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  • Writer's pictureTim Manners

Young and a Yankee: A Father’s Day Message for Baseball Fans

Updated: 19 hours ago

Schoolboy Waite Hoyt was first to admit he was not cut out for fatherhood


(Clockwise: Addison and Waite Hoyt; John McGraw; Ed Barrow; Chris, Judy, Chip, Ellen and Waite Hoyt; Miller Huggins; Waite, Susie and Dorothy Hoyt) 

 

“I was only 23 and didn’t grasp being a father,” Yankees ace pitcher Waite Hoyt wrote in Schoolboy, his memoir. “I handled our babies like they were Haviland china. I would have liked to have known what to do but felt it was outside my domain.” 


He continued: “It’s like they used to say in the old days. One fellow asks another, ‘What do you know about electricity?’ And he says, ‘I know enough to leave it alone’.”  

He didn’t necessarily have the greatest role model.


Waite’s father, Addison Hoyt, was perhaps a bit of a man-child himself. While he did hold down a job with the Swift Meat Company, that didn’t happen until his own dreams of a baseball career and then a vaudeville actor were dashed. His influences on his son were obvious, in that Waite’s career path followed directly in his father’s footsteps. Not only did Addison teach Waite how to field and throw a baseball, but he also recruited him into his onstage antics. 


Remarkably, Addison single-handedly engineered Waite’s trade from the Red Sox to the Yankees in 1921. He simultaneously rehabilitated Waite’s pitching arm after it was weakened by blood poisoning while also reporting on his son’s progress to Ed Barrow, the Yankees’ general manager. Without his father’s intervention, it’s likely Waite’s big-league career would have ended almost before it started. 


Waite began his professional baseball career as a boy doing a man’s job, which in this case meant playing a boy’s game for pay. This was entirely his father’s doing. Waite was 15 years old when John McGraw of the New York Giants signed him to a contract that he was too young to sign for himself. He had to bring his father with him to Mr. McGraw’s office to seal the deal, which involved no money and a five-dollar bonus (which his father kept and used to buy himself a hat). 


Waite knew he was a lamb entering a lion’s cage. His mother was beside herself. As her son headed out the door, she turned to her husband and whispered, “There goes our boy.”


The boy was gone, but the man had not yet arrived. His father could not have been more proud. If nothing else, he had set the stage for what was to come, as “father figures” became a motif of Hoyt’s astonishing baseball odyssey.


John McGraw’s parenting style could only be described as tough love. The New York Giants manager certainly saw potential in young Waite Hoyt, and launched his career. Waite was grateful for the opportunity to join the Giants organization and overjoyed that McGraw took an interest in his future. Even when McGraw yelled at him or criticized his pitching style as “too pretty,” Waite was thrilled by the attention. 


Less enthralling was McGraw’s habit of sending Waite back down to the minors, time after time, for three long years. It was apparent to Waite that playing under horrible conditions under mostly incompetent managers and frequently brutal teammates was ruining him for baseball. He was getting worse, not better, as a pitcher. Waite made his case to McGraw, who insisted that the hardship was essential to his future. 


McGraw never brought Waite up to the majors, except for a single inning where “Schoolboy” retired the side in order. Instead of promoting his young prodigy, McGraw sent him back down for the last time, releasing him from his Giants contract. Years later, McGraw said he forever regretted this. Waite nearly quit baseball as a result. 


Next to Addison Hoyt, Ed Barrow is the man most responsible for Waite Hoyt’s emergence as one of the best baseball pitchers of all time. First he signed Waite to the Red Sox on little more than a recommendation from Norm McNeil, a catcher for Waite in the Industrial Leagues. Then, after moving over to the Yankees front office, Barrow engineered a trade for Waite based on nothing more than the advice of Addison Hoyt!


Barrow himself apparently aspired to be Waite’s father-in-law, introducing his young star to his beautiful young daughter, Audrey, and subtly encouraging their marriage. Waite was already engaged to Dorothy Pyle, however, and Barrow graciously accepted this. His fatherly advice to focus on baseball rather than the vaudeville stage and speakeasies meanwhile fell on deaf ears. Barrow’s was one of many voices of reason Waite ignored, much to his regret later in life.  



If Waite had a true father figure other than his actual father it was Miller Huggins, the legendary Yankees manager. Huggins was convinced that Waite was the best pitcher in baseball, but could only sustain and fully realize his potential if he gave up vaudeville and everything that went with it. Waite heeded Hug’s advice, but only to a point. 


The last time they met in Huggins’s office, the manager told his 30-year-old ace that he wasn’t getting any younger and needed to get in shape. Sadly, Huggins died days later and, absent his presence, Waite continued on a downward slide. Looking back, Waite felt that had Hug lived, he not only would have remained with the Yankees for life but also topped 300 wins. He finished his career with 237. 


Herb Heekin may not have been a father figure exactly, but was arguably the most consequential mentor in Waite Hoyt’s life. It was Heekin who first counseled Waite after the faded star bottomed out on a final shot of whiskey at a seedy Cincinnati bar. He sat bedside with Waite at the Good Samaritan Hospital, introduced him to Alcoholics Anonymous, and gave him the perspective he so desperately needed to gain the upper hand over alcohol and put his life permanently back on track. Waite referred to Heekin as “the greatest man I have ever known” and credited him with the happiness and success he enjoyed after his last drink, in 1945. 


In terms of his own fatherhood, Waite had three children: a boy and a girl with his first wife, Dorothy, and a son with his second wife, Ellen. There’s little evidence Waite had a significant relationship, or even any contact, with his first two children, Harry and Susie, following his divorce from Dorothy. However, he wrote scores, if not hundreds, of long letters to his third child, Christopher Waite Hoyt.

Many of these missives were laced with fatherly advice.


While Chris Hoyt understandably felt he was forever in his famous father’s shadow, Waite saw his own reflection staring right back at him. Chris had achieved exactly what Waite had not: attended Princeton and established a successful business career. Their relationship was decidedly complicated and not without its tensions, but each was clearly in awe of and inspired by the other’s accomplishments. 


In the epilogue to his memoir, Waite recounted a conversation with Chris in which he raised the question of why the youth of ensuing generations failed to learn from the mistakes of their elders. Chris responded, “What could we possibly learn from you?” Waite then launched into an unsparing assessment of his remarkable life’s journey – 84 years of highs, lows and everything in between.


He concluded by saying that he hoped those who came after him “might have learned a whole lot from my life’s choices, good, bad, and indifferent, just as I could have learned more than I did from other people who had made mistakes.” 


He added: “I am so deeply thankful for the way others have helped me build my life and how they came to my assistance when I needed it the most.”


Fatherly wisdom indeed.



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