Message to Cornelius NC Board of Commissioners regarding Hoyt Wilhelm (Sully Baseball Daily Podcast – December 21, 2015)


Text of the December 21, 2015 podcast:

Good day, members of the Cornelius Board of Commissioners and to Chuck Travis, the Mayor of Cornelius, North Carolina.

My name is Paul Francis Sullivan. I am a TV producer, comedian, filmmaker and baseball enthusiast also seen on HBO and ESPN2. I am the host and creator of the Sully Baseball Daily Podcast where I create a new episode about baseball and express my love for baseball every single day 365 days a year, unless there is a leap year, then I do another one.

My listeners subscribe to Sully Baseball on iTunes, Soundcloud, Stitcher and on other platforms daily, including this recording.

I am recording this to make my plea to save the baseball diamond at Cornelius Elementary School and to create a complex of athletic fields and facilities to honor of Hoyt Wilhelm.

The value of this complex is greater than honoring a favorite son of Cornelius, whose Hall of Fame legacy has actually been underrated in baseball history. The positivity these fields bring to this community goes beyond the value of a venue for our young men and women and men to play outside and learn teamwork.

I would like to think of a hypothetical girl or boy on those diamonds or on the field or in the adjacent basketball court. Most will never notice the name of the field or if they do, the name “Hoyt Wilhelm” would just be another name to remember, like Lake Norman or Davidson, North Carolina. But imagine that one kid who took the time to look up the name. Imagine what they would find if they would try to answer the question, “Who was Hoyt Wilhelm?”

They would see that Wilhelm was a major league pitcher, an All Star several times over, a World Series winner, and a Hall of Famer. That is certainly enough to get the respect of anyone at any age. But a deeper dive into his the facts of his life shows he embodies the values, lessons and hopes our young should aspire to.

Hoyt Wilhelm’s baseball life began on the very spot where the proposed fields would be. He was not blessed with a 100 mile an hour fastball or the kind of stuff that would attract scouts from across the country. He learned how to throw a knuckleball and perfected the strange pitch to the point where he earned a spot with the Mooresville minor league team.

ByDJseBWkKGrHqNhEEw5sM1PbvBMQHb-jK4_3In fact his baseball life stalled before the majors were even a factor. He was released from Class D ball. He was not good enough to play at the lowest rung of the professional ladder. His manager told him to stop throwing the knuckleball and that his future in baseball over.

Instead of quitting, he persevered. Playing in several different organizations and bouncing around the country, Hoyt finally made the major leagues in 1952 as a member of the New York Giants. He was 29. That is the age most people retire from baseball. He was probably only going to last a year or two.

While with the Giants, manager Leo Durocher sent him to the bullpen. At the the time, the bullpen was a demotion. It was where pitchers who were not good enough to start toiled. With very few exceptions, relief pitchers were anonymous and easily disposable.

wilhelm5Hoyt did not treat it like a demotion. He made it an opportunity. Despite not starting a game all season, Hoyt led the National League in earned run average and his 15 wins against 3 defeats was the best winning percentage in the league.

In 1953, he was selected to the All Star Game. By 1954, he was pitching in the World Series, using that knuckle ball he was told to abandon, and helped form a dominant relief corps that pulled off one of the greatest upsets in World Series history. The Giants swept the mighty Cleveland Indians, who had won a then record 111 games that season. Wilhelm earned the save in Game 3 and pitched in the Game 4 clincher.

But, as expected, as he reached his mid thirties, his career began to wind down and by 1958, Hoyt had bounced around between the Giants, Cardinals and Cleveland. But at age 36, he found new life in Baltimore. There he pitched as a starter and a reliever, threw a no hitter against the invincible Yankees, led the league in ERA, and made his second All Star team.

ORIOLESBetween aged 36 and 47, Hoyt Wilhelm not only used the knuckleball to become the most durable reliever in the game, but rewrote the record book, becoming a pioneer in the process: He was a relief pitcher superstar while pitching in the 1960’s and 1970’s for the Orioles, White Sox, Cubs, Braves, Angels and Dodgers.

He became the first pitcher to appear in 1,000 games and set records in relief innings and victories out of the bullpen.

And while the careers of most pitchers are over in their late 20’s, Hoyt made the All Star team at age 47 in 1970, earning the All Star honor in three different decades.

Wilhelm Hoyt Plaque 251_NBIn 1985, after 8 tries, Wilhelm was elected to the Hall of Fame. Many resisted voting for him because nobody who was primarily a reliever had ever been elected to Cooperstown. But as with everything in his life, he persevered, paving the way for Bruce Sutter, Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, Dennis Eckersely, and eventually Mariano Rivera in election.

In his acceptance speech, he mentioned his high school coaches and his time playing in Cornelius.

Imagine that child I mentioned looking up these facts about Hoyt Wilhelm. They would learn that he showed strength and courage in a much more tangible way than on the baseball field. Hoyt left his minor league team to fight in World War II. He saw active duty, fought at the Battle of the Bulge, where he was wounded. He played his entire big league career with a piece of shrapnel in his back. It takes quite a life to have a World Series ring and Hall of Fame plaque NOT be their greatest award. But that is the case for this Purple Heart awardee.

After learning about this great life and answering “Who is Hoyt Wilhelm?” another question could be asked: Where did a man lime Hoyt Wilhelm start his journey? The answer is the very field where the kids of Cornelius will be playing.

Hoyt_Wilhelm_GraveChances are they will not make it to the majors or play in the World Series or be elected to the Hall of Fame or earn the Purple Heart. But they CAN learn the lessons of hard work, dealing with adversity, silencing the naysayers with accomplishments, making the most of opportunities and fighting for a greater good. These traits that Hoyt Wilhelm embodied would be an inspiration on the field where he played.

Cornelius North Carolina should not let one of their greatest sons fade into obscurity when his name on the field can carry the spirit of his great life to another generation.

I am also extending this plea to the San Francisco Giants organization to consider retiring his number 49. The team does a wonderful job honoring their Hall of Fame members, including the ones who played for the New York Giant club. Having the pitcher known as Old Sarge be honored along with New York Giants legends John McGraw, Christy Mathewson, Bill Terry, Mel Ott, and Carl Hubbell would be a great moment at AT&T Park.

I would like to thank my friend Bob Deaton for including me in this discussion and giving me the chance to express my thoughts on Hoyt Wilhelm.

The game of baseball exists in the past, present, and future simultaneously. We love the game today while honoring what has happened before and anticipating what great events haven’t happened yet. Saluting the past of Hoyt Wilhelm for today’s kids to aspire to be great adults is the perfect way to carry on his memory.

Thank you

For my regular listeners, visit and enjoy the podcast on all of its platforms.

For the people of Cornelius North Carolina, I wish you all the best and play ball!


Images – Getty, Baseball Hall of Fame, Topps, Sporting News

Hoyt Wilhelm deserves more respect

Anyone who knows me, and I know I do, knows that I am fascinated by lists and fascinated by bullpen closers and relief pitchers.

I’ve read a bunch of lists of greatest reliever of all time on line and they usually have the same list of characters. Obviously Rivera, Fingers, Gossage, Eckersley and Sutter would all be up there in whatever order the writer sees fit.

Others would include Hoffman and Lee Smith.
Some others bring up Billy Wagner and Robb Nen.

I think Dan Quisenberry should always get more love.

One even had the gall to bring up Armando Benitez!!

But one name that doesn’t always come up is Hoyt Wilhelm. Oh he shows up on some and usually as a token toss to the past, but man oh man he should be a no brainer in the conversation with the Riveras, Fingers and Eckersleys.

Don’t believe me? Let’s list why:


Take a look at the All Time Saves leaders.

Almost every single one of them pitched from the mid 1980s on. Has the quality of relievers just skyrocketed recently? No, but people’s understanding of the value of a reliever has.

Scroll down and the first name you’ll see of someone who did the bulk of their pitching BEFORE 1970 is Wilhelm as he set the save record with 227.

Sure there were the occasional Jim Konstantys or Clem Labines in the 50s and 60s, but for the most part when Wilhelm broke in the mind set was “if you were good, you started and if not, you’ll be DEMOTED to the bullpen.” Or relievers were guys like Gerry Staley who were solid starters looking to prolong their career.

Not Wilhelm. He broke in as a reliever and came out guns blazing. He won the ERA title completely in relief (and pitched enough innings to qualify!) He went 15-3 with 11 saves and pitched in more games than anyone in the National League. He wasn’t extending his career in the pen. He was making his mark in baseball.


I know I am a stickler for this, especially in my evaluation of Trevor Hoffman, but a great reliever has to come up big for big winners.

Here’s Wilhelm pitching in the 1954 World Series where, along with Marv Grissom, had one of the best 1-2 punches from the bullpen of the decade. Wilhelm came in and pitched the Giants out of an 8th ining jam in Game 3 for the save and gave the Giants a 3-0 series lead.

He walked the walk in the big game.


You know how relievers today have specific roles and often aren’t comfortable when they pitch in different situations? Some closers just pitch the 9th and people hem and haw if they have show up in the 8th. Some pitch to one batter. Some pitch the 7th. Some pitch the 8th.

Take a look at Wilhelm’s pitching log in 1964.

He would enter some games in the 6th and finish them. He would come into the game in the 7th sometimes and the 8th in another. He would pitch 2/3 of an inning in one game and throw 3 1/3 the next. He would pitch both games of a double header and then throw the next day.

He did his job, answering the bell 73 times that year for 131 1/3 innings out of the pen. He won 12, saved 27 and posted a 1.99 ERA no matter what his role was.

And that’s not even mentioning his 10 INNINGS of 2 hit relief on August 6th 1959. Try trotting Rivera out for 10 innings in one night.


After bouncing around between the Giants, Cardinals and Indians, he landed in Baltimore in 1958. There he was put into the starting rotation and made 43 of his 52 career starts (compared to 1,018 relief appearances.)

He proved himself more than capable in the rotation. He made the 1959 All Star team, again led the league in ERA and in 1958 threw a no hitter against the mighty Yankees.

Harold Friend wrote about the no hitter in this article.

No Joba rules for Hoyt!

Despite his success in the rotation, he was back in the pen by 1961 when he was named to his third of five total All Star appearances.

(That was also the year of his infamous one batter relief appearance to prevent Roger Maris from hitting homer #60. What were the Orioles supposed to do? LET HIM hit the homer?)


I always wondered why there weren’t more knuckleballing relievers. Doesn’t it seem like a natural thing to do? Hitters rhythm would be screwed up, timing would be off and the reliever can come in back to back games.

Granted it would be ideal to bring them in at the top of the innings and not with a runner on third where a passed ball would tie things up.

But I think there should be more knuckleball relievers… and Wilhelm showed how to do it!


OK, maybe not forever, but for a damn long time!

He broke in with the Giants just a year after the 1951 playoff miracle. His teammates included a young Willie Mays and veterans like Sal Maglie. By the time he finished in 1972, his Dodger teammates included Ron Cey, Davey Lopes and Bill Buckner.

That’s quite a bridge.

Besides Willie Mays he was teammates with future Hall of Famers Monte Irvin. Red Schoendienst, Stan Musial, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, Larry Doby, Brooks Robinson, Robin Roberts, Nellie Fox, Hank Aaron, Orlando Cepeda, Phil Niekro, Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins, Billy Williams, Don Sutton and Frank Robinson.

And he played for Hall of Fame managers Leo Durocher, Al Lopez and Walter Alston.

That’s some company.

And speaking of the Hall of Fame…


Before Fingers, Sutter, Goose and Eck made it into the Hall, Wilhelm paved the way.

It took 8 ballots, but he was elected to Cooperstown in 1985 along with Lou Brock and Veteran Committee inductees Enos Slaughter and Arky Vaughan.

I’m sure there was a lot of hemming and hawing and a lot of voters who would blather on about “we can’t elect a specialist to the Hall of Fame.” But eventually reason won out.

There will be other relievers elected but Wilhelm will be the first.

He put wonderful numbers over his 21 seasons in the bigs and thankfully was living when he was elected in.

Was the greatest reliever of all time?
I’m not sure.

But I do know he belongs in the conversation.

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