James Hoyt Wilhelm (July 26, 1922 – August 23, 2002) was an American Major League Baseball pitcher. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985.
Wilhelm was best known for his knuckleball, which enabled him to have great longevity; occasionally as a starting pitcher, but mainly as a specialist relief man (in which role he won 124 games, still the record for relief pitchers). He is recognized as the first pitcher to have saved 200 games in his career, and the first pitcher to appear in 1,000 games. He is also one of the oldest players to have pitched in the major leagues; his final appearance was 16 days short of his 50th birthday.
Much travelled, his clubs included the New York Giants (1952-56), Baltimore Orioles (1958-62), Chicago White Sox (1963-68), and spells with the St. Louis Cardinals, Cleveland Indians, California Angels, Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs, and Los Angeles Dodgers, with whom he played until he retired after the 1972 season.
His success as a reliever helped the gradual change in usage patterns of pitchers, and the popularity of the concept of a "relief ace." Along with Phil Niekro, Wilhelm is considered by many as one of the greatest knuckleballers to have played the game.
The high point of Wilhelm’s career came at a time when his role as a pitcher was in flux. During his first six years in the majors, Wilhelm appeared in 361 games, all in relief. But in 1958, Cleveland manager Bobby Bragan used him occasionally as a starter. Although he had an impressive 2.49 ERA, none of the Indians' catchers could handle Wilhelm's knuckleball. General manager Frank Lane, alarmed at the large number of passed balls, traded him to Baltimore in the middle of the season. Orioles manager Paul Richards kept Wilhelm in the rotation, and devised a larger mitt so his catchers could handle the knuckler.
On September 20, sporting a 2-10 won-lost record, he made his first start against the New York Yankees, who had already clinched the American League pennant. The opposing pitcher was Don Larsen, who two years earlier had thrown a perfect game in the World Series. On this drizzly afternoon, Wilhelm fashioned his own gem, striking out eight and throwing the only no-hitter of his career against the soon-to-be World Series champions. The next time the Yankees were no-hit was on June 11, 2003 by six pitchers of the Houston Astros.
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