top of page
  • Writer's pictureTim Manners

Waite Hoyt: A Tale of Two Schoolboys

Updated: Apr 2

The Yankees ace pitcher and Reds announcer  was haunted by what might have been

Waite Hoyt spent about 24 years as a professional baseball player, another 24 as a radio sportscaster, and nearly 84 years trying to make sense of it all. He never really did.

As many as five attempts to publish a memoir ended in futility. Just why that is remains a puzzle. It may simply be that it’s tough to write the story of your life when you’re not sure how the story ends. Could be the way in which memories change or degrade over time, making it difficult to draw a bead on something resembling a truth. 

It didn’t help that a master storyteller tried to delegate his story to ghostwriters who couldn’t possibly capture what he wanted to say, the way he wanted to say it. The result was more a caricature than a portrait. Hoyt observed a difference between his notes to his collaborators and their manuscripted renderings. He knew it didn’t sound like him.

One thing he seemed to know for sure, or at least that he repeated often enough to qualify as a personal certainty, was that his story was that of a man in conflict with himself. He never clearly stated what he meant by this, possibly because he wasn’t quite sure. He said it over and over again. He seemed to perceive his inner demons as the key to the meaning of his life. 

Friends and others would tell him that “self-conflict” was a story that had been done before, which of course is true: Every story ever told is about a conflict of one kind or another. Their friendly mistake was missing that Hoyt’s conflict was original to him, and complicated.

It was complicated because it wasn’t a single conflict but a suitcase full of them, and it was a lot to unpack. Not to get all Freudian, but it started with his parents. His mother was almost Victorian, with a penchant for respectability. She spent her free time writing about her philosophies of all things proper. His father was a carefree, baseball-crazed vaudevillian. This created tension at home, eased only by the couple’s mutual interest in art, music and books.

Hoyt was equal parts of both parents, but could only choose one path. So, he followed in his father’s footsteps, all the while looking back over his shoulder thinking he should have hewed to his mother’s advice by going to college, starting a family and pursuing a "respectable" career. 

Instead, he became a Hall of Fame ace pitcher of the greatest baseball team of all time, a friend and Yankees teammate of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and other legends of the game. During the offseason, he made a nice living as a vaudeville song-and-dance man. He married, had two kids, moved to the suburbs and planted a garden, but none of it lasted.

As the youngest player in professional baseball – age 16 – he was exposed to the debauchery of the minor-league circuit at baseball’s dawn. It was the exact opposite of his mother’s ethos. Having been hyped in newspaper headlines as the “schoolboy wonder,” he couldn’t pitch to save his life against men nearly twice his age and failed miserably for three, long, years. 

Even in the majors, and finally hitting his groove as one of the best pitchers in baseball, he separated himself by reading books in the dugout and visiting museums while others caroused (not that he was any stranger to nightlife, himself). His aesthetic sensibility even extended to his pitching, which Giants manager John McGraw once criticized as “too pretty.” 

His true mentor, Yankees manager Miller Huggins, meanwhile tried to get Hoyt to give up his vaudeville career because it was a lifestyle in conflict with being an athlete. Hoyt understood the advice but loved hanging out with show business types. He was also earning way more money on the stage than the ball field, and the Yankees never offered to make up the difference.

Then there was his battle with alcohol. It would be a mistake to attribute this conflict to his others. Hoyt had a family history of alcoholism that both preceded and followed him. Ultimately, this was a conflict that he resolved by giving up drinking in 1942, never to return. 

The most striking manifestation of Hoyt’s conflict with himself occurred in 1969, during his induction to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He said many of the usual things in his induction speech … and then casually dropped that, you know, he could have been a journalist instead. Here he was -- among the one-percent of players admitted at Cooperstown -- still torturing himself over what might have been.

The irony is that Hoyt, as a pioneering radio broadcaster, did become a journalist. Apparently, he didn’t quite see it that way. In any case, it’s hard to imagine any journalist who would not have killed for his place on the 1927 Yankees and the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

As someone who experienced the pinnacle of success and the abyss of failure, Hoyt was just like most of us:  forever pondering the road not taken. 


bottom of page