Tuesday, April 26, 2011

#148 - Dave Hilton

We are back to the NL and when I say back, I mean way back. I know the Padres were only five years old at the time, but Dave here looks like he's in a uniform from the '50s. And those glasses are too much. Very Malcolm X. Dave looks very serious here where he appears to be the only life form on some post-apocalyptic field where the grass was struggling. Unfortunately '73 was a struggle for Dave as well. Though he would get his greatest amount of plate time that season, he responded with a sub-.200 average, which wasn't a key to longevity, even for the Padres. He also had one of the team's young stars - though not for long - ahead of him at his preferred position of third base in Dave Roberts. But this Dave was a battler and he returned to the minors in mid-season to work on his game at second, ditched the glasses, and returned the next season to raise his average a bunch. He was never gonna be Joe Morgan, but he did a pretty good job as Dave Hilton.

Dave Hilton grew up in Texas and played ball at Rice University. While at Rice he was a sought-after player but couldn't get drafted out of the school because he was too young . So he did what was a fairly common practice back then and after his first year transferred to a local two-year school since those schools didn't have the same restrictions. He was then the first overall pick by the Padres in the January '71 draft. His first season in Single A produced a pretty light average but he showed decent power while splitting time between shortstop and third base. In '72 he moved to Double A and had a nice year while playing nearly exclusively at the hot corner. He came up to San Diego that September and got in a couple games. He was on a path to be the next Padre third baseman. But that summer San Diego took a big deal kid out of Oregon, Dave Roberts, and that Dave sort of leapfrogged over this Dave and pretty much stepped right into the regular spot. So, while our Dave would have another spanking spring training in '73, that low average and the other Dave's big year would cause this guy to do some traveling between Double A, Triple A, and San Diego. By then he was putting in some time at second and in '74 that would be his primary position in Triple A where he had a very good offensive year (.328 with 22 doubles and 43 RBIs in less than half a season). That year the other Dave cooled off a bunch so for San Diego Hilton played third, boosting his average over 40 points. In '75 after a couple games at San Diego, Hilton got hepatitis which slammed him out of the lineup and after he recovered he went to the minors to rehab, where he had a good season - .298 - back at third base between Double and Triple A. In '76 he was a full-timer at Hawaii where he had another good year (.288 with 16 homers and 77 RBIs). Following that season he was purchased by the new Blue Jays and again spent the '77 season at Triple A, putting up similar power numbers, but with a .237 average.

In '78 Hilton would take his game over to Japan for the Yakult Swallows, where he made an immediate impact. He was the leadoff hitter on the team that won the Japanese Series, batting .317 with 19 homers and 76 RBIs. The following season his average slipped a bunch to around the .260 level and in '80 he was traded or sold to the Hanshin Tigers where he had a poor season. Before the season was over he returned to the States where he managed to hookup with Portland, a Triple A team of Pittsburgh's. He put in another full season there in '81 with decent numbers but was by then 30 and after that season he was released. In '82 he moved down to Mexico City for his final season as a player. For Dave's major league career he hit .213 in what amounted to a full season. In the minors he hit .277 with 87 homers.

Hilton would stay involved in baseball, initially hooking up with the Minnesota organization, for whom he managed in the minors in '84. He also managed at that level for the Braves ('92), and Orioles ('97) and in that role went a combined 162-194. In between he coached in those systems as well as Oakland's and Milwaukee's and made it up top for the Brewers ('87-'88). He has also done scouting both in the States and in Asia. He has also been running his own baseball school for years. I have linked to its website here.

Topps completely dismisses Dave's time at Alexandria (Double A) in '73. '72 was Dave's big year in the minors and I believe he played winter ball in Venezuela. The cartoon is a harbinger of his later move to Asia. He has a SABR bio.

Back to the NL now, there is one guy who makes this happen:

1. Hilton and Dave Roberts - why not - '72 to '75 Padres;
2. Roberts and Johnnie Jeter '72 Padres (Hilton didn't play enough);
3. Jeter and Bart Johnson '73 White Sox.

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