Thursday, January 31, 2013

#493 - Joe Hoerner

I don’t think I ever saw a baseball card growing up in which Joe Hoerner didn’t have an expression in which he looked annoyed. So I always thought the guy was a sort of morose hanger-on until I did some research for this post. On his ’67 card he actually has a devilish grin which seems to be much more appropriate for the type of guy he was. Even before he was established he was a cutup, like the time in ’64 he threw a spitter by Don Drysdale just to see his reaction (Drysdale, Joe, and the umpire all cracked up over that one). But in ’73 he had reason to frown. He missed the first two months of the year to get torn cartilage removed from his knee and returned in June to post more fat ERA numbers – though he did get a couple saves – for the Braves which continued his tough time in Atlanta since his trade there in ’72. In mid-July he was sold to Kansas City where the ERA remained awfully high even though he won two and saved four without a loss in relief. All that after he’d reported some excellent numbers in the pen for the Cards and Phillies for a bunch of years. And he did that all with a heart ailment that would have kept most people from the game in the first place.

Joe Hoerner came out of Dubuque, Iowa, where he grew up on a 250-acre farm and his dad was a sheriff. He was an outfielder and a pitcher in high school and in ’54 helped pitch his team to a state title. Shortly thereafter he was in a nasty car accident in which he separated his shoulder, broke some ribs, and apparently damaged his heart. After graduating he worked locally and also played some semi-pro ball. In ’56 he was discovered by the White Sox who signed him early the next year. His start that summer in C ball was a 16-5 season with a 2.58 ERA. In ’58 he moved up to B ball where in the midst of a decent season he collapsed on the mound due to his new heart condition. In ’59 he split the year between three levels but nearly all in relief as he collapsed again a couple times and spent a bunch of the season in various hospitals. While the imaging technology of the day could find nothing specifically wrong it was theorized by Joe’s doctors that his overhand windup was somehow constricting blood flow in his heart and so from then on he became a sidearm pitcher. In ’60 he got things back together and went 11-9 with a 2.97 ERA as a swing guy in A ball. In ’61 he moved back to the rotation at the same level where despite a very good ERA he went 6-13. In ’62 it was back to the swing role which seemed to work better for him as he went 9-1 with a 2.49. Prior to that season he was taken in the minor league draft by the Colt .45’s and for them that year he threw a couple innings in Triple A. In ’63 it was all Double A as he went 11-7 with much higher K totals. He also made his debut in Houston that year with three shutout relief innings. In ’64 he again got some inconclusive work up top but in Triple A settled in nicely as a strictly relief guy, going 3-3 with a 1.31 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 62 innings. ’65 was all Triple A with similar results: 8-3 with a 1.94 ERA. After that season he was selected by the Cards in the Rule 5 draft.

For Hoerner his long road to the Major Leagues resulted in his being a rookie at age 29. His timing was pretty good, though, in that it gave him a year to establish himself in the Cards pen with a near-perfect year that included 13 saves. So when St. Louis rolled to two Series the next couple years Joe was an integral part of their bullpen, with excellent control and a total of 32 saves. He still had occasional blackouts on the mound but he always returned shortly thereafter. He didn’t throw too well in the post-season but in ’69 as most of his teammates faded a bit he still threw excellent ball, recording another 15 saves. At the end of the year St. Louis was looking to revamp things and Joe got included in a big high-profile trade: he, Byron Browne, Tim McCarver, and Curt Flood went to the Phillies for Dick Allen, Jerry Johnson, and Cookie Rojas. It was the trade that got Allen out of Philly and set the wheels rolling on free agency when Flood refused to report. Joe went a more tranquil route and picked up pretty much where he left off in St. Louis as he set a personal record with nine wins and recorded as many saves despite losing time to his biggest heart-related episode in years and a broken finger late in the season. That year he made the All-Star team. ’71 was another nine saves and more nice numbers even though Philly was stinking things up back then. In ’72 a pretty good start to the season was arrested with his June trade with Andre/Andy Thornton to the Braves for Jim Nash and Gary Neibauer.

After the disappointment of the past couple seasons Hoerner posted some better numbers for Kansas City in ’74, including a 3.82 ERA and a couple saves. Immediately before the All-Star game he threw one-hit shutout ball in five innings of relief but then barely got used the rest of the year. He was released immediately after and then signed back with the Phillies. He only got into 25 games for the reviving franchise but made the most of it with a 2.57 ERA. He was then signed by the Rangers for ’76 for whom he recorded eight saves but otherwise went 0-4 with a 5.14 ERA. In ’77 he closed things down with a few innings for the Reds split between Triple A and Cincinnati. Joe finished with a record of 39-34 with a 2.99 ERA and 99 saves in 493 games. In his five post-season games he went 0-1 with a save and an 8.44 ERA.

Hoerner was a pretty busy guy in the off-seasons. For years he worked back home in construction. During his stay in St. Louis he and Dal Maxvill established their own travel agency which they both continued to do after playing. Dal tended to run the office side while Joe would lead tours around the country, especially baseball-themed ones. Joe also played in a bunch of fantasy camps and worked his farm back in Iowa. He was doing that when in ’96 he was involved in a tractor accident that proved fatal. He was 59.

That’s a pretty obvious star bullet. There were some better ones including the no-hitter he threw his first season in pro ball followed up a month later by eight innings of relief in another no-no. The reference to Wally Schirra is pretty cool. Wally was one of the original Mercury astronauts and as one was pretty much a folk hero throughout the Sixties. I was unable to find any details about their friendship though.

These two guys missed playing together by about a year. I like those ones:

1. Hoerner and Willie Montanez ’70 to ’72 Phillies;
2. Montanez and Mike Rogodzinski ’73 to ’75 Phillies.

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