By Ron LaPoint
This is the fifth installment of baseball in Oshkosh. (Continued from August 2014)
But it wasn’t merely a diet plan and heat treatment that brought about the success Hoeft enjoyed on the playing field. It was this complement, the blending of a talented athlete and a dedicated coach practicing the tools of the trade on and off the playing field during his four years of high school that honed his skills and brought him to the level he was currently playing.
Hoeft pitched five more games that season. His pitching record his senior year was 6 wins, 0 losses, 72 strikeouts, 8 walks, 9 hits, 3 runs in 52 innings of work.
Madden in his June 5th column noted: “Bill Hoeft, the most sought after prep pitcher in the country, climaxed his brilliant career with a one hit, six to nothing win over Manitowoc. . . Saturday’s game wrote finis to the coaching career of Schneider about whom Branch Rickey Jr. of the Brooklyn Dodgers said: ‘Much credit must go to Coach Schneider for developing one of the best high school baseball teams I have ever seen’.”
The Indians of Oshkosh High did not compete in the state tournament that year despite defeating the eventual state champions, Menasha High, 9 to 0 when they met earlier in the season. According to Madden in his June 9th column: “Big-hearted they (Oshkosh) stood by (by request) and let the smaller and weaker teams battle for the crown.”
Just how good was this left hander from the east side who amassed a record of 34 straight wins until losing one in the state tournament in his junior year. Jimmy Hole, a scout for the Oakland of the Pacific Coast League said Hoeft was the best he ever saw.
For the next few weeks the Northwestern carried stories of Major League teams eagerly awaiting the day of Hoeft’s graduation. Unlike today when high school players sign for bonuses in the millions, baseball rules of the time stated that if a player signed for a bonus – more than $6,000 – he must move up to the parent club after just one year of minor league seasoning.
On June 23, 1950 Billy Hoeft chose the Detroit Tigers over his favorite boyhood team, the Chicago Cubs. The headline and photo of Hoeft signing a baseball contract that day was on the front page of the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern.
The two column story read in part: “Bill Hoeft today signed a one-year contract with the Toledo Mudhens of the American Association, a Triple A club owned by the Detroit Tigers. . . Bill said he selected the Detroit organization because ‘I like that ball club and I know they will treat me the way I want to be treated.’ He decided not to sign as a bonus player but instead chose to sign for a dollar less than the maximum of $6,000.”
Billy Hoeft never carved out the career many expected of him. But if his Major League stay of 15 years was not a stellar one it was by most measuring sticks a good one. He won 20 games one year and 16 in another. In the 1960s when he was no longer a starting pitcher he was first traded to the San Francisco Giants and then to the Milwaukee Braves.
But it’s not his years in the Majors that come to mind when I think back some sixty years. No, it’s not that. What I think of during the warm days of spring baseball is that late afternoon in April when diamond history was made. ν
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.