Summary

Conflict Period:
World War II 1
Branch:
Army 1
Birth:
26 Jul 1922 2
Huntersville, North Carolina 2
Death:
August 23, 2002 (aged 80) 2
Sarasota, Florida 2
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Personal Details

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Full Name:
James Hoyt Wilhelm 2
Also known as:
Hoyt Wilhelm 2
Person:
James H Wilhelm 1
Level of Education: 4 years of high school 1
Marital Status: Single, without dependents 1
Birth:
26 Jul 1922 2
Huntersville, North Carolina 2
Male 2
Birth:
1922 1
North Carolina 1
Death:
August 23, 2002 (aged 80) 2
Sarasota, Florida 2
Cause: Heart Failure 2
Residence:
Place: Mecklenburg County, North Carolina 1
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World War II 1

Branch:
Army 1
Enlistment Date:
23 Nov 1942 1
Army Branch:
Branch Immaterial - Warrant Officers, USA 1
Army Component:
Selectees (Enlisted Men) 1
Army Serial Number:
34591357 1
Enlistment Place:
Cp Croft South Carolina 1
Enlistment Term:
Enlistment for the duration of the War or other emergency, plus six months, subject to the discretion of the President or otherwise according to law 1
Source of Army Personnel:
Civil Life 1
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Occupation:
Athletes, sports instructors, and sports officials 1
Race or Ethnicity:
White 1
Source Information:
Box Number: 0822 1
Film Reel Number: 3.244 1

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Stories

Hoyt Wilhelm, First Reliever in the Hall of Fame, Dies

Hoyt Wilhelm, the first reliever elected to the Hall of Fame, the last man to throw a no-hitter against the Yankees and a pitcher of almost unequaled longevity in the major leagues, died Friday in Sarasota, Fla.

His wife, Peggy, told The Associated Press that the cause of death was heart failure. Although major league records indicated Wilhelm was 79 years old, the nursing home handling the funeral arrangements said he was 80.

Wilhelm pitched in 1,070 games before his last time on a major league mound in 1972. He was an early master of the knuckleball, a pitch he fluttered over the plate, sending the ball in twists and turns that left batters swinging helplessly and sometimes confounding his own catchers.

He said he learned the pitch as a 12-year-old, growing up in North Carolina, when he read a newspaper article about four Washington Senators who threw knuckleballs. He taught himself, using a tennis ball to practice.

Wilhelm retained a wry wit cultivated in the rural South, and was fond of recalling the difficulty some catchers had in laying their gloves on his knuckleball. When he was with the Chicago White Sox, he said, he was warmed up by a young catcher who insisted that he did not need a catcher's mask.

''The ball couldn't have caught him more cleanly in the eye if I'd been aiming it there,'' Wilhelm said in 1985, the year he was elected to the Hall of Fame.

As a specialist in the knuckleball, he also overcame fears from some teammates and fans that his pitches would be too slow and hard to catch to prevent runners from stealing second base.

''The trick,'' Wilhelm said, ''is not to let them get on in the first place.'' When runners did make it on base, they had to contend with something else -- his deceptive move to first.

James Hoyt Wilhelm grew up in Huntersville, N.C., where he experimented with his unorthodox pitching style while playing high school ball.

He got his break in the big leagues late. He played for seven years in the minor leagues, taking time out to serve in World War II; he was awarded a Purple Heart at the Battle of the Bulge in 1944.

He was around 30 in 1952 when the New York Giants decided to give him a chance in their bullpen. That year, he put in 71 relief appearances, went 15-3 with 11 saves and recorded a league-leading 2.43 earned run average.

Wilhelm also started his major league career with a bang at the plate. In his first time at bat in the Polo Grounds for the Giants, on April 23, 1952, he connected for a home run. It was the only homer of his career.

In his 20 years on big league mounds, he played mainly for the Giants, the Baltimore Orioles and the Chicago White Sox, but also had shorter stints with five other teams. He was an All-Star five times.

Although Wilhelm made his career mainly as a reliever, he started a game on Sept. 20, 1958, that was to become his most memorable. Pitching for the Orioles, he threw a no-hitter against the Yankees.

For his career, Wilhelm was 143-122 with 227 saves, and had a 2.52 E.R.A.

When he was elected in 1985, Wilhelm became the first relief pitcher inducted into the Hall of Fame. Another reliever, Rollie Fingers, has since joined him.

Once, when asked by a reporter to explain his success, Wilhelm said, ''I never went into a game and got all flustered up.

''I try to take a close game and men on base in stride. I've always thought baseball was just a game, and I enjoy it. And ever since I was a boy and learned the knuckleball, I've thrown it with a lot of determination.''

Besides his wife, who is from Sarasota, Wilhelm is survived by a son, Jim Wilhelm of Sarasota, and two daughters, Patti Collins of Sarasota and Pam Pate of Cheraw, S.C.

   

Hoyt Wilhelm 1923-2002 Ex-Sox, Hall of Famer, the knuckleball king

Hoyt Wilhelm, whose fluttering knuckleball made him the first relief pitcher elected to baseball's Hall of Fame, died Friday in Sarasota, Fla. The former White Sox star was 79.

Known for his longevity--he pitched for nine teams over 21 seasons, including the White Sox and Cubs--Wilhelm also brought the knuckleball out of obscurity for a renaissance in the 1960s and '70s. His trademark pitch befuddled hitters and catchers alike, prompting Baltimore Orioles manager Paul Richards to develop an oversized mitt for his catchers

 

"Wilhelm's knuckleball did more than anyone else's," said longtime baseball executive Roland Hemond, now an adviser to White Sox GM Ken Williams. "No one could predict what it was going to do. There was so much action on it."

When Wilhelm retired in 1972, he had pitched in a major-league-record 1,070 games, a total since surpassed by Jesse Orosco and Dennis Eckersley. Over his career he was 143-122 with 227 saves and a 2.52 ERA.

Though best known as a reliever, Wilhelm pitched a no-hitter for the Orioles on Sept. 20, 1958, against the Yankees at Baltimore's old Memorial Stadium. It was the last no-hitter pitched against the Yankees.

James Hoyt Wilhelm began experimenting with the knuckler after reading a story about knuckleballer Dutch Leonard while playing high school ball in his hometown of Huntersville, N.C. But Wilhelm went off to war, winning a Purple Heart at the Battle of the Bulge, and spent eight years in the minor leagues before reaching the majors.

"I was released in Class D," he once recalled. "The manager suggested I quit the knuckleball. I just went home and kept throwing it. Nobody wanted me, probably because I was a knuckleball pitcher."

He was 28 when the New York Giants decided to give him a chance in their bullpen in 1952. In his first at-bat in the major leagues, he hit his only home run. In his next at-bat, he tripled.

It was an auspicious beginning to his rookie season. Wilhelm went 15-3 with 11 saves and a league-leading 2.43 ERA in 71 relief appearances. But he never achieved much more success at the plate, finishing with a lifetime batting average of .088.

A year after his no-hitter, the Orioles kept Wilhelm in the starting rotation. He went 15-11 and led the AL with a 2.19 ERA. But Orioles catchers had a tough time handling Wilhelm's knuckleball, setting a modern record with 49 passed balls in 1959. For the next season, Richards designed the oversized mitt that eventually became standard equipment.

In 1963, Wilhelm came to the White Sox in a controversial trade that sent fellow Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio to the Orioles. He saved 98 games over the next six seasons; he also tutored Sox pitchers Eddie Fisher and Wilbur Wood in the knuckleball.

"I always had the knuckleball, but when I came to the ballclub in 1967, he gave me the best advice," Wood said Saturday. "The thing he told me was that you have to go with it 100 percent of the time. To win or lose a ballgame, you have to use the knuckleball since it's your biggest pitch.

 

"It was a great privilege and honor for me to be a teammate and friend of his."

In 1966, Sox catcher John Romano was sent behind the plate to catch Wilhelm for the first time after two other catchers were injured. Wilhelm's first two pitches floated past Romano to the backstop.

When the third pitch got by him, Romano began walking to the Sox dugout, stripping off his mask and mitt and hurling them onto the bench in frustration. Manager Eddie Stanky had to push him back onto the field.

"Hoyt was a good guy, and he threw the best knuckleball I ever saw," said former Yankee and Sox first baseman Bill "Moose" Skowron. "You never knew what Hoyt's pitch would do. I don't think he did either."

Wilhelm also pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals, Cleveland Indians, California Angels, Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers. He pitched for the final time on July 21, 1972, for the Dodgers.

After his retirement, Wilhelm became a minor-league manager and pitching coach in the Braves and Yankees organizations. But he declined to teach the knuckler, saying, "A knuckleballer is born with the knack of throwing it, and that's it."

In 1986, he said, "A lot of pitchers maybe ought to start throwing the knuckleball. It's certainly a good pitch, and you don't have to have so much arm strength."

Upon his 1985 induction into the Hall of Fame, Wilhelm said he had three goals as a young player: playing in a World Series, making an All-Star team and pitching a no-hitter. He achieved all three.

Fans at Saturday night's White Sox-Devil Rays game at Comiskey Park observed a moment of silence in his memory.

He is survived by his wife, Peggy; a son, two daughters, two brothers and six sisters. Services will be Tuesday in Sarasota.

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