RIP to LaMarr Hoyt, a Cy Young Award-winning pitcher for the 1983 “Winning Ugly” White Sox. He died on November 29 after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 66 years old. Hoyt played for the Chicago White Sox (1979-84) and San Diego Padres (1985-86).
“He genuinely loved being a part of the White Sox organization, and I can say without a doubt those were the best years of his life. All he talked about in his final days was baseball, the White Sox and all of his former teammates,” said Matthew Hoyt, his oldest son. White Sox manager Tony LaRussa called him a “great competitor.” “He had average stuff but amazing command and tremendous confidence, and he never showed fear,” he added.
Dewey LaMarr Hoyt Jr. was born in Columbia, S.C., on January 1, 1955. Dewey Sr. was a minor-league pitcher who spent a couple of seasons on Class-D teams in the late 1940s. Dewey Jr. had a tough upbringing. His parents divorced when he was six months old, and he was raised by an aunt. He hardly ever saw his mother, and he and his father were distant, though Dewey Sr. did give his son some pitching lessons. But Hoyt learned to take care of himself. One of his closest childhood friends, a cousin, was accidentally shot to death as a teenager. “In a way, it was good, ’cause it forced me to grow up real quick,” Hoyt later said.
As a student at Keenan High School, Hoyt was one of the top punters in the area, with a 40+ yard average in 1971. He later became the Keenan Raiders’ starting quarterback. However, the New York Yankees were far more interested in the way he threw a baseball, and they drafted Hoyt in the Fifth Round of the 1973 Amateur Draft.
Hoyt started with the Rookie League Johnson City Yankees of the Appalachian League in 1973. He got off to a slow 1-6 start but came on strong at the end of the season to even his record at 6-6. He kept the momentum in Fort Lauderdale in 1974, winning 13 of 17 decisions with a fine 2.40 ERA. He also threw a no-hitter, which he estimated was his 10th in organized baseball, going back to Little League. He didn’t strike out a ton of batters — 77 in 161 innings — but he was showing poise beyond his 19 years.
“I try to start getting ready for a game the day after I pitch,” he said of his preparation habits. “I think about who I have to face, what their hitters can do and what they can’t. Then by the time four days roll around, it’s just a matter of doing it. I’ve already thought about it, so I know what I have to do.”
Hoyt missed a portion of the 1975 season with hepatitis but bounced back to win 15 games for West Haven in 1976. He was part of a trade, along with Oscar Gamble, that sent Bucky Dent from the Chicago White Sox to the Yankees just before the start of the 1977 season.
The trade was made primarily because Sox owner Bill Veeck was running the team on a shoestring budget. He got $200,000 in cash along with Gamble and two minor-league pitchers (Hoyt and Bob Polinsky), and the other executives in the American League were so incensed by the deal that they wanted Commissioner Bowie Kuhn to void the deal. Kuhn had used his powers to cancel trades, but seemingly only when they involved the Oakland A’s and owner Charlie Finley. So the Dent deal went through, much to the dismay of everyone else.
“I tell you what. The White Sox didn’t get much for Bucky Dent,” grumbled Orioles general manager Hank Peters. “If the main thing the White Sox got was dollars, then I think the Bucky Dent deal should be investigated.” He admitted that Gamble was a good ballplayer, but Peters dismissed the pitchers as “just fringe major-league prospects.”
“Of course, our scouting reports could be wrong,” Peters allowed.
Hoyt struggled with his new franchise and lost 15 games between Double-A and Triple-A. He later said that he clashed with Joe Sparks, his manager in Triple-A Iowa, and he was so rattled that he pitched poorly the whole season. The Sox moved him back down to Class-A Appleton for 1978, and Hoyt quit baseball for a couple of weeks because of the indignity. He eventually came back to baseball and won 18 games as well as the championship playoff game. He then continued to pitch well in the Dominican Winter League and was added to the team’s 40-man roster. Even with that success, the burly right-hander was running out of patience with the White Sox.
“I’m not the least bit satisfied with my present situation,” he said in March of 1979. Hoyt said that he nearly had made the Yankees’ major-league roster before the team elected to go with their other rookie pitcher, Ron Guidry. From nearly making the majors with the Yankees, he had regressed back to Class-A ball with the White Sox. Hoyt started 1979 back in Iowa, with a more sympathetic manager — LaRussa. Due to a logjam of starting pitching, Hoyt volunteered to become a reliever, so the White Sox sent him to Double-A to work out of the pen. He picked up 12 saves, and the White Sox — now with LaRussa as manager — brought him to the majors. Hoyt appeared in 2 games and threw 3 shutout innings, but his attitude impressed his manager.
Sure enough, LaRussa needed more pitching help in June of 1980, and the call was made to get Hoyt back from Iowa. In his first appearance on June 17, he worked 2-2/3 innings against Cleveland, in relief of starter Ken Kravec, and earned his first major-league win. When he entered the game, there were two runners on base and one out, and he struck out Cliff Johnson and Toby Harrah to escape the threat. After pitching well out of the bullpen, Hoyt made his first major-league start against Texas on July 26 and threw a complete-game, 4-3 win.
“He ain’t that good,” scoffed Texas manager Pat Corrales. “He pitched a heckuva game, but he ain’t that good.” (Based on Corrales’ comments about Doug Jones, it appears that evaluating pitching talent wasn’t his strong suit.)
Hoyt finished the 1980 season with a 9-3 record and 4.57 ERA. He was moved back to the bullpen in 1981 and ended up with an identical 9-3 record, as well as 10 saves. LaRussa started him in the bullpen in 1982, and after picking up three relief wins quickly, he was moved back into the starting rotation. It proved to be a wise decision, as Hoyt won his first 6 starts — throwing 4 complete games in the process. He had a 1.44 ERA over that stretch and struck out 27 batters in 50 innings, against 8 walks. Before he went down to defeat against Cleveland on May 29, he had picked up 14 straight wins, going back to 1981.
Hoyt finished the season with 19 wins, which led the AL, and 15 losses, with a 3.53 ERA. He only walked 48 batters in 239-2/3 innings, showcasing the excellent control that was a big part of his success. He also impressed with his attitude. When he got on the mound, he was all business. He threw strikes, pitched a lot of innings and was aggressive without being a showboat.
The pitcher credited LaRussa with his turnaround. “He was the only manager I found to be a straight-shooter. Lots of managers, they lie, they think we’re all dumb. Not Tony,” Hoyt said. “He told me I had a good arm and was gonna make some money in this game soon. That kind of set my head straight just when it needed straightening.”
Even though he led the AL in wins in an era when win counts were the primary way to judge success of a pitcher, Hoyt didn’t pick up a single Cy Young Award vote in 1982. That all changed in 1983, though. He had a 24-10 record, which were the most wins of any pitcher in baseball, and he led the White Sox to a first-place finish in the AL West. He struck out a career-high 148 batters and walked a mere 31 in 260-2/3 innings. His 1.024 WHIP, 1.1 walks per 9 innings and 4.77 strikeout/walk ratio were all best in baseball. His 3.66 ERA looks high, but it was better than average in 1983. Unsurprisingly, he coasted to first place in the Cy Young Award voting, with 116 votes to runner-up Dan Quisenberry’s 81.
Through most of the year, though, Hoyt’s record was a little better than .500. As late as July 23, he was just 11-10, following a loss to the Brewers. It would be his last loss of the season. He won 13 of his final 14 starts, including 7 in the month of September alone. The White Sox finished with a 99-63 record and were the only team in the West Division with a record over .500, so it wasn’t necessary for Hoyt to pitch as much as he did. But he never begged off a start. He also dominated the Orioles in the opening game of the AL Championship Series, holding them to 5 hits and 1 run in a 2-1 victory. Unfortunately for the White Sox, it would be his only postseason appearance, as Baltimore rattled off three straight wins to advance to the World Series.
Hoyt’s heroics in the ALCS boosted his celebrity, as the big, bearded pitcher who tipped the scales at around 240 pounds was one of the most recognizable pitchers in the game. He also had a classic nickname of “The Incredible Bulk.” The affable Hoyt was a good interview, answering questions about his weight with honesty and jokes. “You like to celebrate when you win a game. When you win 44 games in two seasons, that’s a lot of celebrating,” he cracked.
When asked if coaches or managers ever questioned his weight, he said, “If you lose three or four games, they send you to the scale and say that your weight is getting to be a problem. Of course, it has to be the weight. That’s the way they think. Couldn’t be anything else. They never make you go to the scale after you win four or five.”
There were some warning signs among all the wins. Hoyt allowed 236 hits and 27 home runs. He never hurt himself with walks, but pitching to contact requires a little luck, good defense and a strong enough offense to outscore opponents. The 1983 White Sox hit .262 as a team, which was ninth-best in the 14-team AL. The 1984 White Sox, on the other hand, were dead last in the AL with a .247 batting average, and they finished in fifth place with a 74-88 record. Hoyt won 13 games, but he led the AL with 18 losses. His ERA jumped almost a full run to 4.47, and he surrendered 31 home runs.
He had his moments. Like a 3-0 1-hitter against the New York Yankees that was a seventh-inning single by Don Mattingly away from a perfect game. But he struggled, particularly in the first inning of his starts. Hoyt was under a lot of pressure, both in and outside of baseball. The White Sox poor offense didn’t score many runs for him, and the defense wasn’t much better, so the luck that Hoyt had in 1983 effectively ran out. He had gotten a nice raise after winning the Cy Young Award, and there were expectations that came with it. As Hoyt himself predicted, his losses brought renewed focus on his weight and conditioning.
On December 6, 1984, the White Sox traded Hoyt and a couple of minor-league pitchers to the San Diego Padres for top prospect Ozzie Guillen, infielder Luis Salazar and pitchers Bill Long and Tim Lollar. The pitcher rededicated himself to getting into better shape and lost about 40 pounds. For a year at least, Hoyt was able to rebound and have a season that was every bit as good as his top years in Chicago. He went 16-8 with a 3.47 ERA in 1985, with 3 shutouts among his 8 complete games. His pinpoint control was better than ever, as he walked 20 batters in 31 starts. He struck out only 83 batters, but he dropped his home runs allowed to 20. Hoyt faced the Cincinnati Reds on September 10, with Pete Rose sitting on 4,191 career hits, tied with Ty Cobb. Rather than becoming known as the pitcher who gave up Rose’s record-breaking hit, he shut Rose down in 3 at-bats. That dubious distinction went to teammate Eric Show the next day.
For the only time in his career, Hoyt was named to the All-Star Team, and NL (and Padres) manager Dick Williams gave him the start due to his familiarity with AL batters. There were some allegations that Williams was playing favorites with his own players, but Hoyt silented critics by throwing 3 innings of 2-hit ball. The only run he allowed happened when Rickey Henderson singled, stole second base, advanced to third on Terry Kennedy’s throwing error and scored on a George Brett sacrifice fly. But the vaunted sluggers of the AL — Brett, Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken, Dave Winfield, Jim Rice, Carlton Fisk — went down easily. Hoyt was named the Game’s MVP, as the NL won 6-1.
“They have a lot of big swingers in the AL. But they can be pitched to — every one of them. There’s a tendency to get the big boppers out there, and I think that shows up in an All-Star Game,” he said.
Hoyt’s fortunes took a severe downturn in 1986. In late February, he left spring training to enter a treatment facility in Minnesota for what the Padres described as a “possible drug abuse problem.” Just prior to that, Hoyt had been detained at the U.S.-Mexico border for carrying marijuana, Valium tablets and Quaaludes. Days after that, he was arrested for possession of marijuana and was also carrying a switch-blade knife. While in residence at the Hazelden Institute for nearly a month, he was also diagnosed as an alcoholic. He was welcomed back to training camp by his Padres teammates after his release, but he didn’t really agree with the diagnosis. He denied the allegations about Quaaludes and said he hadn’t used drugs in two years.
“I had gotten arrested for a couple of joints two times,” he said after returning to camp. “To get [into treatment] and get told I’m an alcoholic is something I didn’t really accept then and don’t think I ever will.”
To compound all his woes, doctors had told Hoyt prior to the start of the 1986 season that the rotator cuff in his right shoulder was damaged, and that surgery would likely end his career. He elected to pitch through the injury, but he was never able to get on track. His ERA remained above 5 for much of the season, and his renowned control had slipped badly. In a start against Houston on September 13, he walked the first three batters and was pulled from the game. Hoyt was banished to the bullpen for the rest of the season and finished with an 8-11 record and 5.15 ERA. He walked 68 batters in 159 innings. The previous two seasons combined, he had walked 63 in 446 innings.
Hoyt paid a fine for the incident at the border and was put on probation for the arrest in San Diego. Then in late October, he was arrested again after customs agents at the border confiscated hundreds of Valium and Quaalude pills. He pleaded guilty in November to two misdemeanor drug counts and was sentenced to 45 days in prison, as well as a $10,000 fine and forfeiture of his $33,000 sports car. When he was released from prison, Hoyt suspended by Commissioner Peter Ueberroth. The year-long suspension was reduced to 60 days when an arbiter determined that the drug programs administered by the Padres and Major League Baseball were “misguided, inconsistent and unfair.” Hoyt had complained about severe insomnia, and the Padres didn’t offer help. There were also questions about the necessity of sending him to the clinic in Minnesota, which was supported financially by Joan Kroc — the Padres’ owner. Hoyt said he was told he was going there for five days, but it turned into a 28-day stay
San Diego, without ever really acknowledging their role in the fiasco, released Hoyt at the end of the suspension. Hoyt and the White Sox agreed to a minor-league contract that offered him a return to baseball in 1988. Then Hoyt was arrested in late 1987 in Columbia and charged with possession of marijuana and cocaine, with the intent to distribute. He was sentenced to a year in prison, ending any chance of a baseball comeback.
In 8 seasons in the majors, Hoyt had a 98-68 record, with 48 complete games, 8 shutouts and 10 saves. His ERA was 3.99 and WHIP was 1.214. In 1,311-1/3 innings pitched, he had 681 strikeouts and just 279 walks. He walked an average of 1.915 batters per 9 innings, which ranks 73rd all-time, just behind Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown and ahead of the likes of Roy Halladay.
Hoyt lived a pretty quiet life after he was released from prison. He went back to South Carolina, remarried and raised a family. He was inducted into the Appleton Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004, along with Cal Ripken Sr. and White Sox teammates Britt Burns and Ron Kittle. Hoyt was welcomed back into the White Sox family, first at fantasy camps and then as an occasional spring training coach.
“I hope to help some people realize their potential,” he said. “That’s one thing I was particularly proud of when I played. I played a little bit over my head. I think I got the most out of my talent.”
Hopefully, Hoyt never lost the philosophy that he had in 1982, when he was getting his first taste of success as a starting pitcher in the majors. “Life is like a game,” he told Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Verdi. “They get a few runs off you in the first inning, you can’t give up. You just keep truckin’, hoping that by the ninth inning, you win. I’ve had a few setbacks, but I’ll make up for it in the long run.”