One Heck of a Guy

Guy Hecker in 1882

When I started this project of looking into the lives and careers of the 19th Century men who won either the hitting or pitching Triple Crown I have to admit that Guy Hecker was a total unknown. Frankly, I’d never heard of him. But as I’ve looked into his life and his career I’ve decided he’s interesting, and he’s also worth the atrocious play-on-words that makes up the title of this post.

Guy Hecker with born in 1856 in Pennsylvania oil country. His dad was street superintendent for Oil Town, Pa and his son was adept at both pitching and hitting. His first professional experience was in Springfield, Ohio (where someone I know lives) in 1877. After a season in Ohio he moved back to Oil Town, got married, went to work (I’ve been unable to find out what he did), and joined the local semi-pro team. There he met Tony Mullane who would go on to post a winning record in the Major Leagues. Mullane was impressed enough to recommend Hecker to the Louisville team in the fledgling American Association in 1882. They signed him as a first baseman and backup pitcher.

One common thread among these 19th Century players is how few of them were instant successes. Hecker went 6-6 with a 1.30 ERA in his rookie campaign. He did manage to hit .276 with three home runs in 78 games, most at first. He did show one bright spot. On 19 September he tossed the second no-hitter in Association history. The next season he appeared in 81 games, 10 at first, 23 in the outfield, and 53 on the mound. He hit .271 with one home run, but his pitching improved. He ended the season 28-23 with an ERA of 3.34 (ERA+ of 89) and a little more than two strikeouts for every walk. Louisville managed to finish fifth.

The next season he struck pay dirt. He hit .296, slugged .443, had four home runs, and 42 RBIs. But of course he was now the Eclipse’s primary pitcher and he was sterling. He won 52 games, losing 20. He led the Association with a 1.80 ERA (ERA+ of 171), had 385 strike outs, pitched 671 innings, and gave up 526 hits. All those led the Association and made him a Triple Crown winner. Unfortunately, over in the National League, Charles Radbourn won 59 (or 60 depending on who you believe) and pitched his team to the first postseason series (they won). Hecker’s 52 wins is still third in Major League history (John Clarkson had 53 just a couple of years later).

In 1885 he developed arm trouble (the exact problem is disputed), went 20-23, saw his ERA jump above two, and saw his strikeouts diminish by 175. The next year, 1886, was even worse. He was 26-23 and saw his strike outs drop by almost another 100. He did manage to put in a few games at first and in the outfield. That gave him enough at bats to win the Association batting title in 1886 at .341. Hecker never knew it. He was officially considered second until the statistics were reviewed in the 1960s and it was determined he had won the title (shades of Paul Hines who was profiled a couple of posts back). He is the only man to win both the pitching Triple Crown and a batting title.

His pitching continued to decline and his hitting fell back also (but he still managed to hit .300 in 1887). By 1890 he was in Pittsburgh in the National League as a player-manager. He hit .226 and went 2-9 on the mound with an ERA north of five. The Alleghenys finished last. His Major League career, both as a player and a manager was over. 

He stayed in baseball as a player-manager in the Western League and Indiana-Illinois League, then ran the semipro team in Oil Town after he returned to his hometown. He spent time in the oil business, then moved to Wooster, Ohio, where I also know someone (Isn’t it funny how much baseball touches our lives in even trivial ways?). He ran a grocery store and died there on 3 December 1938. I asked the person I know who lives in Wooster. She tells me there is no monument to him.

For his career, Hecker was 175-146 with a 2.93 ERA (ERA+ of 113). He struck out 1110 men, walked 492, gave up 2922 hits, and 951 earned runs in 2924 innings. As a hitter he batted .282 with 812 hits, 504 runs scored, and 1080 total bases. He won the single batting title and his only pitching Triple Crown titles were the ones he won in 1884.

Hecker only played nine season, so he is ineligible for the Hall of Fame. Even if you waive the ten-year rule, he’s still not, at least to me, Hall of Fame quality. He had one great year, one other good one, and a lot of years that don’t really stand out. Having said all that, he’s still worth remembering, if for no other reason than his winning both a pitching Triple Crown and a batting title. That’s something that will never be duplicated at the big league level.

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One Response to “One Heck of a Guy”

  1. William Miller Says:

    And this is why pitchers should be allowed to hit. Down with the D.H.!

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