The College Baseball Hall of Fame came into existence just three years ago, and already baseball rich Texas has six members. Pitching is the cornerstone of this program, so it is only right that two UT pitchers Burt Hooton & Greg Swindell go in with Billy Disch in the 2008 class.
They join former coach Cliff Gustafson and pitcher/designated hitter Brooks Kieschnick who were part of the inaugural class of 2006, as well as former coach Bibb Falk who was inducted last year.
William John "Billy" Disch brought the UT baseball team into the SWC. Disch won 513 games while only losing 80 during his 29-year span as UT baseball coach. There were no national playoffs for baseball then, but Disch won 20 out of a possible 25 SWC baseball titles during his tenure. Described as "the Connie Mack of college baseball" he has the ballpark named after him along with the legendary Bibb Falk ( of course they now share it with a bank as well.)
Pitching has been at the heart of the Texas baseball program really from the start. Over the past 70 years the success, 6 National Championships (1949, 1950, 1975, 1983, 2002, 2005), and 50 Conference titles, has been built around a collegiate all star list of pitchers. The list includes C.C. "Tex" Hughson, a 1937 letterman, who went on to become a 20-game winner for the Boston Red Sox 40 years before another UT-Ex would have a fair amount of success for the BoSox and continues down to Huston Street. Two of the best on the college level are being honored this year.
Swindell was the workhorse for a Longhorn program that won three straight SWC titles from 1984-86 and finished 2nd in the College World Series twice. The lefty was 43-8 at Texas with 14 shutouts and 2 no-hitters and a career ERA of 1.92. The three-time All-American was the 1984 Collegiate Freshman of the Year, and the 1985 Baseball America Player of the Year. Swindell won 19 games for the Horns in 1985. Swindell spent 16 years in the majors compiling a 123-122 record with a 3.86 ERA for Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Houston.
Hooton remains for me, the most dominate collegiate pitcher I have seen. UT's first 3-time All-American, Hooton was 35-3 over his three year stay at Texas from 1969-71. He had 13 shutouts, 386 strikeouts, and a school record career ERA of 1.14. In 1971 he had several performances that were stunning in their complete control of the opponent.
He had a 7-inning no hitter against Sam Houston State early in the season. Then in conference action he pitched the 7-inning opener against Texas Tech. He had a perfect game through 8 innings, finally gave up a hit, and then won 1-0 in 13 innings giving up that single hit. His last game as a Longhorn saw him lose to Pan American in the regionals, by the score of 1-0, when he gave up an unearned run.
Hooton was known for his knuckle-curve pitch, which he called "The Thang." Hooton said he developed it as a teenager after watching Hoyt Wilhelm throw it in the majors. Like any other 14-year old with a little common sense, Hooton assumed that the knucklball lived up to its name, so he started practicing his pitch with his fingers bent, his knuckles down on the ball, and then just push the ball out. Most pitchers throw a knuckler with their fingers digging into the hide. The difference was that Hooton's knuckle-curve came out with a forward spin on it. So Hooton developed this pitch where he folded his fingertips underneath and pushed out with his palm, creating a pitch that would dramatically break the harder he pushed. Hooton had a good fastball, made better by the knuckle-curve.
Hooton was drafted by the Chicago Cubs and in 1972, he fired a no-hitter in only his 4th start as a major leaguer. He shut out the Philadelphia Phillies 4-0. He ended the season with an 11-14 record, thanks to horrible run support. The Cubs scored a total of 29 runs in his 14 losses, and he ended the season with a 2.80 ERA. Hooton quickly got mired in mediocrity with the Cubbies, finishing 36-42 in a little over three years. But L.A. Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda remembered the rookie he had faced as the AAA Tacoma manager and traded for Hooton early in the 1975 season. Hooton finished the year with an 18-7 record with the Dodgers and became the lynchpin of the starting rotation.
Hooton won 117 games for the Dodgers, led them to the World Series in 1977 and 1978, where they lost to the Yankees. In 1981 Hooton was 11-6 with a 2.28 ERA for the Dodgers. He was even better in the playoffs. Hooton was 4-1 with an 0.82 ERA during the postseason, In the first round of the playoffs, the Dodgers trailed Houston two games to none when Hooton got a 6-1 victory in game three. He was the winning pitcher in Game 6 of the World Series, as the Dodgers beat the Yankees for their first baseball championship since 1965.
Hooton's nickname is "Happy," an emotion he rarely shows. Tommy Lasorda takes credit for giving Hooton the nickname. In his autobiography, Lasorda wrote, "He became Happy Hooton on New Year's Eve. Normally, he looks about as happy as a farmer during a drought, but when I caught him playing solitaire during a New Year's celebration, he earned his nickname, and he's been Happy ever since."
Hooton also has his spot in World Series lore for one that got away.
Hooton gave up the first of three first-pitch gopher balls to Reggie Jackson in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series. Jackson became only the second player (Babe Ruth is the other) to hit three home runs in a single World Series game.
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