Hooks Wiltse photographed in 1912.

Hooks Wiltse: The Clutch Defense You’ve Never Heard Of

George Leroy Wiltse, better known as “Hooks” due to his curveball, was a pitcher for the New York Giants from 1904 to 1914. He pitched a final year in the Federal League for the Brooklyn Tip-Tops (bring back this name please) and then finished his career in the minor leagues. He was a good pitcher but far from a Hall of Famer. He compiled an overall record of 139-90 (which, to be fair, would put him in the top 10 of all active baseball players in the modern era.) Additionally, he had a career ERA of 2.47 and a WHIP of 1.131, an ERA+ of 113, and an overall WAR of 30.3 (all according to his baseball-reference.com page).

After coming close to pitching a perfect game in 1908 in which he retired the first 26 batters of a game. He lost the perfect game as he hit a batter but was able to retire the next and threw his only no-hitter. Wiltse became a World Champion in 1905 and probably would have been one in 1904 had the Giants decided to play in the World Series that year.

Photograph of baseball player Hooks Wiltse from 1913.
Credit: Bain News Service, P. (1913) George “Hooks” Wiltse, New York NL baseball. , 1913

With all of his pitching accomplishments, however, his most interesting performance, I feel, was in the 1913 World Series. During Game 2 of the series, Fred Snodgrass, the first baseman for the Giants, was injured as he ran the bases. Wiltse was pinch run for him and he stayed in the game to play first base. Now Wiltse had played first base before during the season on a couple of occasions and he was known for being a good fielding pitcher but the Giants also had Fred Merkle on the bench, who also played first base….and spent his career as a first baseman, so in a lot of ways, this was a curious decision.

While Wiltse didn’t do much at the plate, what he did do was play phenomenal defense, as he ended up creating 13 putouts and three assists without creating a single error. (I’m not sure what the average amount of putouts and assists are for a first baseman in today’s game it seems like a game where a first baseman got over 10 chances was definitely a game where they stayed busy, and in the 1913 game, where the gloves weren’t great and there would have been challenges in seeing the baseball the more a defender would have seen the ball the more chances there would have been for errors.)

He made a plus play in the top of the 8th of a 0-0 game to make an out. An out that became huge as the Philadelphia Athletics ended up getting two base hits later in the inning. His performance became even more impressive in the 9th inning when the A’s were able to get second and third with no outs following a base hit and a bunt with a throwing error. The next batter hit another one to Wiltse, where he again had to make a tough stop and a quick throw to the plate to get the out and save what would have been a walk-off winner. The very next batter also hit one to him, and again, Wiltse made the throw to the plate to keep the walk-off runner from scoring. The next out was made, and the game went into extras.

Hooks Wiltse photographed on a baseball field in 1913.
Credit: Bain News Service, P. (1913) George “Hooks” Wiltse, New York NL baseball. , 1913.

To add to his accomplishments, he followed up a lead-off single with a successful bunt that led to the go-ahead single by the game’s starting pitcher, Christy Mathewson, of all people. The Giants added on two more and won their only game of the series, but the story of the game, in my eyes, was the defense by a pitcher playing first base.

Unfortunately, no footage of this game exists, as it took place 110 years ago. I’d love to see what type of plays the plays at the plate were, especially the first one, as the book I read this from, The World Series (a collection of play-by-play for every World Series from 1903-1985), only describes the play as a Wiltse making a beautiful stop.

From what I’m envisioning, any situation where a first baseman makes a beautiful stop and is able to nab a player at the plate on a nonforceout is going to be an impressive play, and with this in mind, when factoring in the fact that a pitcher playing first is the one who made the play and the fact that it’s the World Series and a game the Giants needed to even the series, one has to say that this is one of the clutch defensive performances of all time and I’d say it kind of gets lost in the annuls of time.

The fact is the Giants lost the series, and it wasn’t really close as it was a 4-1 final and didn’t really matter in the big picture. It probably doesn’t help that it’s a play. We will never see, and honestly, until I read the play-by-play in this nearly 40-year-old book, I personally didn’t know about it, but ultimately, it’s one of my favorite defensive performances from the early days of World Series history, and because of that I will always remember the name, Hooks Wiltse.

Feature Image Credit: Bain News Service, P. (1912) George “Hooks” Wiltse, New York NL baseball. , 1912.

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