James Hoyt Wilhelm
Born: July 26, 1923 in Huntersville, NC
Died: Aug. 23, 2002 in Sarasota, FL
Debut: 1952 | Pos: P
Ht: 6' | Wt: 195 | B: R | T: R
>> Visit the Hoyt Wilhelm biography on Baseball Almanac for complete statistics.
Hoyt Wilhelm was the first relief pitcher elected to the Hall of Fame. Wilhelm died on August 23, 2002 at age of 79.
In his career that lasted from 1952 to 1972, Wilhelm compiled a 143-122 record with 227 saves and a 2.52 ERA for nine teams. He played mostly for the Giants, Baltimore and the Chicago White Sox.
Wilhelm's pitching skill was built around his knuckleball and his career highlights include:
Wilhelm is said to have become interested in the knuckleball while he was playing for his high school in Huntersville, N.C. He had read a story about knuckleball pitcher Dutch Leonard and Wilhelm started to experiment with the pitch.
Wilhelm got a late start to his career. He was a recipient of the Purple Heart for his efforts in the Battle of the Bulge. His baseball debut did not come until 1952 with the Giants. Wilhelm was 29.
In his first MLB season, he posted a 15-3 record with 11 saves and led the league with a 2.43 ERA. He finished 4th in MVP voting.
In 1959, the year after pitching a no-hitter, he was kept in the 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 the modern record with 49 passed balls.
Wilhelm was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1985. Rollie Fingers is the only other reliever to receive that honor as of 2002.
Wilhelm also pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals, Cleveland, California, Atlanta, the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles.
He pitched for the last time on July 21, 1972, for the Dodgers. Wilhelm retired a week before his 49th birthday.