Former White Sox front office executive Dan Evans broke the news on Tuesday morning that LaMarr Hoyt, the 1983 American League Cy Young winner and White Sox pitcher from 1979-84, died at the age of 66.
Hoyt came to the White Sox as part of a four-player deal with the Yankees, literally right before the club headed north to open the season on April 5, 1977. Bucky Dent was the player sent to the Bronx, because White Sox owner Bill Veeck couldn’t get him to agree to a new contract.
Hoyt came to the Sox along with Oscar Gamble, Bob Polinsky and $200,000. It isn’t known if Hoyt was considered a throw-in to the deal or not, because Veeck and Roland Hemond originally wanted lefthander Ron Guidry included in the trade. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was prepared to pull the trigger, until manager Billy Martin intervened and got Steinbrenner to change his mind.
Hoyt made his White Sox debut at home on Sept. 14, 1979, pitching a 1-2-3 inning against the Athletics.
In 1980, Hoyt opened the season in the White Sox bullpen but by late July had moved into the starting rotation. When the year was done, Hoyt threw more than 112 innings, with 13 starts, three complete games and a record of 9-3.
It was 1981, though, when things began to come together for the big man from South Carolina.
It started that Opening Day in Boston (the “return of Carlton Fisk” game), as Hoyt pitched two innings in relief to pick up the win after Fisk’s dramatic, three-run home run in the top of the eighth inning gave the White Sox the lead in the game.
Another highlight came towards the end of that year in Oakland, on September 27, in the opener of a doubleheader. Starter Ross Baumgarten got knocked out without retiring a batter in the first inning, giving up five runs and not retiring anyone. Hoyt came on to try to stop the bleeding.
He did more than that.
Hoyt wound up throwing all nine innings, getting credit for a complete game — and even got the win, as the Sox came back to beat Oakland, 9-5. Hoyt only allowed five hits, while striking out eight.
For the year, Hoyt again went 9-3, with a 3.57 ERA and 10 saves.
The 1982 season began the same way as 1981, with Hoyt in the Sox bullpen. But after a few weeks, he moved into the rotation for good. He made 32 starts with 14 complete games, throwing more than 239 innings. Included in the highlights that season were a pair of complete-game three-hitters (June 15 at Oakland and August 14 against the Yankees). Hoyt picked up his 19th win of the season on the final day of the year at Minnesota, again tossing a complete game in a 6-1 win. Hoyt’s 19 wins led the American League.
The 1983 season was Hoyt’s crowning achievement, but it didn’t start out that way. Hoyt and the entire Sox club started out slowly, falling to eight games worse than .500 by late May. Rumors were rampant about the possibility of manager Tony La Russa being fired, or trades being made to shake things up. But White Sox special assistant Bobby Winkles was brought in to evaluate the situation by co-owners Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn; he preached patience, and turned out to be correct.
By June 22, the Sox were back to the .500 mark, and a dramatic season turnaround was shaping up.
By July 4, the date of the start of the All-Star break, Hoyt was 9-8, and the club was 40-37. After the break — particularly in the final two months — the Sox went on a winning rampage, destroying the division on their way to 99 wins and a 20-game lead over second-place Kansas City. Hoyt, Richard Dotson and Floyd Bannister went a mind-blowing 42-5 as the big three of the starting rotation. Hoyt at one point won 13 straight — not losing a game after July 23. His 20th win that year came on September 11 at home against the Angels, when he went 10 innings in a 5-4 victory.
By the end of the season, Hoyt was 24-10, with 36 starts, 11 complete games, a shutout, more than 260 innings pitched, a 3.66 ERA and 148 strikeouts as opposed to only 31 walks.
His control that year was impeccable. Hoyt, in later years, boasted that hitters couldn’t even get a foul ball off him unless he let them do it. He allowed 27 home runs that year, but as he put it he’d rather pitch to contact with a nice lead and give up a solo home run than have guys on base.
In the 1983 ALCS, Hoyt opened the best-of-five series in Baltimore and was magnificent in a 2-1 Sox win. He went the distance, losing his shutout in the rain in the ninth inning on a bloop hit by Cal Ripken. He then got Eddie Murray to ground out to end the game. Hoyt allowed five hits with four strikeouts.
The ace was in line to start the fifth and deciding game of the series, but Baltimore closed it out in four, beating the Sox in 10 innings, 3-0, in Game 4 at Comiskey Park.
On October 25, Hoyt was named the Cy Young winner, becoming the second White Sox pitcher to ever win it, following Early Wynn in 1959. He easily outdistanced Kansas City’s Dan Quisenberry, 116-81, in voting points by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
The follow-up season in 1984 proved to be a turning point, however. Chicago was almost a unanimous pick to repeat as division winners and a very good bet to get to the World Series. They added Tom Seaver to the starting rotation, and actually were in first place at the All-Star break after having won seven in a row and 10 of 12. But after the break, it all fell apart. According to Sox outfielder Ron Kittle, the club “quit” in the second half and finished a disappointing 74-88.
Hoyt’s ERA ballooned to 4.47, with a record of 13-18. He did start 34 games, complete 11 of them, and throw more than 235 innings, but he wasn’t the same pitcher who won 61 games between 1980 and 1983.
His best single game performance in a Sox uniform came on May 6 of that season, as he one-hit the Yankees and won 3-0 at Comiskey Park. The reigning Cy Young winner lost his no-hitter on a single by Don Mattingly with one out in the seventh inning.
With concerns about his weight and (at the time unfounded) rumors about possible drug use, Hemond sent Hoyt to the Padres along with prospects Kevin Kristan and Todd Simmons for a young shortstop named Ozzie Guillén, utility player Luis Salazar and pitchers Tim Lollar and Bill Long. The deal was completed on Dec. 6, 1984.
LaMarr actually had a very good 1985 season in San Diego, going 16-8 with a 3.47 ERA, making the All-Star Game. The righthander started the Midsummer Classic, throwing three innings in Minnesota, getting the win and only giving up two hits, one of which was to the his former teammate, Harold Baines.
Following the 1985 season, Hoyt was arrested twice within a month on drug-possession charges, checking into a rehabilitation program nine days after the second arrest. This prevented him from playing most of spring training. He pitched through an injury to his rotator cuff rather than risk a surgery that could end his career, and he logged an 8–11 won-loss record with a 5.15 ERA.
Barely a month after the season ended, Hoyt was arrested again for drug possession when he tried to bring 500 pills back across the border from Mexico. He was sentenced to 45 days in jail on Dec. 16, 1986, and suspended from baseball the following February. When an arbitrator reduced his suspension to “time served” (60 days) in mid-June and ordered the Padres to reinstate Hoyt, the Padres cut Hoyt and ate the remaining $3 million on his contract.
The White Sox re-signed him, with the promise of a chance at a comeback if he could get back into shape. But a fourth arrest on drug charges in December 1987 resulted in a one-year prison sentence, ending his baseball career.
Over time, Hoyt worked to stay clean and sober, and returned to Chicago to take in games, as well as attend team-sponsored functions like Sox Fest.