked a triple.

When he retired 21 seasons later, he had totaled one career home run and one career triple. He led the league in appearances in 1953, and he notched 15 saves. In 1954, he had a 2.10 ERA and a league-best 12 relief wins as the Giants won the World Series. Wilhelm recorded a save in the Series, the only postseason appearance in his career.

Wilhelm stayed in the majors until he was 49 years old. From 1962 to 1968, he posted ERAs below 2.00 six times. In his long career he had just 52 starts, most of which came with Baltimore from 1959 to 1960. He had a no-hitter in 1958 and led the AL with a 2.19 ERA as a starter in 1959. He had a career-high 27 saves for the 1964 White Sox.

Wilhelm's only remaining career record (most games pitched) is likely to be eclipsed by those who follow him. But it will be only the outstanding relievers who can follow him into the Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the hallowed halls in 1985.

Here are Hoyt Wilhelm's major league totals:


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