It would have taken a modern-day Nostradamus to predict Hoyt Wilhelm would end up in the Hall of Fame way back in 1955.
After all, he turned 33 that summer and entered the season with parts of just two Major League campaigns under his belt, running up a 34-15 record with a 2.55 ERA in a whopping 196 appearances for the New York Giants.
Add in 33 saves, and you had the profile of a premier reliever at a time when the position didn’t mean what it does today … but, still, Wilhelm was old and slow.
Old because he had spent three years in the military after a single season of Class-D ball in 1942. And because he spent four years after that trying to climb through the Giants’ minor league system.
Find 1955 All-American Sports Club cards on eBay (affiliate link)
Slow, because he was a knuckleballer.
No way an already-aging gimmick-hurler could stick around for long, right?
Right, unless you consider 21 years “long” — because that’s how long Old Sarge lasted in the Major Leagues. Along the way, he took the mound for nine different franchises and retired in 1972 at the age of 49 with 1070 appearances to his name, a record that stood for a couple decades.
Wilhelm parlayed that loonnnngggg track record and groundbreaking performance into a slot in Cooperstown, gaining votes on nearly 84% of the ballots in 1985.
But, back in 1955, you could have been forgiven for taking one look at his late start and his still-meager counting stats and deciding the Hall was out of the question.
Wouldn’t have helped much to get a gander at Wilhelm’s “card” in the 1955 All-American Sports Club set, either. You won’t find a ton of information out there in the wild about this issue, but PSA tells us they came in sheet form and featured 500 players across multiple sports.
When you find one by itself, then, it’s been hand-cut away from its mates, which is always an adventure in condition. Each singled-out card measures a diminutive 1-7/16″ x 2-1/8″and shows the subject in a simple black-and-white headshot. The backs are blank.
So, while there are superstars in this set — Bill Russell, Mickey Mantle, etc. — the low profile probably seemed to fit “old” Hoyt Wilhelm just about right back in 1955.
After all, you couldn’t expect much of a career from a geezer knuckler … right?