R.I.P. to outfielder/first baseman Jim Holt, who played on the World Champion Athletics in 1974. He died on March 29 at the Alamance Regional Medical Center in Burlington, N.C. He was 74 years old. Holt played for the Minnesota Twins (1968-74) and Oakland A’s (1974-76).
James Holt was born in Graham, N.C. on May 27, 1944 and attended Graham High School, where he graduated in 1960. He enlisted in the U.S. Army and spent four years in the service, honing his baseball skills while overseas in Germany. He arranged a tryout with the Kansas City Athletics during a 30-day leave and signed with the team in 1965 after his discharge. Holt spent two seasons in the minor leagues, hit well and stole a good amount of bases, but he never advanced past A-ball. The A’s left him unprotected in the Rule V draft, and the Twins snatched him up.
As a Rule V pick, the Twins were required to keep Holt on the roster for the full season or offer him back to the A’s, so he spent all season in Minnesota. As is typical with Rule V picks, his playing time was pretty minimal. He appeared in 70 games, frequently as a pinch hitter or pinch runner, and hit .208 in 106 at-bats. Holt spent almost all of 1969 in AAA with the Denver Bears, where he slashed .336/.377/.512. After that kind of a season, Holt was rewarded with a September call-up and proceeded to hit .357, with 5 hits in 14 at-bats. His first MLB home run was a pinch-hit, game-tying shot off the White Sox Danny Murphy on Sept. 30, turning a 3-2 loss into an eventual 4-3 win. Holt’s play made a fan out of Twins manager Billy Martin.
“Holt has the quickness and ability to move and play either third or first,” Martin said. “He is the type of individual who listens and learns fast. I like his attitude.”
High praise indeed, considering Martin hated pretty much everybody! Martin would be fired in the offseason, so that experimentation at third base didn’t happen under new manager Bill Rigney.
Holt played in more than 100 games with the Twins in 1970 and 1971, spending time at all three outfield positions. He hit pretty well — .266 in 1970 and .259 in ’71 — and was an above-average outfielder at every position. Still, the Twins opened 1972 with Holt in AAA Tacoma. Holt’s SABR bio speculates, based on a Sporting News article, that Holt was demoted because he would have been the fifth African-American on the team and therefore would have had to have roomed with a white player. Obviously, that’s nothing the Twins would have ever confirmed. It is worth noting that the team’s then-owner, Calvin Griffith, once infamously (and perhaps drunkenly) told an audience that he moved the team from Washington D.C. to Minnesota because of all the white people there, so draw your own conclusions.
Holt returned to the big-league club briefly in ’72 and batted .444 in 10 games and then hit .297 in 1973. He saw a career-high 441 at-bats that season and set high marks in pretty much every offensive category, including 11 home runs. His production in 1974 dropped, as did his playing time, and he was traded mid-season to Oakland for first baseman Pat Borque. He didn’t play much for the A’s that season — 6 hits in 42 at-bats and 25 straight hitless at-bats as a pinch-hitter — but he stayed on the roster for their playoff run. Holt went 0-for-1 with a walk against Baltimore in the ALCS but was 2-for-3 with 2 RBIs in the World Series against the Dodgers. Both of those hits were pinch hits, and the second one drove in 2 runs to help push the A’s past the Dodgers 5-2 in Game 4.
A’s manager Al-Dark put Holt into that game, against 20-game winner Andy Messersmith, despite the fact that Holt had been in an 0-for-26 slump prior to a base hit in Game 3. “I felt he was on a hitting streak,” Dark said.
“I hit an inside changeup and it has to be the biggest hit of my career because I’ve never been in a World Series before,” Holt said. “If two hits in the series are a hot streak, then I’m on one.”
After the World Series heroics, Holt cooled down with the A’s in 1975, hitting .220 in 102 games. His last action in the majors came in 1976, when he hit 2 doubles in 7 at-bats. Holt spent the remainder of 1976 in AAA and retired from baseball after a stint in the Mexican League in 1977.
For his career, Holt slashed .265/.305/.352 in 9 MLB seasons. He had 428 hits, including 64 doubles, 10 triples and 19 homers. He had 177 RBIs and scored 174 runs. After finishing pro ball, Holt returned to North Carolina, working for Fireequip and the Elon Fire Department.