July 13th – Happy Birthday Ken Hunt
So who is Ken Hunt? A lot of the readers of this blog are old enough and good enough baseball fans to remember Ron Hunt, the former big league second baseman who was the real first “star” of the Mets. Ron Hunt would have won the 1963 NL Rookie of the Year Award if it weren’t for the fact that Pete Rose was also in his rookie season that same year. But I don’t think too many of you remember Ken Hunt. I do because of two reasons. I was a baseball card collector and a die-hard Yankee fan.
Ken Hunt had been signed by the Yankees way back in 1952 when he was just 17 years old. He had just graduated from high school in Grand Forks, ND and the Yankees assigned him to their lowest level (D) farm team. He climbed the first three letters of the minor league alphabet pretty quickly, but once he got to the double A level, his ascent sort of stalled because the next rung of his career ladder was the New York Yankee outfield which was at the time pretty loaded with high performing veterans.
Despite that crowded situation, Hunt was given his first call-up to the Bronx in September of 1959 and then actually made New York’s big league roster with a good 1960 spring training performance. He hit .294 as a utility outfielder on that 1960 Yankee team through the first two months of the season before he was sent back down to Richmond. He also developed a lasting friendship with another Yankee who made his home in North Dakota, a guy named Roger Maris.
I remember pretty clearly reading the list of players in the New York Daily News who had been selected by the Los Angeles Angels and Washington Senators during the 1960 AL Expansion Draft. They included Yankee pitchers Eli Grba, Bobby Shantz and Duke Maas along with two Yankee first basemen, Dale Long and Bud Zipfel. The list also included Ken Hunt who was the 40th selection in that draft. His new team was the Angels.
During the Angels’ first season, the team played its home games in cozy little minor league ballpark named, coincidentally, Wrigley Field. Since it was located near Hollywood, the Stadium became a popular place to film movies that involved baseball games and also served as the host of television’s popular “Home Run Derby” show, which use to air in the 1950s. Due to the fact that the park’s power alleys were just 345 feet in both right center and left center, home runs were plentiful during the Angels 1961 inaugural season helping Ken Hunt end his first full year in the big leagues with 25 of them and also lead the team with 84 RBIs.
Unfortunately for Hunt, he suffered an aneurism near his throwing shoulder the following season and was limited to just twelve games of action. While recovering from the surgery, however, he met and married a single Mom who’s son was Butch Patrick, the child actor who played Eddie Munster in the popular TV series, The Munsters. Eventually, Ken was cast as a baseball player in an episode of his step son’s series and got his Screen Actors Guild card. He would go on to play an extra in other Hollywood films.
Hunt needed a second career because his repaired shoulder continued to bother him. Though he did manage to hit 16 home runs in just 66 games of action for the Angels in 1963, his average fell into the .180′s and he was sold to the Senators in September of that same season.
He ended up divorcing Patrick’s Mom a few years later and starting a new career in the aerospace industry. It was there that he met and married his new wife and they opened a bar together near the aerospace plant where they both worked. He continued his close friendship with Roger Maris until Maris passed away from cancer. Hunt continued to return to North Dakota every year to play in the Memorial Golf Tournament. In fact, on the evening before he was supposed to leave for North Dakota to play in the 1997 event, he died of a heart attack while watching his former team, the Angels play on television.