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The Natural

Youngsville-native Guy Hecker set early Major League Baseball records

Library of Congress photo A Guy Hecker baseball card. Hecker, born in Youngsville, won 52 games and pitched 670 innings during the 1884 season for Louisville of the American Association, an early major league.

In 2018, Max Scherzer led Major League Baseball with 220.2 innings pitched.

Jacob deGrom was second with 217 and Corey Kluber third with 215.

Together, those three threw 652.2 innings in their respective 162 game seasons≥

A Youngsville native pitching in 1884 – in an approximately 120 game season – threw more innings than those three.

Combined.

Meet Guy Hecker.

In the modern game, a pitcher who can hit is a rare combination – Japanese star Shohei Ohtani – this year’s Rookie of the Year – is probably the best example in today’s game.

But baseball was born in the 19th century – and Hecker is quite likely the best hitting pitcher during the first century of the game – the only pitcher to ever lead his major league in batting.

An article from the Society for American Baseball Research indicates that Hecker was born in Youngsville in April 1856.

“Guy was the eldest of two brothers and his father worked as a laborer in Warren County,” the article states.

Three years later the oil boom struck in Titusville and Hecker’s father, Thomas, relocated the family down the Allegheny River into Venango County.

“Guy Hecker, who threw and batted right-handed, was a regular on the ball fields of Oil City and in 1877 landed a spot on his first professional tea in Springfield, Ohio,” the SABR article states.

After returning to Oil City to get married and enter the business world, he continued to play in a semipro capacity.

He joined the Louisville Eclipse of the American Association, an early major league, in 1882.

Hecker went on to throw over 500 innings in 1882 and 1883 while also hitting in the .270s.

According to the SABR article, he pitched the second no-hitter in the history of the American Association in 1882 against the Pittsburgh Alleghenys.

It’s his 1884 season that is just, well, almost unbelievable.

According to Baseball-Reference.com, Hecker pitched in 75 of his teams’ 120 games.

He pitched complete games in 72 of those appearances.

The total number of innings thrown in just 1884?

670.2.

He won 52 games that season, third highest in a season in the history of Major League Baseball.

That year, he also lead the American Association in ERA – 1.80- and in strikeouts with 385.

He more than helped his own cause, hitting .297 in 316 at-bats.

The following year, the SABR article states, “Hecker opened the 1885 campaign ready to continue his mastery of the American Association. However, after a game on April 21 he complained of a sore arm.” (670 innings the year before… you don’t say…his arm was sore?)

Hecker maintained “flashes of his old brilliance” but “no medical cause was ever announced.”

However, he still managed to throw over 480 innings in 1885 though his ERA would jump each year until his career ended in 1890.

While 1886 included a diagnose of “an inflamed nerve in his right arm,” the SABR article notes that “Hecker found himself off to the best hitting season of his career. Hitting .417 in June, he raised his season’s average to .341.

“But Hecker’s immediate problem was his arm. He tried corn plasters and massages. He tried rest and a lighter pitching load. In July he finally found a treatment that helped. Twice daily he would soak his arm in ‘electric-baths’ at the Courier-Journal press room. He was so convinced of the benefits of this early ‘electronic-stimulation’ treatment that he carried a galvanic battery on road trips. Hecker was back and he began pitching as well as he hit. Starting in July he won 11 straight games en route to a 26-23 pitching record.”

Perhaps his best day as a hitter was a record-breaking one on August 15, 1886 – when he set or tied five records.

A different SABR article notes that “he set single-game records for runs scores (7), total bases (15), and home runs by a pitcher (3). Those three homers also tied the single-game record by a player at any position and Hecker’s six hits equaled the existing single-game record in that category as well.”

For what it’s worth, Hecker also picked up the win, scattering four hits in a complete game effort.

Of course he did.

Hecker finished the year credited with a .342 batting average (in addition to pitching over 400 innings), which didn’t lead the league.

But 20th century baseball researches were able to revise and correct errors in the statistics that resulted in Hecker’s average leading the American Association.

As Hecker’s fortunes faded toward the end of the decade, so did his Louisville squad, then known as the Colonels – he was released with a month left in the 1889 season.

His last season, the SABR article details, was in 1890 as manager of the Pittsburgh Alleghenys.

His squad lost 113 games.

“Over the next two seasons he was player-manager for Fort Wayne in the Northwestern League and Jacksonville in the Illinois-Indiana League,” according to SABR. “He returned to Oil City in 1893 to enter the oil business but kept active in baseball by managing the local team for several seasons. The locals called the independent team ‘Hecker’s Hitters.'”

The article notes he died in 1938 at the age of 82 in Wooster, Ohio, where he relocated to run a grocery store.

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