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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,195

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This is the grave of Waite Hoyt.

Born in 1899 in Brooklyn, Hoyt was such a great high school pitching prospect that Giants manager John McGraw signed him to a contract in 1914, when Hoyt was only 15 years old. But it didn’t go very well at first. He didn’t actually play until 1918, after he had turned 18. And then he struggled a bit, McGraw sent him to the minors, and then traded him to the Boston Red Sox before the 1919 season. He wasn’t great the next couple of years with the Sox but he was OK and he was so young. So the Yankees, being smarter than most other teams and seeing what potential young Waite Hoyt had, traded for him before the 1921 season.

It was with the Yankees that Hoyt became a dominant pitcher. He would pitch there for nearly a decade. He was quite good, but was never really the star people thought he would be. He put together a series of very solid seasons. He usually won close to 20 games and did hit that mark in 1927, when he led the league in wins with 22, and again in 1928, when he won 23. But given the quality of the teams he played for, this wasn’t quite domination and Hoyt isn’t considered one of the great all-time pitchers. According to Baseball Reference’s WAR stat, his best season was 1927, which was a 6.0 WAR. That’s quite a good season, maybe even deserving a few Cy Young votes, but that’s it. Most seasons, he worked in the 4 WAR range, which is basically a fine #2 or #3 starter.

Some of the reason why Hoyt might not have been super dominant was the need to work in the offseason given the low pay. Hoyt was something of a character on top of all of it, so the jobs he chose was working in a mortuary and performing vaudeville on stage. He was good enough at the latter to share the stage with Jack Benny and George Burns. He also painted and played semi-pro basketball. He also drank a lot. A lot. He later blamed his copious drinking as the reason why he wasn’t a more dominant pitcher and he would probably know.

In 1929, Hoyt really began to slip. The Yankees moved him to Detroit in the 1930 season and he would hang around as a journeyman all the way until 1938, also appearing with the As, Dodgers, Giants, Pirates, and then back to the Dodgers. He finally gave it up that year and he was 38 and it was definitely time. He did have a very good year with the Pirates in 1934, when he won 15 games and had a last 5.0 WAR season. But that was about it and at the end, he was a marginal reliever in an era when that wasn’t so valued. He finished with 237 wins. He later said that if he hadn’t boozed it up, he would have had 300.

Hoyt, being a big personality, went into broadcasting after his playing days. He was one of the first players to do so. But it was a struggle. The Yankees wanted him Wheaties sponsored the broadcast and the company vetoed the idea because ballplayers were generally seen to be too stupid to be broadcasters. And hey, that’s often right! But Hoyt was very good at the job when he finally got one with the Reds in 1942. In fact, he was the play by play voice for Cincinnati through the mid-60s. He was noted for his only using the past tense when calling the action since it was technically in the past when people heard it. Hoyt also was a very close friend of Babe Ruth and wrote extensively on the man after his 1948 death. Today, he’s considered one of the biggest sources of accurate information about Ruth that we have.

All of this led to Hoyt being inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1969. That’s nice and all but also ridiculous. He was nowhere near HOF quality. But people liked him, he played for the Yankees, and everyone knew who he was. That was enough. According to Baseball Reference, he’s the 102nd best starter in history, making him not even close for any kind of objective qualification. To put him in modern context, and we must add to this that the sheer number of innings thrown by pitchers back then meant that you would naturally be higher on this list per inning if your arm could handle it, this places Hoyt a good bit below Felix Hernandez, who was great at his best but certainly is no HOF pitcher. He’s also below such non HOF players as Frank Viola, Roy Oswalt, and Mark Langston.

Hoyt cleaned himself up from the booze in the 40s and that helped him live a good long and productive life. His heart gave out in 1984, at the age of 84.

Waite Hoyt is buried in Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati, Ohio.

If you would like this series to visit other pitchers near Hoyt’s actual quality and not others inducted around his ridiculous Hall of Fame induction, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Eppa Rixey, another questionable HOF inductee, is in Milford, Ohio and Larry Jackson, who was pretty good in the 50s and 60s for the Cardinals, is in Boise, Idaho. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

This is a good post for September baseball. How bout them Mariners!!!!!!

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