SABR

George Hockette

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

For a major-league ballplayer whose career was as recent as the 1930s, the family background of George Hockette is difficult to pin down. His family doesn’t seem to appear in the United States Census. We know he was born on April 7, 1908 in Perth, Mississippi, even today a rural Jefferson County community about 13 miles due east of Fayette. It appears that he grew up in Birmingham, Alabama; a Boston Globe story on the day after his major-league debut referred to him as a native of Birmingham. [1] He attended Barrett Elementary School and three years at Woodlawn High, both in Birmingham.

He began his professional career in 1929 with the Gadsden Eagles of the Class D Georgia-Alabama League, getting his feet wet with an 8-9 record. After the Gadsden franchise folded in 1930, he moved to the Anniston Nobles, in the same league, where he appeared in 29 games – 26 of them as a left-handed pitcher. His record was 11-8 and he put up a 4.63 earned run average and was dropped by the team. He began to play some semipro ball but near the end of the season, he was picked up by the Buffalo Bisons (Double A, International League). He appeared in two games for Buffalo with no reported record.

In 1931, Buffalo assigned his contract to the New Haven Bulldogs. He appeared in three games – again leaving no record – but was returned to Buffalo, who promptly assigned him to the Hazleton Mountaineers, the Boston Red Sox affiliate in the Class B New York-Penn League. His record was an uninspiring 6-14 (4.78 ERA), but he was held over by manager Jake Pitler in 1932 and turned things around (15-11, 3.69). Advanced to A ball in 1933 with the Reading Red Sox and manager Nemo Leibold, he put up some excellent won/loss numbers: 18-7, with an improving 3.53 ERA. The Boston team visited Reading in early July, and got a chance to see Hockette while defeating Reading, 6-3. 

He also made a minor splash in The Sporting News after the season. The Hazleton club traveled to Puerto Rico and on November 1 he pitched against the White Star Line, “a team composed of native and continental players”, and won a 4-0 no-hitter. Hockette’s effort was marred only by one walk and five Hazleton errors. [2]

Hockette was invited to the major-league camp in 1934, and climbed up another rung on the ladder, assigned on April 1 to pitch in Double A for the Kansas City Blues, with which the Red Sox had a working agreement. He performed well there, too: 16-15, 3.84, and making the American Association All-Star team. In September, he was called up to Boston and had an immediate impact in his September 17 debut, throwing a two-hitter against the St. Louis Browns the very day he joined the club. In fact, he had a no-hitter going through the first 7 2/3 innings at Sportsman’s Park, before giving up a single. Another single with two outs in the ninth was the only other hit in his 3-0 shutout win. The only time the Browns even reached second base was in the fifth when an error and his only walk of the game put two men on. “Lefty” Hockette also collected his first major-league hit when he singled in four at-bats. He was half an inch less than six feet tall and listed at 174 pounds.

His next start came in Yankee Stadium in the second game of the September 23 doubleheader, and he took a 4-4 tie into the 10th inning. A four-run fifth had given Boston a 4-1 lead but he surrendered solo home runs in the fifth, sixth, and a game-tying shot to Lou Gehrig in the eighth. Hockette had singled and scored one of Boston’s runs. In the bottom of the 10th, a leadoff double followed by a bunt single put runners on first and third with nobody out. Gehrig was walked intentionally. Hockette got an out on a foul, but then Ben Chapman singled and won the game for the Yankees.

Hockette’s third and final start in ’34 was at Fenway Park in the first game of a doubleheader against the visiting Philadelphia Athletics. He threw a 5-0 shutout, spreading out eight hits, and extended his own modest hitting streak to three games with a single. He was 2-1 with a 1.65 ERA.

With Lefty Grove, Rube Walberg, and Fritz Ostermueller all on the ballclub, the Sox were set with lefties but Hockette had made a solid impression and made the major-league club the following spring. He’d also made an impression as a bit of a colorful character. Sports editor Albert W. Keane of the Hartford Courant wrote of him as “the type who makes splendid copy for newsmen who are sometimes bored for color stories during training trips.” Keane continued, “He owns more suits than Leo Durocher and delights in appearing in a new ensemble two or three times each day for a fortnight.” [3] He spent the winter working in Reading for a scrap iron firm based there, before returning home to Birmingham. [4]

Another left-handed prospect, Johnny Merena, was also looking to earn a roster spot, but Hockette worked hard in the springtime and held his place on the club. Merena had shown well in four 1934 appearances, but was sent to Syracuse instead. Hockette pitched in 23 games in 1935, four starts and 19 relief appearances, more often than not coming later in games when the Red Sox were behind. His first start was May 27 against St. Louis, the day after picking up his first decision, a win thanks to a four-run Red Sox rally while he kept the Browns scoreless during the one inning he threw. Starting against St. Louis, he was cruising toward victory when he became a victim of four runs the Browns scored in the top of the sixth on a walk, two hits, two errors, and a home run by Ollie Bejma.

With all the relief work he’d been doing, his own hitting streak was long since history. He only collected two hits in all of 1935, ending up with a career batting average of .200. He had two RBIs, both coming on a double in Detroit on June 14, but it was Lefty Grove who picked up the win in relief that day. Hockette won two games and lost three in 1935, the second win coming on July 2 when he’d come in to mop up as the Sox were losing to the Tigers, 5-1, but then was the beneficiary of a five-run bottom of the seventh. He pitched four innings, allowing just one hit. George’s last appearance came against the Yankees at Fenway Park on August 5, giving up three hits and two runs (one earned – two inherited runners scored, too) in relief without retiring a batter, before he himself was relieved. On August 7, he was optioned to Syracuse and was 2-2 in five appearances.  In October, he married the former Lisbeth Leader.

Hockette never made it back to the big leagues, but he was involved in an important transaction in November, traded to the Hollywood Stars to bring two young infielders into the Red Sox system: shortstop George Myatt and second baseman (and future Hall of Famer) Bobby Doerr. [5] The Hollywood team moved to San Diego before the 1936 season, and became the Padres, also becoming a Red Sox affiliate. It wasn’t a good year for Hockette. Hampered by an arm injury early on, he was 0-3 for San Diego when he couldn’t shake the injury, and found himself released. [6] He later signed on with Syracuse and was 4-11 for them.

The Syracuse club switched affiliations in 1937, becoming a Cincinnati farm club. Hockette stuck with the club and his arm bounced back. He threw 132 innings and was 11-6 with a 3.34 ERA. He spent 1938 in the Southern Association pitching for Knoxville and Birmingham but put up a disappointing 6.41 earned run average, reflected in a 3-10 record. He dropped to C ball in 1939, back with Hazleton, but with only limited action (2-3, with only 42 innings pitched all season). Hockette had two more seasons in him. In 1940, he pitched and managed in the Class D Florida State League for Fort Lauderdale and was 13-6 with a 3.18 ERA, and in 1941 he split his time between the Appalachian League’s Bristol Twins, which he managed for the first part of the season, and then the Miami Wahoos and, again, the Fort Lauderdale Tarpons. [7]

In 1946, he was on the roster of the West Palm Beach Indians but doesn’t show up in team statistics. What he did during the war years, we don’t know. After baseball, he spent his final 34 years living in Fort Lauderdale where he retired as a captain with the police department. He was active in the Masonic order. Hockette died at age 65 on January 20, 1974 in Plantation, FL. He was survived by wife Betty, sister Mrs. Henry Butler and niece Frances Lee Butler of Birmingham AL.

February 8, 2011

Sources

Thanks to Maurice Bouchard and to the Broward County Public Library.

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Hockette’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the online SABR Encyclopedia, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.






[1] Boston Globe, September 18, 1934


[2] The Sporting News, February 22, 1934  


[3] Hartford Courant, October 16, 1934


[4] Boston Globe, February 1, 1935


[5] Boston Globe, November 22, 1935


[6] Los Angeles Times, June 8, 1936


[7] The Sporting News, March 20, 1941
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