- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 31, 2002

Two of the classiest 20th-century baseball players died recently: Hoyt Wilhelm, the first pitcher elected to the Hall of Fame who pitched primarily in relief; and veteran catcher John Roseboro. Wilhelm, 79, who died of heart failure last Friday in Sarasota, Fla., pitched in 1,070 Major League games (putting him at No. 3 on the all-time list) for nine different teams between 1952 and 1972. Before reaching the majors, the Huntersville, N.C. native fought in World War II, earning a Purple Heart.

A five-time All-Star, he compiled 227 saves and a solid 2.52 career ERA. Wilhelm "had the best knuckleball you'd ever want to see," said fellow Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson, a Wilhelm teammate with the Baltimore Orioles. "When he got two strikes on you, he'd break out one that even he didn't know where it was going."

After six seasons in the minors, he joined the New York Giants in 1952 at age 28. In his first big league at-bat, Wilhelm hit a home run, the only one in his career. Pitching out of the bullpen for manager Leo Durocher that year, Wilhelm appeared in 71 games, setting a National League record and winning 15. He led the league in ERA and winning percentage. In 1957, he was traded to St. Louis and later to the Cleveland Indians, which attempted to make Wilhelm a starter. By September 1958, he was a 35-year-old journeyman struggling to stay in the majors. Then, pitching against the New York Yankees on a damp night at Memorial Stadium, he revived his career by pitching a no-hitter against the eventual World Champions. The following year, as a starter, he won 15 games and led the American League in ERA, becoming the first pitcher to win ERA titles in both leagues. Traded to the Chicago White Sox after the 1962 season, Wilhelm excelled as a reliever once again, racking up 98 saves during six seasons in the Windy City. He pitched his final game on July 21, 1972, for the Los Angeles Dodgers less than a week before his 49th birthday.

On Aug. 16, John Roseboro, a catcher for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers (1957-67) and the Minnesota Twins and Washington Senators (1968-70), died of a stroke in Los Angeles at age 69. A four-time All-Star, he was the Dodgers' starting catcher in the 1959, 1963, 1965 and 1966 World Series (all but the last of those L.A. teams won). "Son, father, husband, friend, great teammate, quiet strength, competitor there are a lot of things you can say about John," said Dodgers' pitching great Sandy Koufax.

Perhaps the most surprising tribute to Roseboro came from Giants pitcher Juan Marichal, who clubbed the Dodger backstop over the head with a bat during an Aug. 22, 1965, game. Roseboro's "forgiving me was one of the best things that happened in my life," Marichal said at a memorial service for Roseboro. When Marichal joined the Dodgers in the twilight of his career, Roseboro "told all the Dodger fans to forget what happened … It takes special people to forgive."

Both Wilhelm and Roseboro will be missed.

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