Editor’s note: The text of this article was first published on Camden Chat on January 3, 2014, when Hoyt Wilhelm was the #38 player on our then-top 40 Orioles list. It is being re-posted today with light edits as we reach Wilhelm’s place in our new top 50 greatest Orioles countdown.
#40 - Hoyt Wilhelm, RHP (1958-1962)
Hoyt Wilhelm is a pitcher that I wish I could have seen pitch, mostly because I like old baseball players and I like the knuckleball. After spending the mid-1940s fighting in World War II, Wilhelm put together a 21-year baseball career that lasted until he was 49 years old. His specialty was the knuckleball, and his success with that pitch landed him in the Hall of Fame in 1985. Wilhelm pitched for nine teams in his career, with the three longest tenures being with the Chicago White Sox (361 games), New York Giants (319 games), and Baltimore Orioles (185 games).
Wilhelm’s Orioles career began on August 23, 1958 when he was claimed on waivers from the Cleveland Indians. Wilhelm was mostly a relief pitcher in his career, but for the Orioles in 1958 he made four starts over the last month-plus of the season, including the very first no-hitter in Baltimore Orioles history.
The date was September 20th, and 10,941 Orioles fans had packed Memorial Stadium for a late season game between the first-place New York Yankees and the seventh-place Baltimore Orioles. Wilhelm struck out eight and walked two in the no-hitter but faced just 28 batters as one of the players who walked was thrown out stealing. The Orioles won 1-0 with a home run by Wilhelm’s catcher, Gus Triandos.
In Wilhelm’s second year with the Orioles he was primarily at starter, making 27 starts and five relief appearances. He led the league with a 2.19 ERA and threw 13 complete games. He logged 226 innings pitched that year, the most in his career by over 65 innings.
Despite a very successful season in the rotation the previous year, the 37-year-old Wilhelm went back to the bullpen in 1960. The Orioles had a rotation of young starters, including Milt Pappas and Steve Barber. The team chose to go young rather than have the kind of veteran presence in the rotation that would have been fashionable later in baseball history.
Over the next three seasons he appeared in 144 games for the Birds in relief. Wilhelm was essentially a closer before closers were cool as he finished 111 games from 1960-1962. His ERA for those three seasons was just 2.63.
In January 1963, after four-plus very good seasons with the Orioles, Wilhelm was packaged in a trade to the Chicago White Sox for another future Hall of Famer, Luis Aparicio. That was the end of Wilhelm’s Orioles career. He came to the Orioles at the age of 35, when most players are nearing the end of their careers. But he went on to pitch for ten more season after he left the Orioles. His final game was on July 10, 1972, just 16 days before his 50th birthday.
In total, Hoyt Wilhelm pitched in 1070 major-league games with a 2.52 ERA. He made five appearances in the All Star Game, three of which were in an Orioles uniform. Of his 52 career starts, 43 of them were for the Orioles. With the O’s he threw 19 complete games, including five shutouts. He also racked up 40 saves for the Orioles and 227 saves in his career.
Wilhelm was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985, wearing a New York Giants cap on his plaque. He passed away in 2002 at the age of 80.
Statistics from Baseball Reference.