November 1st, 2013
His full name was Robert Hamilton Hyatt. Fred Leib, one of a small group of widely read sportswriters who helped give early 20th century New York City baseball its amazing color, described today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant as “one of the game’s greatest pinch-hitters.” If Leib wrote it, it must have been true.
Ham Hamilton was the first player in baseball history to amass 50 pinch-hits during his career. The native of North Carolina made his big league debut with the 1909 World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates and instantly exhibited a penchant for coming off the bench in key situations and delivering big hits. He averaged .299 that year and in the process he impressed Fred Clarke enough with his stick work that the Pittsburgh manager tried to make him the team’s starting first baseman the following season. That experiment failed because in addition to being a poor defensive player, Hyatt just didn’t seem to hit as well when he got more than one chance per game to do so.
Probably because the Pirates didn’t think they could afford the luxury of carrying a full-time pinch-hitter, Hyatt went back to the minors in 1911. He would reappear in Pittsburgh the following season however and remained with the team as their primary pinch-hitter for the next three years. When his average took a precipitous dip to just .215 in 1915, the Pirates put him on waivers and he was claimed by the Cardinals. It was in St. Louis that Hyatt met future Yankee manager Miller Huggins, who was the starting second baseman on that 1915 St. Louis team. The two men became good friends.
Three years later, Huggins was in his first season as manager for New York and with World War I causing a shortage of ballplayers, Hug needed a left handed bat for his bench. At the time, Hyatt’s contract was owned by the Boston Braves but he was playing for a minor league team in the Southern Association and leading that league in home runs. When the Yankees were able to purchase his contract from the Braves in June of that 1918 season, the one-time Cardinal teammates were reunited. Huggins gave his old buddy plenty of playing time but Ham was 33-years-old by then and could only manage a .229 batting average during his first season in New York. There would be no second season. Hyatt would end up playing in the Pacific Coast League until 1923, finally retiring for good at the age of 38.
Ham Hyatt shares his birthday with another WWI era Yankee.
|PIT (5 yrs)||306||540||499||51||138||20||14||6||90||7||27||55||.277||.323||.409||.732|
|STL (1 yr)||106||330||295||23||79||8||9||2||46||3||28||24||.268||.337||.376||.714|
|NYY (1 yr)||53||142||131||11||30||8||0||2||10||1||8||8||.229||.273||.336||.609|