By Ron La Point
This is the fifth installment of baseball in Oshkosh.
Images of that warm April afternoon keep coming back: the scattering of baseball fans lining the foul lines, some with lawn chairs, others standing, anticipating the opening of the 1950 High School baseball season; a few Major League scouts on hand waiting to evaluate this tall, slender southpaw everyone came to watch; the mowing-down of batters inning after inning by this high school senior with a fastball unequaled in these parts; the foul ball hit late in the game just beyond the reach of the first baseman; the watchful eyes of those in attendance as they waited for this lanky lefthander to strike out the last batter in the ninth, and by doing so, imprint his name and this city in the annals of sport’s history.
They are all there.
I rode my bike across town that day to watch this player everyone was talking about. Oshkosh High was scheduled to play a team that had won the Little Ten Conference in the southern part of the state for the past five years. So it was promoted as a test for this 17 year old.
It was no secret that Hal Beatty’s Hartford High School team expected a tough game. They and most everyone else associated with high school baseball knew Billy Hoeft was destined for great things. He had already pitched three years of high school ball and had gained a reputation throughout the state. So when the game ended with the Hartford team hitless it did not come as a great surprise.
“Bill Hoeft declared after hurling his fantastic game,” wrote Al Madden in his Northwestern sports column, “that he wasn’t working too hard. Bill used straight stuff mostly, but tossed in some curves to left-handed victims. Late in the game Bill uncorked some drops. When Bill became aware of his historic feat he did throw hard he admitted. It was his fourth no-hit, no-run game.”
But this game witnessed by a hundred or so lucky fans was not simply another no-hitter. No, it was much more. This lanky portsider, this 17 year old who was being watched by scouts from most every Major League team since his sophomore year, made base
ball history by fanning 27 straight batters. TWENTY-SEVEN IN A ROW. No one batter for the opposing team hit a fair ball. According to the official scorer, no more than ten to twelve pitches were fouled off.
“Not many know to what pains Coach Schneider has gone in grooming the ace lefthander,” wrote Madden a few days later. “He ate just certain foods and always was sent away from the table with a slight hungry feeling. Then following each game, Bill would get a diathermy treatment for his arm.”
But it wasn’t merely a diet plan and heat treatment that brought about the success Hoeft enjoyed on the playing field… (to be continued next month).
Ron La Point is a former high school history teacher who now resides in both Arizona and Oshkosh. Elements of this story can be found in his book: Oshkosh: A South Sider Remembers.
Excerpts of this story came from my book: Oshkosh: The Way We Were.