Here’s the latest guest post from Joe Guzzardi which looks at one of the more controversial MVP votes in baseball history: 1960, when Dick Groat strangely triumphed over Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente and Willie Mays, among others. Joe has another player in mind who could have won.
One of the lingering debates among Pittsburgh Pirates historians is whether the 1960 Most Valuable Player award should have been given to shortstop, team captain and National League batting title winner Dick Groat.
During the Pirates’ championship year, Groat played a crucial role. Whether it was to make the spectacular fielding play, hit and run, hit to opposite field, put up a sacrifice fly or lay down a bunt, Groat did whatever needed to be done to win a ball game.
Their statistics compared side by side don’t justify the voting disparity.
When reporters questioned Clemente about the voting results, he correctly implied that he was a victim of racism directed at him by the all-white media. But Clemente later added that the one player the Pirates could not have won without was third baseman Don Hoak, a U.S. Marine and former professional boxer affectionately known as “Tiger” who finished second in the MVP race.
By baseball standards, Hoak was a journeyman. Over his eleven year career, he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Chicago Cubs, the Cincinnati Red and the Philadelphia Phillies. But during Hoak’s four years with the Pirates (1959-1962), he played the toughest, most hard-nosed baseball in the National League.
Hitting in the number seven hole for most of the 1960 season, Hoak played in every game and hit .282. Groat and Clemente played in 138 and 144 games, respectively.
Hoak’s career was relatively brief but fascinating. After suffering seven consecutive knockouts, Hoak traded his boxing gloves for a fielder’s mitt and hoped a plane to Cuba to play winter ball for Cienfuegos during the 1951-1952 season. One of his first mound opponents was Fidel Castro, a promising left-handed pitcher and then a University of Havana law school student. In a 1964 Sport Magazine article titled “The Day I Batted Against Castro,” Hoak confirmed that the dictator-in waiting had promise– ”with a little work on his control.”
By 1954, in Brooklyn, Hoak shared third base with Jackie Robinson and Billy Cox. During the classic seventh 1955 World Series game when the Dodgers finally beat the New York Yankees, Hoak—not Robinson or Cox— anchored the hot corner. That was the only World Series game Robinson ever sat out.
To Hoak’s disappointment, during the off season the Dodgers traded him to the Chicago Cubs. Hoak’s dismal 1956 performance (.215, 5 HR, 37 RBI) and a horrendous May 2 game against the visiting New York Giants which saw Hoak strike out six times against six different pitchers led to his 1957 trade to Cincinnati.
Productive if not spectacular (.279; 35 HRs; 139 RBIs) during his two seasons as a Redleg, Hoak nevertheless was traded along with Harvey Haddix and Smokey Burgess and became one of the key players on the 1960 champions. During his four years as a Corsair, Hoak hit .284 with 41 home runs and 253 RBIs.
Considered by many of his teammates as the Pirates’ inspirational leader, Hoak had the habit of calling for the new ball thrown out by the umpire after an opposing batter’s home run. Hoak would walk to within 20 feet of the mound to fire the ball at his pitcher to demonstrate his disgust
Hoak’s post-Pirates day were less successful and ultimately tragic. By 1963 when the Pirates traded Hoak to the Philadelphia Phillies, he was 35. After two lean years with the Phillies (.228; 6 HR and 24 RBIs), Hoak broadcast the Pirates’ games and managed two Bucs’ minor league franchises to first-place finishes. Although Hoak had his eye on the Pirates’ managerial spot that opened up in 1969 when the Pirates didn’t ask interim manager Alex Grammas back, the Bucs rehired Danny Murtaugh. In an unrelated incident, the day Hoak learned he had been passed over, he collapsed from a heart attack chasing a thief who had stolen his brother-in-law’s vehicle.
At the time of his death, Hoak was married to singing star Jill Corey. To this day, their daughter Claire maintains that Hoak’s cause of death was his broken heart when he didn’t get the Pirates’ pilot job.
Joe Guzzardi belongs to the Society for American Baseball Research, as well as the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Email him at email@example.com