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Ammo Train Explodes; the Art of the Knuckleball, May 15, 1969

May 15, 2009 |  1:00 pm

May 15, 1969, Cover

I wonder whatever became of James W. Hutton, above. And get a load of Los Angeles County Coroner Dr. Thomas T. Noguchi, who calls Asians "yellow submarines." 
Hoyt Wilhelm, Sept. 19, 1971
Los Angeles Times file photo

Sept. 19, 1971: The Times' art department at work.

May 15, 1969, Sports Hoyt Wilhelm pitched the final three innings of the Angels' 1-0 victory over the Washington Senators and pronounced himself satisfied with his efforts: "I had as good a knuckleball tonight as I ever have."

That would have been one extraordinary knuckleball.

Wilhelm's stay in Anaheim was short considering the length of his career. He made his debut in 1952 as a 29-year-old pitcher with the New York Giants and finished in 1972 as a 49-year-old Dodger. He was 46 during his season with the Angels, older than the father of his catcher, Tom Egan.

What a fascinating career. He won a Purple Heart at the Battle of the Bulge and hit a home run in his first at-bat in the majors. He never hit another. Wilhelm retired with the most innings pitched in major league history (a record that has since been passed), but the longtime reliever also pitched a no-hitter in a 1958 start for the Orioles against the Yankees. He was the first relief pitcher inducted into the Hall of Fame.

The Angels got Wilhelm from the Kansas City Royals in a trade; incredibly, the White Sox let Wilhelm go in the expansion draft. Probably thought he was over the hill.

He had 10 saves for a dreadful Angels team before being traded in September to Atlanta. The deal turned out to be a good one for the Angels because one of the two players acquired was center fielder Mickey Rivers.

-- Keith Thursby