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Hoyt Wilhelm

Profiles of Valor

Hoyt Wilhelm blazed an unorthodox trail to baseball stardom. Born in July of 1922, Wilhelm barely played any minor league baseball before going off to serve the United States in World War II.

 

He joined the U.S. Army in 1942 and served in the European Theatre of Operations. During the Battle of the Bulge, a German artillery blast caught Wilhelm, injuring him. He received a Purple Heart for his service and left the Army in 1945 after rising to the rank of Staff Sergeant. He would go on to pitch his entire career with shrapnel from the blast lodged in his back and throwing hand.

 

Unlike most elite pitchers, Wilhelm possessed neither an above average fastball nor curveball. Instead, Wilhelm threw a devastating knuckleball. After spending seven years as a starter in the minor leagues, the New York Giants managerLeo Durocher called Wilhelm up to the big leagues in 1952 as a reliever. Hoyt Wilhelm would go on to pitch twenty seasons as a reliever in the Major Leagues for nine different MLB teams.

 

Over the course of his career, Wilhelm was voted an All- Star eight times and led the MLB in Earned Run Average (ERA)twice. He posted a career ERA of 2.52 while winning 143 games and saving 228 games. He was a member of the 1954 World Series Championship team, the New York Giants. He posted an ERA under 2.00 for five straight seasons with the Chicago White Sox during the mid-1960’s and was the oldest player in the league from 1966-1972, until he retired in ’72 at age 50. In 1985 he was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, becoming the first reliever to be inducted.

 

Everything about Hoyt Wilhelm’s career was out of the ordinary as a rare knuckleballer. He did not make his MLB debut until he was 29 and pitched his entire Hall of Fame career with lasting injuries from war. Wilhelm was a hero through and through and demonstrated his commitment to his country and baseball every day.