Grave Story: Waite Hoyt (1899-1984)


Here lies Waite Hoyt, who was a rarity in baseball – a teenage phenom who actually lived up to his potential. Hoyt’s 21-year career included stops with the New York Giants (1918, 1932), Boston Red Sox (1919-20), New York Yankees (1921-30), Detroit Tigers (1930-31), Philadelphia Athletics (1931), Brooklyn Dodgers (1932, 1937-38) and Pittsburgh Pirates (1933-37).

Waite Charles Hoyt was born in Brooklyn on September 9, 1899. “Waite” and “Hoyt” are both old names that go back to the Revolutionary War era. The pitcher’s father was Addison Wait Hoyt, and the family could trace its history back to Lieutenant David Hoyt (Hoit), who served in the Vermont Militia, and even further back to Simion Hoyte, a founder of Charlestown, Mass. One of his ancestors was Julia Lord Wait, whose line also goes back to the Colonies.

Addison Hoyt was an actor who headed up his own minstrel company – i.e. he performed in blackface. He was an old sandlot pitcher himself and really seemed to enjoy his son’s success. When his son hit the big time in the majors, Hoyt starred in a newspaper ad for Lifebouy Soap. He also told the story of the pitcher’s grandfather, Walter Fowler Hoyt, who played ball for Troy in the 1860s and was a potential inventor of the curveball! A.W. Hoyt then passed all that knowledge down to his phenom son. There certainly could be some truth in there somewhere, but it’s also probable that the elder Hoyt was a really good storyteller.

Young Hoyt was signed by the New York Giants in August of 1915 when he was just 15 years old and attending Erasmus High School in Brooklyn. He was already 5’9” and about 170 pounds – he’d reach an even 6’0”, per Baseball Reference. He spent the summer of 1915 pitching for the Wyandots in the Junior Eagle League, where the team was undefeated. The White Sox, Pirates and Giants were just a few of the teams who took an interest in the boy, and pros Jack Coombs, Nap Rucker and Jeff Tesreau gave him pointers. Hoyt would be referred to as a schoolboy for the rest of his career.

Hoyt as a 15-year-old pro ballplayer. Source: Pittsburgh Daily Post, August 28, 1915.

Sixteen-year-old Hoyt was sent to the Eastern League in 1916 to prepare for the major leagues – after he graduated from Erasmus High, of course. His statistics in the Eastern League are incomplete, but he wrapped up his high school career with a couple of no-hitters and a 15-inning hitless streak.

McGraw farmed Hoyt out to the Memphis Chicks in 1917, which was managed by his old teammate Turkey Mike Donlin. Donlin was fired by Memphis management, and they released young Hoyt back to the Giants after he went 3-9 in 18 games, with 12 complete games. Hoyt then pitched for the Montreal Royals and ended the year with a combined 10-26 record.

“I went there under a handicap,” Hoyt said of his experience in Memphis. “Unfortunately, I came to Memphis with a big reputation. I was expected to pitch no-hit games. On account of not doing that they apparently were not satisfied.”

Taken as a whole, Hoyt’s minor league numbers are unimpressive, with a combined 17-39 record in 1917 and 1918. He was hurt by poor defense and poor hitting; in 1918, he lost a combined 13 games for Newark and Nashville, but his ERA was right around 2.00. McGraw did bring Hoyt to the majors for his debut on July 24, 1918. Hoyt, still just 18 years old, worked the ninth inning of a 10-2 Cardinals win. He struck out Bruno Betzel and Mike Gonzalez and retired Gene Packard on a pop to the shortstop.

That was the only inning the Giants got from Hoyt, for a few years at least. McGraw sent him to Newark of the International League for more seasoning. Before long, the Giants cut ties with Hoyt altogether. He was part of a package of players the Giants sent to Rochester of the International League in January 1919, in exchange for catcher Earl Smith.

Hoyt, however, refused to report to Rochester and retired.

“When I first joined the Giants I made up my mind that if I failed to make good in the major leagues before I was twenty-one I would quit, for I have no desire to be a minor-leaguer all my life,” he announced. “I’m not twenty-one yet, but I haven’t advanced as I had hoped to do, and it seems to me that now is the time to quit. I believed I would be given another chance to play for the Giants this year, and Rochester has no attractions for me.”

Obviously, that retirement didn’t stick. Hoyt made it back to the major leagues with the Boston Red Sox later in 1919, though not without some complications. Hoyt began pitching for the Baltimore Dry Dock team, champions of the amateur Shipyard League, and the Red Sox snapped him up. Meanwhile, his contract was purchased from Rochester by the New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern Association. The Pels, understandably, were surprised and incensed when Hoyt reappeared in the major leagues as a starter for the Boston Red Sox, throwing a 12-inning complete game win against the Tigers on July 31. Hoyt struck out 2 and allowed 10 hits in the 2-1 win, and he probably hadn’t finished his post-game shower before the Pelicans owner A.J. Heinemann fired off telegrams and press statements, basically accusing Boston of theft.

“The Boston club knew that Hoyt was owned by New Orleans,” he said in a statement. “Unless the major leagues have decided to throw all consideration of agreements to the winds and plunge baseball into a fight to the finish, justice will be done speedily.”

The National Commission decided in early September that Hoyt was indeed the property of the Pelicans but urged Boston and New Orleans to come to a financial agreement. The Red Sox kept Hoyt, who had pitched well for the team and fit nicely in their starting rotation along with the likes of Herb Pennock, Babe Ruth and Sad Sam Jones. The 19-year-old Hoyt finished the season with a 4-6 record and a 3.25 ERA in 13 games, 11 of which were starts.

Hoyt’s first full season in the majors, in 1920, was a disappointment that left the Sox disillusioned about his potential. His ERA jumped by more than a run to 4.38, and his record was merely 6-6. An abdominal strain kept him from pitching for some time, limiting him to 11 starts and 11 relief appearances. In December 1920, he was part of an eight-player deal between the Red Sox and New York Yankees. While this is the era where the Yankees fleeced the Red Sox repeatedly – they had purchased Ruth the year before – this deal was unremarkable save for the sheer size of it. In New York, Hoyt found a believer in Yankees manager, Miller Huggins. He put the young pitcher in the starting rotation and set him on the course to Cooperstown with a decade-long string of success.

Source: Baseball Hall of Fame

After a couple of third-place finishes, the 1921 Yankees won the AL pennant with 98 wins. Hoyt, dispelling any concerns about his durability, threw 282-1/3 innings in 32 starts and 11 relief appearances. His 19 wins were second on the team behind Carl Mays’ 27 victories. It was his postseason performance that really established him. Pitching against the New York Giants – his old team, of course – Hoyt threw 3 complete games and didn’t allow a single earned run. He won Games Two and Five by scores of 3-0 and 3-1, respectively. He took the loss in the final Game Eight, when Art Nehf of the Giants shut down the Yankees 1-0.

Hoyt again won 19 games in 1922, and the Yankees again lost the World Series to the crosstown Giants. They finally knocked off the Giants and became World Champs in 1923. Hoyt had a 17-9 record and 3.02 ERA, leading the AL with a 1.228 WHIP. He only pitched 1 game in the World Series and was knocked out in the third inning. It was a rare poor October performance for him.

From 1921 until 1930, Hoyt won 166 games for the Yankees, averaging 241 innings a year. He started around 30 games a year and would come out of the bullpen for another dozen or more each year. In 1928, he won 23 a career-high games and led all of baseball with 8 saves – had anyone known what a save was in 1928. Hoyt’s best season was 1927, when he went 22-7 for a .759 winning percentage that led all pitchers. He had a 2.63 ERA in 256-1/2 innings and fanned 67 batters. The renowned “Murderers Row” Yankees won the World Series in 1927 and ’28. Hoyt did his part, winning one game in 1927 against Pittsburgh and throwing 2 complete game wins over the Cardinals in 1928.

That one win in the ’27 World Series wasn’t one of his better starts, as the Pirates roughed him up for 4 runs in 7-1/3 innings in Game One. Hoyt still blasted the Pirates in a syndicated column published after the Yankees won the first two games. “The team thus far has shown no fight, no speed, in fact, nothing which could convince us that they are worth of their title,” Hoyt (or a harsh ghost-writer) wrote. “[The pitchers] have shown neither smartness nor true ability. I do not doubt [that] they are great pitchers. Something is wrong. What it is I hesitate to say.”

Away from the ballpark, Hoyt married Dorothy Pyle in 1922, and the couple had two children. Hoyt worked in the offseason as a realtor and later as an undertaker with his father-in-law. “I know of no business which has a brighter future than that of undertaking,” he quipped. He also followed in his father’s show biz footsteps and took to the stage to show off his fine singing voice.

One of the things that made Huggins such an accomplished manager was his ability to handle the diverse personalities of those fearsome Yankees teams and make them work. Hoyt, it was said, needed “careful handling.” “Morticians are temperamental with all their gruesome work. Hoyt is a temperamental pitcher and a mortician as well. So Huggins sometimes doesn’t know just how to take Hoyt,” said one columnist.

The Yankees of that era are justifiably remembered for their deadly offense, but the pitching staff is unfairly overlooked. The ’27 team had Hall of Famers Hoyt and Herb Pennock, and great seasons from Urban Shocker and George Pipgras. As Hoyt himself noted after their 1928 sweep of the Cardinals, “I don’t think I am being immodest when I say that the Yankees showed themselves to be the greatest championship team that ever played baseball by doing what no other team in the history of baseball has ever been able to do – namely, win two world’s series, each in four straight games, in successive years and run up a total of eight straight world’s series victories.”

Hoyt was 29 years old, and he didn’t know that his best years were behind him. In 1929, he fell to 10-9 and appeared in 30 games (25 starts). His 4.24 ERA was the worst of his Yankees tenure. Hoyt’s World Series heroics made him famous in New York City, and he spent his offseason performing a vaudeville show with pianist J. Fred Coots (the man who wrote “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” and “Love Letters in the Sand” among other hits). Hoyt was also a close friend to the hard-living Babe Ruth, and per Hoyt’s SABR bio, the pitcher enjoyed the New York nightlife. All of this is a way to say that his sudden struggles at the mound may not have been related to injury or bad mechanics.

The Yankees fell to second in 1929 and were further rocked by the sudden death of their popular manager, Huggins. He was replaced by Bob Shawkey, and it seems like Shawkey couldn’t wait to get rid of Hoyt. As early as January 1930, there were reports that the new skipper was talking with Tigers’ manager Bucky Harris to move the pitcher. The Yankees had youngsters Red Ruffing and Lefty Gomez waiting in the wings, and when Hoyt got off to a shaky start in 1930, the Yankees cut ties with him.

On May 30, Hoyt and infielder Mark Koenig were traded to the Detroit Tigers for Ownie Carroll, Harry Rice and Yats Wuestling. The change of scenery didn’t help the struggling Hoyt. He was 2-2 with a 4.53 ERA with the Yankees in 8 games and 9-8 with a 4.78 ERA in 34 games with the Tigers. After a decade with one team, Hoyt would be a nomad for the remainder of his career.

Betty and Waite Hoyt. Source: Pittsburgh Sun Telegraph, May 15, 1933.

Hoyt’s personal life wasn’t much better. His marriage to his childhood sweetheart Dorothy fell apart in 1931, after the pitcher got into the middle of a divorce case between his Yankees teammate Joe Dugan and his wife, also named Dorothy. Dorothy Dugan charged that her husband spent too many nights on the town, and Dugan and Hoyt both filed affidavits that the opposite was true – Mrs. Dugan was the one who drank too much. Dorothy Hoyt promptly filed an affidavit of her own to support Dugan’s wife. The two wives charged that the ballplayers were known to disappear for days on end together, carousing and gambling away their salaries. Dorothy Hoyt filed for divorce in 1932 on grounds of cruelty, after a year of separation.

While that drama was taking place, Hoyt was resurrecting his pitching career. Dropped by Detroit after going 3-8 with an ERA near 6 at the start of 1931, he caught on with the Philadelphia A’s and went 10-5 for the remainder of the season, helping Philadelphia win the pennant. Hoyt pitched his final postseason game in the World Series, taking the 5-1 loss against the Cardinals while allowing 3 runs, including a Pepper Martin 2-run homer. St. Louis would win the World Series in seven games.

Hoyt next signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1932 but showed up to spring training overweight and out of shape. He went on a crash diet and lost 30 pounds, but he also lost his stamina and effectiveness at the same time. Banished by Brooklyn with a 7.76 ERA in 4 starts and 4 relief appearances, he re-signed with the New York Giants on June 23, 1932. He just missed a reunion with John McGraw, as the Giants manager had abruptly retired about two weeks prior.

Hoyt pitched regularly for the Giants, with 18 games as a starter and 6 as a reliever. With the steady work, he won 5 games and lost 7 with a 3.42 ERA, once again pushing back against reports that he was washed up. Released by the Giants at the end of the season, the 33-year-old Hoyt signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates and stayed there for 4-1/2 seasons.

Hoyt was a much different pitcher and a different person that he had been earlier in his career. He had acknowledged his alcoholism and was a regular attendee of AA meetings. His fastball had faded considerably, and he was more adept at using his smarts to retire batters instead of his speed. He remarried to a New York socialite named Ellen Burbank. They would stay married until her death in 1982.

Hoyt, though no longer one of the game’s premier pitchers, became a very solid swingman. He worked between 100 and 200 innings each year with Pittsburgh and generally kept his ERA below 3. He tossed a 4-hit 2-0 shutout against Brooklyn on September 12, 1933, for his 200th career win. He went 15-7 for the Bucs in 1934, leading the staff in wins, ERA (2.93), shutouts (3, tied with Larry French) and saves (5). His 105 strikeouts were the most in his career, including his workhouse seasons as a Yankees ace. It was a remarkable season for a pitcher given up for dead by five different teams over the previous four seasons and netted him a few MVP votes.

Hoyt never reached those heights again, but he remained an effective pitcher for the Pirates until mid-1937, when Brooklyn purchased his contract. Put into the starting rotation for the last time in his career, Hoyt won 7 games for the 92-loss Dodgers. After going 0-3 for Brooklyn in 6 appearances in 1938, Hoyt was released on May 16 by Brooklyn’s new business manager, Larry MacPhail, as part of a housecleaning when the team got off to a sluggish start.

Hoyt, who was one of the youngest players in the majors when he made his debut, played long enough to retire as one of the oldest players. In his 21 seasons, he had a record of 237-182 and an ERA of 3.59. He appeared in 674 games, made 425 starts and threw 226 complete games and 26 shutouts. He also picked up 53 saves and struck out 1,206 batters. He appeared in 12 World Series games, 11 as a starter, and had a 6-4 record, 1.83 ERA and 1.231 WHIP in 83-2/3 innings.

Hoyt was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969 by the Veterans Committee. He had appeared on 16 different ballots and never received more than 20% of the vote. In his 10 years with the Yankees, he had a 157-98 record with a 3.48 ERA, which is excellent. For the rest of his career, his record was 80-84 with a 3.75 ERA. Half of his career is Hall-worthy, and the other half is basically a mid-tier pitcher. According to Baseball Reference, he’s worth 54.2 Wins Above Replacement as a pitcher, which is 84th all-time, between Jack Powell and Shocker at 54.8 and Whitey Ford, Al Spalding and David Wells at 53.6.

After baseball, Hoyt spent the rest of his career in broadcasting. He first had radio shows on the East Coast and then moved to Cincinnati, where he became the play-by-play announcer for the Cincinnati Reds from 1942 to 1965, with occasional returns to the booth into the ‘70s. A generation of fans that were too young to know about his pitching success got to know him from his announcing career. Hoyt was a pioneer in the field, as it was generally thought at the time that ex-ballplayers didn’t have the performance skills to transition to the broadcast booth.

Babe Ruth and Hoyt when they were Yankees teammates. After Ruth died and the narrative about his life changed for the worse, Hoyt was a staunch defender of his friend. Source: Baseball Hall of Fame.

Calling play-by-play was only a part of what made him famous. Whenever there was a rain delay, Hoyt could launch into a seemingly endless amount of stories from his career. Babe Ruth was a favorite topic; on the night that Ruth died on August 16, 1948, Hoyt launched into a two-hour off-the-cuff tribute to his friend. Thanks to YouTube, you can hear many of his stories still. Listen to Hoyt explain exactly how he went from the Baltimore Dry Docks to the Red Sox here.

By the 1970s and ‘80s, the narrative about Ruth had grown a little darker, as tales of his womanizing, drinking and gluttony sometimes overshadowed his heroics. Hoyt staunchly defended his friend from the attacks. “The trouble is now we’re in the days of the anti-heroes. Ruth was just a hero,” Hoyt said in a 1983 interview. “First of all, whoever said Ruth was fat is full of malarkey. And he didn’t have skinny legs, they just tapered at the ankles. You see, the key to Babe was he had no fanny. He just had this little cracker ass, that’s all. All those things about him being fat were lies. And he was not a drunk.”

A heart condition forced Hoyt into retirement in 1975, but he remained a popular figure in Cincinnati for the rest of his life. He and Ellen moved to Florida briefly, but they stayed less than a year. “We sold out and came back to Cincinnati, and I was damned glad to get back,” Hoyt said in ’75.

Ellen Hoyt died in 1982. Hoyt remarried the following year; Betty Hoyt was once a secretary to NL President Warren Giles, so she knew baseball very well. They were married a little over a year.

Waite Hoyt was hospitalized at Jewish Hospital on August 7, 1984, as his heart problems worsened. He suffered three heart attacks while in the hospital, with the third one causing his death on August 25. Hoyt was 84 years old. He is buried in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, about a quarter mile from the grave of Miller Huggins, the man who gave him his big break with the Yankees.

For more reading about Waite Hoyt, check out this post about his hat modeling career and bathing history.

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