One & Done: LaMarr Hoyt had the right stuff on the mound in 1985
In the world of sports, athletes often dedicate their entire lives to reaching the pinnacle of their profession, but for many, life at the top can be short-lived. Sometimes all a player gets to experience at the highest level is one minute on the court, one trip to the plate, one shot on goal or one checkered flag, but more often than not, that fleeting moment in the spotlight is a story all its own. This is One and Done, a FOX Sports series profiling athletes, their paths to success and the stories behind some of sports’ most ephemeral brushes with glory.
Pitchers fail to make the All-Star team during Cy Young campaigns more often than you’d think, and over the 60 years the Cy Young Award has been in existence, 19 who were snubbed from the All-Star Game have gone on to win their league’s most coveted pitching honor, with Corey Kluber of the Indians serving as the most recent example last season.
For LaMarr Hoyt, 1983 was his banner year, as the South Carolina-born right-hander went 15-1 with a 2.92 ERA for the White Sox over his final 17 starts following the All-Star break en route to the AL Cy Young.
Hoyt wasn’t necessarily a snub in ’83 — he was 9-8 with a 4.14 ERA during the first half — and if anything, 1982 may have fit the description more to a tee, as Hoyt had 11 of his AL-best 19 wins and a 2.58 ERA at the break. However, when Hoyt finally did make an All-Star Game in 1985, he made the most of it, as well, winning the game MVP award in his first and only midsummer classic.
"I was a little ticked off because I had a few good years in the American League and thought I should have had an opportunity to play in one earlier," Hoyt said in a phone interview with FOX Sports last week. "I started off the year 9-0 one year (in 1982) and it was kind of an insult (to not be honored), but it all made up for itself."
In his first season in the National League, playing for the defending NL champion San Diego Padres, Hoyt went 12-4 with a 2.93 ERA before the break, a mark good enough not only to make the All-Star team, but to earn himself the start against the Tigers’ Jack Morris. And while the All-Star Game, at that time, was strictly an exhibition, Hoyt says he took it as seriously as any other outing.
"I always had the same approach," says Hoyt, now 60 and living in his hometown of Columbia. "I’m a different person when I cross the line, whether it’s coming from the first base side or the third base side. When I cross that line, I’m out for business and to make short notice. I always tried to control the pace of my games and make them as fast as possible.
I started off the year 9-0 one year (in 1982) and it was kind of an insult (to not be honored), but it all made up for itself.
"If you play a long, hot summer, the more you can keep their players out on the field instead of their own, the better off you’re going to be. So that was my theory in that game too. Just get off the field as quick as possible and get your batters up to hit."
For the most part, Hoyt did just that, allowing one unearned run on two hits in three innings of work. The effort earned Hoyt the win in the NL’s 6-1 victory, as all pitchers are considered relievers for bookkeeping purposes in an All-Star Game, but like any professional athlete might, Hoyt is quick to lament what little offense he and his teammates allowed that night in Minneapolis.
"(Manager Dick Williams) just told me I had the first three innings if I could get through them, and I told him I would," Hoyt said. "The only problem was that Rickey Henderson led off and he hit a ground ball that bounced over the pitcher’s mound, in between the second baseman (and shortstop) and out into center field. He tries to steal second and he does, but they throw the ball away, so he goes to third, and then George Brett had come up next.
"I had two strikes on him and one ball, and I threw a perfect pitch," Hoyt continued. "He’d had surgery on his right knee (in 1984) and I threw one pitch at him about 95 miles an hour — that was a pitch I could control up, down, away, right, left — and I threw it at his knee, and I saw his eyes bug out. He thought I drilled him in the knee, but the ball broke right down the middle of the plate, and the umpire goes, ‘Ball two.’"
Later in the at-bat, Brett drove in Henderson with a sacrifice fly to left, and after the run scored, the ultra-competitive Hoyt gave home plate umpire Larry McCoy a piece of his mind.
"I didn’t like what he was doing, and he was the same guy who broke my winning streak in Detroit two years before," Hoyt said of McCoy, who was behind the plate for Hoyt’s fourth start of the 1984 season, a 4-1 loss that broke a string of 15 straight winning decisions dating back to July of 1983.
"So I walked down the mound and said, ‘This ain’t Detroit, and this ain’t no regular-season game,’" Hoyt said. "I said, ‘Are you going to call the game right, or what? Do I have to get thrown out of the game?’ I don’t know if anybody’s ever gotten thrown out of the All-Star Game, but he just said, ‘Nah, I’ll call them,’ and then he called them right after that."
After retiring Eddie Murray to end the first inning, Hoyt set down Cal Ripken, Jr., Dave Winfield and Jim Rice in order in the second. By that time, Hoyt’s Padres batterymate Terry Kennedy had tied the game at 1-1 with an RBI single, so when Hoyt came up to bat in the top of the third, he did so with a chance to give his team the lead. Ultimately, however, he struck out against Morris.
"Usually pitchers just challenge each other with fastballs on the outside corner, but he kept throwing me this forkball, and I’d never seen one before from the batter’s box," said Hoyt, who at that point had just four career hits in 52 career plate appearances. "I had no chance; I’d only been in the National League for a half-season.
"I hit fastball pitchers well — I’d had a hit off Nolan Ryan, a hit off Steve Carlton, a hit off Dwight Gooden — so I could hit it if they’d throw it hard, but Jack, I’d gotten ahead of him in the game and I could tell he was a little ticked off and basically just threw three of his best forkballs at me. It was a good pitch for him, a great off-speed pitch coming off his fastball, and they were hard to differentiate. So he struck me out, but everything worked out fine."
Later in the third, Steve Garvey drove in Tom Herr with an RBI single to give the NL the lead, and after escaping the bottom of the frame unharmed, Hoyt exited with a 2-1 lead, which he felt was more than enough to earn the win.
"I had total confidence that the lead was going to hold up," Hoyt said. "I had Nolan Ryan coming in after me, and I think Jeff Reardon came after him (Fernando Valenzuela threw one inning between Ryan and Reardon), and then after him we had Goose Gossage, so we had a bunch of 100-mile-an-hour throwers coming."
The All-Star MVP award, however, was a totally different story. In the fifth inning, the NL added two more runs on an Ozzie Virgil two-run single, but even though Hoyt expected to be the pitcher of record, he had no inclination that he’d be honored with the award.
"I went up and sat in the clubhouse and talked to Pedro Guerrero and we watched the rest of the game on TV," Hoyt said. "Then some guy from the commissioner’s office came in and told me I was going to be MVP if the score stayed the same.
I had total confidence that the lead was going to hold up.
"Everybody is always playing practical jokes on people, so I started yelling at him, like, ‘Who paid you? Who made you come in and say that?’ and ran him out of the clubhouse, pretty much. But he comes back about five minutes later with a card from Peter Ueberroth asking me if I’d be in uniform in the dugout in the bottom of the ninth inning. So since it came from the commissioner, I figured I better go down there."
Once the game had ended — the NL added its final two runs on a ninth-inning ground-rule double by Willie McGee — Hoyt received his MVP award, but what few people knew at the time was that Hoyt had been pitching hurt and would continue to do so throughout the rest of the season, going 4-4 with a 4.48 ERA after the All-Star break.
"I pitched a game in St. Louis right before the All-Star game — I’d beat Joaquin Andujar to earn the (All-Star Game) start — and (before the game) I’d been playing around with some crazy balls in the outfield," Hoyt said. "We threw some, and one felt weird and I had a little twinge in my shoulder, but I didn’t think much about it, then started the All-Star Game with it.
"Both of those, or either one, can be a career-ending injury, but it wasn’t until I finally got away from the Padres and got signed back by the White Sox (on a minor league deal in July 1987) that the White Sox found out what was wrong with me."
Ultimately, the injury would, indeed, cost Hoyt his career — he never pitched again after a 1986 campaign that saw him go 8-11 with a 5.15 ERA — but perhaps even more notably, it cost him personally, as it helped pave the way to a series of drug-related arrests.
Hoyt’s first run-in came in 1986, when he was stopped at the border in Tijuana, Mexico, with a couple marijuana cigarettes and about 80 painkillers, according to the Chicago Tribune. Later that year, after attending a rehab program in Minnesota, he was busted at the border again with more painkillers and valium.
In January 1987, Hoyt earned a 45-day jail sentence for possessing what Hoyt told the Chicago Tribune was a "season worth of painkillers," and he was arrested again on drug-related charges in December 1987, this time for marijuana and cocaine and a parole violation, which earned him a one-year prison sentence.
You don’t get the opportunity to do these things very often, and when you do get the opportunity, you try to make the most of it.
By December 1988, Hoyt, who at that point had been diagnosed with a severe sleep disorder, was out of prison, but also out of baseball, having retired the year before. For some, Hoyt’s trouble with the law ultimately overshadowed his accomplishments on the field, but Hoyt seems to be at peace with his past, proud to have been a part of something special.
So when asked now, 30 years later, about what winning an All-Star MVP means along with his ’83 Cy Young nod, Hoyt, always interesting and ever humble, finds a unique way of putting that kind of history in perspective.
"I remember starting a game against Cincinnati and Pete Rose was trying to break the hit record, and I told our catcher (Bruce Bochy), ‘Ask him if he wants to know what’s coming,’" Hoyt said. "I mean, I can give up a hit to be part of the all-time record, you know? Every time they’d show the replay I’d be part of it, and when you can get your hands on being part of a national moment like that, you’ve got to realize it. But Pete, being the man that he is, said, ‘No way, I don’t want to know what’s coming.’
"So first time up, one pitch, he hits a fly ball to shortstop. Next time, he flies out (to left), then, next pitch, another popup (to shortstop) and I’m still just throwing fastballs right down the middle, not really trying to put anything on it. He, I guess, was screwing up the way batters do sometimes. But then the next night, the thing that got me, Eric Show started against him, and first inning, (Rose) hits a one-hopper to our left-fielder, Carmelo Martinez, for the tie-breaking hit, to get the all-time record.
"So I am quite proud of it," Hoyt added, eventually circling back to his only All-Star Game appearance. "You don’t get the opportunity to do these things very often, and when you do get the opportunity, you try to make the most of it. There’s nothing like being named most valuable player of the All-Star Game. You look around at all these star athletes and you’re playing with Hall of Famers, and to be the most valuable player out of them is truly amazing."
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