Burt's No-Hooter; the Class of '72
On April 16, 1972 I was about six weeks shy of high school graduation. It was a Sunday and that afternoon I was hanging out at Pete’s West End Super Service, a gas station down the street from a buddy’s house.
Pete was a chain-smoking, leathery old Cub fan who wore a cap like the ones cops wear. It had a DX patch embroidered on the front. The Cub games always blared from a tabletop radio in the garage bay. Des Moines didn’t have an affiliate station on the Cub radio network then, so we took what we could get through the static beaming from the WGN flagship.
My pal, a devout Cardinal disciple at the time, would later become both a Cub fan and a Catholic priest. Given some of the ways he and I misspent our youth together it’s hard to say which of his epiphanies was the unlikeliest.
The baseball season had gotten off to a late start, taking a called strike from the players’ union that lasted about two weeks. That day’s game at Wrigley Field against the Phillies was only the Cubs’ second of the year. It was cold with a stiff wind blowing at the pitchers’ backs. Fewer than 10,000 had bothered to show up.
On the mound was Burt Hooton, making just the fourth start of a big league career that would eventually feature 151 wins, among other numbers. Drafted the summer before out of the University of Texas, Hooton had sparkled in Triple A when the Cubs’ outpost at that level was in Tacoma, still a decade and half a continent away from Des Moines.
So impressive was Hooton in his first professional summer that he was called up to Chicago in September of 1971 to make three starts. In one of them he fanned 15; in the last of them he shutout Tom Seaver and the Mets.
Hooton wasn’t particularly sharp this time. He ended up walking seven. But when he carried a no-hitter deep into the game, Pete was bug-eyed, the way he always got when the games were dramatic. I can remember times when a ding-ding would signal that a customer had driven up to the pumps at a crucial moment in a game and Pete would mumble a cuss before sticking his head out the door and waving them away, hollering his apologetic explanation as to the circumstances. It was a luxury he could afford as the hub of the neighborhood, even in those days before self-service became the norm.
When the last two Phillies struck out and the rookie’s no-hitter was accomplished, all of us Cub fans at Pete’s, both young and old, figured we were really onto something…
Saturday night, 39 years later, Hooton was in Des Moines as the pitching coach for the Oklahoma City Redhawks. The crowd topped the one in attendance that long-ago day at Wrigley Field. It was quite a bit warmer too. Hooton’s memories of that particular game are as depreciated as he and I.
“I remember Kessinger made a great play, leaping to grab a line drive. I don’t remember who hit it, though. Luzinski crushed one that shoulda been on the street but the wind blew it back and Monday caught it against the vines.”
When I told him that an account I read credited Billy Williams with a sparkling play he couldn’t recall it, but he was quick to acknowledge that defense was maybe more responsible for the no-no than he was, noting that he walked as many as he fanned. What about his pitch count, I wanted to know. One archive attributed 120 pitches to him on a cold day in his first start of the season.
“Nobody knew how many pitches I threw,” he said, “because nobody kept track.”
Was there any talk with Leo Durocher or pitching coach Larry Jansen about pulling a young phenom with a no-hitter working as a precautionary measure? None that Hooton remembers, but he does have some memories about the general way the Cubs handled him before eventually shipping him to the Dodgers.
“When I came to the big leagues I threw a four-seam fastball, a curveball [his ballyhooed “knuckle-curve” which he claims was accidentally discovered while experimenting with grips playing catch, the way lots of pitchers’ pitches are, he says] and a changeup. I started off pretty well with those, but in three and a half years with the Cubs I had four pitching coaches and they all said I needed to throw a sinker and a slider. The problem was, I listened to ‘em. Then I got traded to the Dodgers and the best coach I ever had [Red Adams] who told me to go back to what got me there in the first place and I won 18 games that year.”
Not surprisingly, Hooton’s philosophy now as a coach reflects Adams’ influence.
“A lot of these guys today have been coached and supervised too much and I end up kind of deconstructing them back to basics. They don’t know who Hank Aaron was but they know all about radar guns and pitch counts which are the two worst things that ever happened, if you ask me.”
Any other thoughts about how the game has changed?
“The quality of baseball in Triple A ain’t what it used to be. Hell, Rick Sutcliffe was pitcher-of-the year three straight times in this league. Think about that.”
I did think about it. I even looked it up and it couldn’t possibly have happened since Sutcliffe only played two seasons for Albuquerque, one of them rather poorly, before joining the Dodgers in 1979 and becoming Rookie-of-the-Year. I wish it had been true though, since Hooton seemed generally to be of the same old-school mind I am about bygone days.
But he was right about the last thing I asked him. What happened in his second start of 1972?
“We got beat by Seaver, 2-0. I pitched better that day then I did in the no-hitter.”
it was about a post comparing players based on WAR...and comparing WAR values of a CF to a slew of other players...a post that you made...with content you found interesting enough to share in a public forum that others may comment on.
...and i made a comment...that talked about D weighting of WAR...and comparinging WAR values of a CF to a slew of other players...etc etc...
Thanks for shining a light on this very important topic and steering it away from the frivolity that was the awesomenes of Mike Trout, but moreso on the foolishness of WAR as a metric to judge the value of center fielders. We're all a little wiser now and your contributions are invaluable to this community and to America's pastime. God Bless!
so...what's chan-yong lim up to these days?
yes, those hamilton WAR numbers are very reasonable. i'm on your side now based on that biting commentary and reasoning of why he's a 3.5-ish WAR player over a 600 PA season.
those numbers are obviously well deserved and worthy of no scrutiny...none at all. no issue.
CF D is rarer than a jon lester pickoff at 2nd...totally irreplaceable...no way in hell there's good D, low/no-hitting CF's in anyone's system that could do what hamilton is doing. guys like this don't exist...you get like, 2-3 at any given time in history.
Please do not discuss War here. I think the Cub Reporter should be politics free.
But yes, whether you support War or Peace...Mike Trout is ridiculously consistent and good.
"According to FOX Sports' Jon Morosi, Tim Tebow's baseball workout Tuesday in Los Angeles will be attended by scouts from "roughly half" of the 30 major league teams."
"One scout told ESPN.com last week that Tebow's swing is so long it might "take out the front row." That's not a good thing."
MyrtleBeachPelicans [email protected]
The #MBpelicans and @Cubs have extended their PDC through 2020!
Carolina League getting 2 new teams too.
CF WAR is ridiculous...billy hamilton is pulling a 3.0 WAR somehow...and managed a 2.0 WAR last year (even though he missed a month of the season)...and a 3.7 WAR in 2014.
yeah, a lot depends on how one is doing relative to others at a given position, but WAR is common used (right or wrong) as a blanket comparing all kinds of players.
trout's one of the best, and at this point should probably win over donaldson (and should have more MVPs in the past, too), but the defensive aspect of valuing WAR still needs more tweaking...imo.
Mike Trout is ridiculous
Don't know if Cubs will recover from "spanking" Gordo
2nd in defensive WAR, NL.
6th in NL in RBI
Go complain about something else, like, "they never play good against the good teams", or some other shit.
Addy really has trouble breaking through .250 BA -- after his hot streak got him to .251, he has gone 1-for-17.
Thank goodness for Jansen's 2 WP on Friday -- otherwise this would have been a sweep.
There seems to be a direct correlation with overconfidence in the Cubs offense against mediocre/young pitchers and really poor offense against mediocre/young pitchers. So, let's fear the Pirate pitchers!