Jim Heise

This article was written by Joe Schuster

When the Washington Senators called up right-handed hurler Jim Heise from the minor leagues in early summer 1957, the team was "desperate" for pitching.1 They were in last place with a major-league worst 22-47 record and had dropped 11 of their previous 15 games on their way to their third consecutive sub-.400 season. At that point, Heise, then 26, had had less than one full season of minor league experience. The Senators had signed him in the spring of 1956 following a brilliant four years at West Virginia University.

Reportedly, before summoning him, Senators' manager Cookie Lavagetto had not actually seen Heise pitch, but team scouts assured the manager that he was up to the task. Lavagetto slotted him into a starting assignment against the first-place Chicago White Sox for a June 29 home game.2

Heise began well enough. Through the first five innings, he gave up only four hits and one run, which came on a second inning Bubba Phillips solo homer, while striking out three and walking two. His teammates matched the run on a fourth inning home run by Roy Sievers. However, Heise gave back the lead in the sixth and then was unable to get through the seventh, managing only one out while surrendering four runs on three hits and a walk.

The game turned out to be Heise's longest outing in the major leagues. Lavagetto gave him another start four days later, against the Baltimore Orioles, but he lasted only two innings, allowing five runs on three hits and three walks. He got into a half-dozen more games as a reliever in July before the team sent him back to the minor leagues on August 1. His record for his time with the Senators was 0-3 with an 8.05 ERA. He never returned to the majors and hung on in the minors until 1961 when he left professional ball for a long career in education.

James Edward Heise (pronounced like "ice") was born in Scottdale, Pennsylvania, on October 2, 1930, though a number of sources during his career shave two years off his age, putting his birth in 1932.3 He was the first of what were eventually three children of Clarence Heise and Hazel (Reece) Heise.4 (He had two sisters, Judy, born 1937, and Carole, born 1941). Clarence Heise had pitched that season with the Scottdale Scotties of the Class C Middle Atlantic League and, although his professional career took him to seven other baseball towns before he retired in 1937, Scottdale remained the family's home until sometime after Jim became an adult. (Clarence Heise had an even briefer stay in the majors than his son; he appeared in only a single game as a reliever for the St. Louis Cardinals "Gashouse Gang" team during their 1934 World Championship season.)

By the available accounts, Heise was an active student at Scottdale High School, from which he graduated in 1948. Not surprisingly, given his future in the sport and his genes, he played baseball for the high school team and, during summers, an American Legion team 5 6 He also played basketball and football.7 Beyond athletics, he was a member of the school chorus and performed in an least one play, when he was cast as the lead in Scottdale High's 1947 production of "Wedding Spells" by James F. Stone 8 9 During his last year there, foreshadowing his long career in the classroom, he was a biology teacher for a day as part of the school's tradition of turning over classes to senior students for a day.10

After graduation, Heise joined the Air Force, eventually advancing to sergeant after an extended deployment to Japan and the Philippines.11 On his discharge in 1952, he came home, where he pitched in the Big Ten semipro league, hurling for a team based in Scottdale.12 In 1953, he enrolled in West Virginia University as a physical education major and a member of the Mountaineer baseball team.13

As a 22-year-old freshman, Heise had an immediate impact for the Mountaineers. On April 11, 1953, in his first start, he threw a one-hit, 1-0 shutout against William and Mary, striking out eight.14 By early May, with Heise's record at 3-1, one sportswriter reported that West Virginia assistant athletic director Charley Hockenberry, who'd spent three seasons in the minor leagues in the 1940s, had declared he was "the best he's ever seen anywhere, any-when in college ranks and predicts major league teams will scramble to bid for his services."15 Hockenberry would prove prophetic as, by the time Heise graduated, he had set what were then a number of school records.16

Heise ended his freshman year with three wins and two losses, 37 strikeouts and 23 walks in 43 innings, but allowed only eight earned runs. The numbers may sound unimpressive, but they were good enough to be the only Mountaineer named to the all-Southern Conference team, which then cited the best 18 players in the conference regardless of position.17 That summer, as he did the following year, he returned to the Big Ten League as a hurler.18

His 1954 statistics were in line with those from his first year (4-2, with a 2.50 ERA, 62 strikeouts and 32 walks in 57 2/3 innings) but in 1955, he had what was then the best season for a pitcher in school history. As the season opened, coach Steve Harrick told reporters, "We're terribly short on pitchers."19 Because of that, Heise became something of a workhorse, starting 18 of the team's 26 games and throwing 106 2/3 innings, which still stands as the third highest in Mountaineer history. He won his first nine decisions, his streak finally ending on May 14 when West Virginia lost a 7-2 contest to Virginia Tech in a rain-soaked game, in conditions so sloppy that "under normal conditions the whole thing would have been called off."20 The sole reason the game went on despite the weather was that West Virginia, who had never won a Southern Conference championship, needed the game in order to meet the requirement that the championship team play at least eight conference contests against at least five rivals.21 While they lost the game, they did notch the championship.

Heise finished the year 10-2 with a 2.10 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 106 2/3 innings, becoming the first pitcher in school history to gain at least 10 wins. His innings and strikeouts also set school single-season records at the time. (As of 2018, his strikeouts that season ranked fifth in school history while his innings-pitched stood third.)

For his sterling season, Heise made the All-Conference team for the second time, but this time he got more votes than any other player, regardless of position, and was tabbed "team captain."22 His performance also made him a runner-up for conference "athlete of the year," an award that went to Furman College basketball player Darrell Floyd, who had led all major college players in scoring that year.23 That summer, Heise continued his pitching success, going 5-0 for the Grantsville Sluggers of the Pen-Mar semi-pro league, helping them to the league title.24

Heise also won All-Conference honors for his senior year, when he went 7-2 with 67 strikeouts and a 2.25 ERA.25 His four-year record at the university: 24 wins, a 2.22 ERA and 277 strikeouts.

In late May of his senior year, the Washington Senators signed him, giving him what the team termed a "substantial bonus," though less than the $4,000 that would have made him a so-called bonus player and required the team to add him immediately to the major league roster.26 The team reportedly signed him on the recommendations of several people, including scout Bill Zamer, assistant farm director Sherry Robertson, and Bill Reinhart, baseball coach at George Washington University, who told the team that Heise was one of the best pitchers he'd seen in the Southern Conference.27

Assigned to the Hobbs (NM) Sports in the Class B Southwestern League, he made his professional debut on May 31 at home against the Ballinger Westerners, giving up three runs (all earned) on eight hits and one walk in 6 2/3 innings, leaving without a decision.

He earned his first professional decision five days later, when he started the second game of a road doubleheader against the San Angelo Colts, turning in seven innings of "tight pitching," allowing one earned run on six hits and a walk, while fanning three in the 5-1 victory.28 For the season he was 8-5 with a 4.94 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 133 innings. Late in the year, manager Pat Stasey occasionally used him in the outfield.29

In the off-season, Heise took a job teaching at Hobbs High School, where he was also the assistant baseball coach and coached the school's "C" team basketball squad.30 As coach, Heise made an immediate impact for the discipline he insisted on from the players, something the school's head baseball coach noted when he spoke to a reporter shortly before the prep baseball season opened: "We are so far ahead of last year because Jim Heise has had them out running and throwing for two weeks (earlier than usual)."31

The Senators invited him to spring training in 1957 but he declined because of his teaching and eventually joined the Midland Indians in late May.32 He first appears in a box score for a May 19 game against Carlsbad, a 26-22 loss, in which he came into the game in the midst of a six-run fourth inning but did not complete the inning.33 He picked up his first victory for the season on June 7, when he fanned 11 in going the distance in a 4-3 Midland victory over the Clovis Reds.34 Roughly a month later, his record stood at 2-2 with a 3.63 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 52 innings. With the Senators struggling to find effective arms, Pat Stasey, who had been Heise's manager at Hobbs in 1956 and in 1957 was general manager at Midland, suggested they consider calling up Heise.35 The team sent scout George Pastor to take a look at him and, on his recommendation, the Senators sent for the right-handed hurler on June 25, following a game in which Washington pitchers had squandered an early 4-0 lead over the Detroit Tigers, losing 7-4 in ten innings.36

The move reportedly shocked Heise, who put his wife and young daughter into the car and drove the 1,600 miles to Washington, D.C., with only one brief stop.37

Heise's surprise leap from the low minors to the major leagues elicited both optimism and skepticism. Writing in the Cumberland News, sports editor Jim Day, who had covered Heise during his season in the Pen-Mar League, speculated, "If Jim's pitching can match the stuff he showed to hitters in the Pen-Mar circuit when he helped pitch the Grantsville Sluggers to the title with a 5-0 record, he may have picked up enough in his short minor league stint to be a surprise for the hurling-hungry Senators."38

On the other hand, Burton Hawkins, a writer for the Washington Evening Star, made plain he doubted Heise would be much of an improvement for the team: "Jim Heise stacks a mediocre minor league record against the pennant-contending White Sox at Griffith Stadium. . . There's nothing in Heise's minor league record. . .to indicate he's prepared for the big step. . ."39

Hawkins's assessment proved to be more accurate.

For the first few two-thirds of his debut against the Chicago White Sox in front of 4,519 fans, Heise seemed the sort of pitcher Lavagetto was looking for. Early on, according to Washington Post sportswriter Bob Addie, he was a "cool customer" who "seemed to get better as the game progressed." 40 Through five, the game was tied 1-1, when some poor Washington defense began to undo Heise's good work. In the sixth, he retired the first two batters before Jim Rivera hit a line drive to center fielder Bob Lemon, "who tried for the catch [but] the ball bounced off [his] chest and rolled for a triple."41 Rivera scored on a base hit by Les Moss, making the score 2-1, and things only got worse from there, prompting Addie to quip, "If the ex-West Virginia University right-hander at times suspected he was back in class B ball, no one would have blamed him."42

In the seventh, a Senators outfielder again played a routine ball into a triple when, with two on via a single and a walk, "Minnie Minoso hit what looked to be a routine single to left [but] the ball skipped past Art Schult for a triple."43 When Larry Doby followed that with a single, driving in Minoso, Lavagetto lifted Heise for reliever Dick Hyde, who allowed Doby to score, giving Heise a final line for the game of 6 1/3 innings, six runs, all earned, on nine hits and three walks; he also fanned three, earning his first major league strikeout in the second inning when he retired Moss.

Heise's tenure with the Senators went downhill from there. In his second start, on July 3 in Baltimore, he lasted only two innings, but again he had to contend with fielding that was so poor, a writer for the Baltimore Sun characterized the game as "one of the sloppiest . . .played here this year."44 The primary culprit was, again, Lemon, this time playing first. With the bases loaded on two walks and a bunt single, Bob Hale grounded to Lemon, but the ball went through his legs and he made a second error after he chased down the ball and threw it past catcher Clint Courtney, allowing all three runners to score.45 Heise gave up two more singles, allowing two more runs to score. Lavagetto pinch hit Jerry Snyder for Heise in the top of the third, giving him a final line for the day of two innings, five runs (three earned), three hits, three walks, as he was charged with his second loss.

He never started another major league game and soon thereafter reporters were declaring the Heise experiment over, especially after a miserable July 16 outing against the Cleveland Indians when, after surrendering a sixth-inning home run to Gene Woodling, Heise, perhaps venting frustration, threw a head-high fastball at Roger Maris that had Maris dropping to the dirt to avoid getting hit.46

After the game, in which Heise surrendered four runs, Hawkins, who had been the one to call Heise's performance in the minor leagues "mediocre," wrote that he was "pitching like the class B hurler he was until three weeks ago. . . . after five appearances, Manager Cookie Lavagetto admittedly is disappointed."47

Heise had three more relief appearances after the Cleveland game, perhaps the worst of those outings a tenth inning stint when he came in against the Detroit Tigers with the score tied 5-5, and gave up a single and three walks, the last one forcing in the winning run, giving Heise his third loss. On July 30, he appeared in his final major league game, facing the White Sox again, but this time in a mop-up role, throwing the top of the ninth with the Senators down, 7-1. He allowed one hit and two walks but prevented any runs from scoring when he retired the side by striking out Earl Torgeson as the final major league batter he ever faced.

Two days later, on August 1, the Senators sent Heise back to the minor leagues, this time to the double-A Chattanooga Lookouts in the Southern Association, and signed 1952 National League Rookie of the Year Joe Black , a free agent. In 12 2/3 innings, Black gave up 22 hits and 11 runs. (Black’s 60 days with the Senators enabled him to qualify for a major league pension.)48

Although Heise had been ineffective in the major leagues in his month there, at Chattanooga, he was the piece the team had been looking for as it sought to make the Southern Association playoffs.49 Acquired by the Lookouts just under the wire of the August 1 deadline, he went 4-1 in 11 games, with a 1.31 ERA, as the team edged into the playoffs, though they lost to the Atlanta Crackers in the semifinals, the deciding game coming down to the bottom of the tenth when, with Heise on the mound and the bases loaded and two outs, the Crackers' Chick King bounced a single through the drawn-in infield.50

For 1958, Heise split his season between Chattanooga and single-A Charlotte of the South Atlantic League, going a combined 10-10 with a 4.41 ERA. Despite his mediocre numbers, the Senators recalled him in September that season, but told him not to report until spring training in 1959.51 He again asked for permission to report late because he had taken another teaching job, this time at Chattanooga's Tyner Junior High.52 The Senators ended up sending him back to the Chattanooga club, which he finally joined on May 30 that year.53

Heise actually had a solid season with the Lookouts that year, going 9-8 with a 2.93 ERA and 105 strikeouts against 39 walks, for a team that finished next to last in the league with a 67-86 record; his 2.69 strikeout-to-walk ratio was the best in the league, while his ERA ranked ninth among pitchers with at least 100 innings.

Heise was also involved in some significant off-field drama that year as he found himself testifying in baseball’s investigation of a game-fixing scheme when one of his Lookout teammates, first baseman Jesse Levan, approached him and asked if wanted to "make a little money" by throwing "easy-to-hit" pitches to opposing players.54 Heise refused the bribe, but came in for some criticism when he did not immediately report Levan's approach "because of his friendship with Levan, though he avoided any official sanction."55 Levan ended up being banned for life and another Lookouts’ player, shortstop Waldo Gonzalez, was suspended for a year because the league found that he had acted to obstruct the investigation.56

Heise's professional baseball career effectively ended back with Chattanooga for the 1960 season, an abysmal one. Between AAA Charleston and AA Chattanooga, he had a combined 2-9 record and 4.42 ERA. He left Chattanooga in mid-August for a full-time teaching and coaching job at Boone High School in Orlando, Florida.57 In 1961 he pitched two scoreless innings of relief for the Class B Wilson Tobs of the Carolina League, then went to Canada to pitch for the semi-pro Saskatoon Commodores of the Western Canada League. His stay, however, was only a short one, as he joined the team on June 23 and left on August 1, reportedly because of an illness in his family.58 At the time of his departure, his 1.64 ERA was best in the league.

Heise devoted the rest of his working life to education, spending 10 years as a coach and science teacher at Boone before moving over to Winter Park High School, where he spent 20 years as assistant principal, retiring in 2003.59 After Heise's death from complications during surgery on April 21, 2011, his obituary gave over ten paragraphs to recounting his work in education and his colleagues praise for his approach to discipline, quoting teacher Joanne Pryor as saying, "He was very approachable but very professional."60 The obituary devotes but a single sentence to his baseball career..

Heise was married; his wife's name was Peggy. They had two daughters, Cheryl Virgue and Jamie Olson. He is buried in the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell FL

 

Acknowledgments

In addition to the sources cited in the notes, the author referred to Baseball Reference for season and career statistics and, unless otherwise noted, for game play-by-play details. He is grateful to SABR member Jacob Pomrenke for research assistance.

This biography was reviewed by Chris Rainey and Norman Macht, and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.

 

Notes

1 Burton Hawkins, "Plight of Griffs Makes Starter of Class B Man," Washington Evening Star, June 26, 1957: C1.

2 Ibid.

3 Information card held in the archives of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum as well as various news articles, including Hawkins, "Plight. . ."

4 J.G. Preston, "Clarence Heise," SABR Baseball Biography Project, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/309247a5, accessed January 11, 2019.

5 Various articles, including "Scotties Will Play Opener Monday, Connellsville (PA) Daily Courier, April 3, 1948: 5.

6 Various articles, including Lee Dunlevy, "Scottdale Nine Triumphs Over Mount Pleasant," Connellsville (PA) Daily Courier, June 24, 1948: 5.

7 Information card held in the archives of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

8 "Scottdale Choral Cantata Tonight," Connellsville (PA) Daily Courier, December 20, 1945: 2.

9 "News of the Day at Scottdale," Connellsville (PA) Daily Courier, March 26, 1947: 9.

10 "News of Scottdale Public Schools," Connellsville (PA) Daily Courier, April 9, 1948: 14.

11 "Airman Returns to Duty after Leave," Connellsville (PA) Daily Courier, December 6, 1951: 12.

12 Several sources, including ""Perryopolis Trips Scottdale, 15-8, in Big Ten Ball Loop," Connellsville (PA) Daily Courier, June 9, 1952: 5.

13 WVU Opens '53 Baseball Season Tomorrow," Uniontown (PA) Morning Herald, March 31, 1953: 12.

14 "2 Tilts Split by West Va., Indians Nine," Newport News (VA) Daily Press, April 12, 1953: 29.

15 Bob Wills, "Sports un' Stuff," The Raleigh Register, May 7, 1953: 14.

16 For information on Heise's career at West Virginia University, the author is indebted to Charles Healy, the university's assistant director of Athletics Communication, who provided Heise's college statistics in an email exchange on January 28, 2019.

17 "O'Dell, Rawl Among Stars," Greenville (SC) News, May 23, 1953: 12.

18 "Scottdale Wins Over Levin's, 8-0, in Big Ten's North Section," Connellsville (PA) Daily Courier, June 16, 1953: 6.

19 Steve Guback, "The College Report," Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch, May 19, 1955: 23.

20 "Jones Hurls VPI to Win Over Mounties," Roanoke (VA) Times, May 14, 1955: 34.

21 Ibid.

22 "Gobblers Place Four Men on "All-Loop Nine," Charleston (SC) News and Courier, May 24, 1955: 6-A.

23 "Darrell Floyd Athlete of Year in Southern Conference Vote," Greensboro (NC) Daily News, May 26, 1955: 2-4.

24 Grantsville Cops Pen Mar Title, Beats Mt. Savage, 15-2, Cumberland (MD) News, September 26, 1955: 6.

25 "GW Quartet Dominates All-SC Nine," Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch, May 29, 1956: 22.

26 "Washington Gets WV's Heise," Beckley (WV) Post-Herald, May 27, 1956: 15.

27 "Senators Sign Star Hurler at West Virginia," Washington (DC) Sunday Star, May 27, 1956: C3.

28 "Sports Split Two with Colts," Lovington (NM) Daily Leader, June 5, 1956: 4.

29 Several sources, including "Sports 5, Ashers 4," Lubbock (TX) Morning Avalanche, August 21, 1956: 3.

30 "Hobbs Cagers Open Practice," Odessa (TX) American, November 11, 1956: 25.

31 "Hobbs Track, Baseball Teams Prep for Openers," El Paso (TX) Times, March 14, 1957: 23.

32 "Senators Recall Jim Heise from Midland, Tex., Farm; He'll Face ChiSox Saturday," Connellsville (PA) Daily Courier, Jun 27, 1957: 5.

33 "Carlsbad Outslugs Midland, 26-22," El Paso (TX) Times, May 20, 1957: 10.

34 "Heise, Midland Trip Clovis, 4-3," El Paso (TX) Times, June 8, 1957: 11.

35 "Nats Call Up Hiese, Former WVU, Grantsville Pitcher," Cumberland (MD) Evening Times, June 26, 1957: 18.

36 Ibid.

37 Ibid.

38 Jim Day, "Day in Sports," Cumberland (MD) Evening Times, June 27, 1957: 19.

39 Burton Hawkins, "Senators Using Rookie Pitcher Against Chicago," Washington (DC) Evening Star, June 29, 1957: 12.

40 Bob Addie, "Heise Loses in Debut after Good Start, 7-1," Washington Post, June 30, 1957: C1.

41 Ibid.

42 Ibid.

43 Ibid.

44 Bob Maisel, "Birds Tally Five Times in 2nd Inning," Baltimore Sun, July 4, 1957: 17.

45 Ibid.

46 Burton Hawkins, "Griff's Hurling Near Collapse; Heise No Help," Washington Evening Star, July 17, 1957: C-1.

47 Ibid.

48 Masco Young, "The Grapevine," Pittsburgh Courier, September 14, 1957: 11.

49 "Atlanta Leads League," Murfreesboro (TN) Daily News Journal, September 4, 1957: 4.

50 Al Thomy, "Crax Oust Lookouts from Playoffs 5-4," Atlanta Constitution, September 20, 1957: 47.

51 Transaction card held in the archives of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

52 George Leonard, "Southern Association," The Sporting News, May 13, 1959: 33.

53 "Seyfried Loses One-Hitter, The Sporting News, June 10, 1959: 49.

54 "Levan Banished for Life in Baseball Bribery Case," Miami Herald, July 30, 1959: 42.

55 Ibid.

56 Ibid.

57 Dick Marlowe, "Boone Gets Top-Notch Staff," Orlando Evening Star, August 24, 1960: 32.

58 "Heise Wins in Last Game," Saskatoon Star Phoenix, August 2, 1961: 10.

59 Nicole A. Willis, "Jim Heise: He Coached Students on Baseball, Life," Orlando Sentinel, April 28, 2011: B8.

60 Ibid.