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  • Writer's pictureTim Manners

The Schoolboy & the Queen City

Updated: 20 hours ago

Waite Hoyt’s second act in Cincinnati seemed pre-ordained. It may have saved his life.

When Schoolboy Waite Hoyt left New York, he wasn’t exactly excited about it. His goal had been to get work announcing games there, more precisely for the Yankees. That just wasn’t happening. The Yankees’s sponsor at the time didn’t like the idea of ex-players in the broadcast booth, despite ample evidence that Waite was more than up to the job.

Waite’s agent heard about an opening in Cincinnati, for the Reds, and asked if he’d consider it. Well, yeah. He had a family to support and no real plan if this radio idea didn’t work. He cut a demo in which he told baseball stories, as opposed to the conventional play-by-play. The Burger Beer Company, sponsor of Reds games, was entranced and offered him the job. 

Waite was relieved yet also apprehensive. Could he adapt to the relatively staid environs of the midwest? Could his wife? Ellen was high-society and accustomed to coastal ways. It would mean uprooting his young son, Chris. Would they even be accepted by the locals? Many assumed that Waite was not serious about sticking with his new community and would jump at the first chance to head back to New York.

Waite did not exactly deny this. 

That he landed his first real radio job in Cincinnati, of all places, was equal parts ironic and fitting. Decades earlier, when Waite finally caught his groove while pitching in the Industrial League, the Reds was the first team to have a shot at signing him. A newspaper reporter tipped off the Reds about “this really good-looking pitcher” but the team’s owner didn’t make a move. Waite thought maybe the guy was more interested in drinking whiskey and playing cards.

The Boston Red Sox, however, did not hesitate. Ed Barrow, the general manager, invited Waite to Boston and signed him. Barrow, of course, later joined the Yankees and brought Waite (and just a few other Red Sox players) with him. Waite sometimes mused over how his life would have been different had the Cincinnati owner not had other priorities.

The most influential person in Waite’s life, with the exception of his mom and dad, had a Queen City connection, too. Miller Huggins, the Yankees manager who did his best to keep his young ace on the straight and narrow, was from Cincinnati. During the offseason, Waite made more money as a song-and-dance man at sold-out theaters than he did pitching for the Yankees. Huggins tried in vain to get Waite to focus on his pitching instead of the vaudeville life.

Waite lamented he would have been in pinstripes for life had Huggins not met a sudden, early death. 

The most meaningful Cincinnati connection also carried a life-or-death element. Waite had been a drinker for some time, but the severity of the situation came to a head shortly after his Cincinnati arrival. After taking one, last, shaky shot of whisky at a local dive, Waite broke down in tears on a street corner and then checked himself into a hospital. He never drank again. 

Until that point, Waite felt like an outsider, but the way the community rallied around him at his darkest moment made him realize he was, in fact, home. Even his sponsor, Burger Beer, had his back. Imagine a brewery keeping a known alcoholic as its spokesperson! Truly remarkable and uplifting.

Over time, Cincinnati fans came to view Waite as an oracle of baseball knowledge and wisdom. Many of them had no first-hand familiarity with his exploits as a Yankee, only as their very own elder statesman. To this day, Waite Hoyt is best remembered by Cincinnatians, because who could forget his mesmerizing stories of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and other legends of the game, especially during rain delays?  

The Schoolboy sealed his commitment to the Queen City when he purchased a cemetery plot in the Spring Grove Cemetery. 

His grave is about an eighth of a mile from where Miller Huggins is buried.


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