An outstanding three-sport high school athlete from Lima, Ohio, Bill Sharp earned a football scholarship from powerhouse Ohio State before entering professional baseball. With the Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers, Sharp was a spray-hitting swinger and a skilled defensive outfielder for parts of four major-league seasons (1973-1976) before knee problems ended his career.
William Howard Sharp was born on January 18, 1950, in Lima. He was the oldest of William and Joan (née Spellman) Sharp’s four children, including Gary, Steven, and Janice.1 Their father worked in the distribution department of the Lima Ford Motor Company.2 The family was of Welsh and German heritage.3
The knee problems that cut short Sharp’s major-league career began as a sophomore at Lima Senior High School when he suffered a career-threatening patellar tendon rupture.4 He did not stay down for long, though. In 1967, he pitched a two-hitter to help lead the Lima American Legion Post 96 team – coached by his father – to the state championship and a trip to the regional tournament in Canton, Illinois.5 Sharp also earned All-State honors on the gridiron, as his father had done in 1946.6 In addition, he was a starting guard for the Spartans’ basketball squad. At the time, “Sharp already [had] in excess of 50 college scholarship offers. And reports [had] it that he could go to college on a grant for any one of the three sports,” the Lima News reported.7
As it happened, following his 1968 graduation, Sharp accepted a football scholarship to attend The Ohio State University. He was listed as a quarterback for the school’s freshman football team that fall as the varsity Buckeyes enjoyed an undefeated, national championship season under Woody Hayes.8 Heading into the 1969 season, Sharp was identified as the “longest and most consistent punter on the squad,” and he was also able to be “used in the deep defense [as a safety],” showing his versatility.9
A separated shoulder, however, brought his football career to an end and pushed him toward baseball.10 The left-handed batter and thrower stood 5-foot-10 and weighed 178 pounds.
In the summer of 1970, Sharp played for the Bellingham (Washington) Bells of the amateur Western Baseball Association. In one series against Anchorage and Fairbanks, he went 14-for-17 (.824) with two home runs, three triples and four doubles. That performance led Wally Linzy of the Bellingham Herald to note that “Sharp is the best young player we have seen here this season.”11 Those choosing the National Baseball Congress (NBC) All-American team that year apparently agreed. Sharp was named the All-American right fielder12 after hitting .587 in the NBC tournament.13
Back in Columbus the next spring, Sharp led the 1971 Buckeyes with 35 hits and seven doubles.14 That performance led the Chicago White Sox to choose Sharp, upon the advice of scout Fred Shaffer.15 He was the first pick in the second round of the 1971 June regular draft (25 th overall).16 The White Sox signed him to a $35,000 contract.17 (Future Hall of Fame third basemen George Brett and Mike Schmidt were the 29th and 30th overall selections by the Kansas City Royals and Philadelphia Phillies, respectively.)
The first professional stop for Sharp was the Double-A Asheville (North Carolina) Tourists, who finished in second place with a record of 90-51 in the Dixie Association’s East division. In 56 games, including 47 in the outfield, Sharp hit .225 but struck out only 12 times in 160 at-bats. He “made some big league plays in the play-off series” the Tourists lost to Charlotte.18
On December 26, 1971, Sharp married Guyneth Ann Mikesell.19 They had three sons: James, Matthew, and Gavin.20 Guyneth later graduated from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and performed as a soloist with, among others, the Cincinnati and Lima Symphonies.21
Before the 1972 season, Sharp was ordered to report to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, to complete “four months active duty with the United States Army.”22 He was discharged on June 16 and three days later reported to the Knoxville (Tennessee) Sox of the Double-A Southern League. He finished with a .285 batting average in 44 games and struck out only 10 times in 137 at-bats.23
Sharp began 1973 in the Triple-A American Association, surprising even his manager. “He came to spring training…ticketed for Knoxville and played so well we brought him up with us,” remarked Iowa Oaks skipper Joe Sparks later. “I never saw a player change as much as Bill did between the ’72 season and .”24 After batting .276 in 39 games for Iowa, Sharp was in an Evansville, Indiana, hotel lobby on May 26 when he received a 1:00 a.m. phone call.25 The White Sox had purchased his contract after Ken Henderson hurt his leg in a home plate collision with Indians catcher Dave Duncan.26
Sharp debuted against Cleveland at Comiskey Park on May 26. Even though he went 0-for-2 with a walk before Carlos May pinch-hit for him in the seventh inning, the game was one to remember – it went 17 innings before being suspended. The White Sox prevailed in the 21st when the game was completed on May 28. In the regularly scheduled contest that night, Sharp collected his first hit – a first-inning triple off Cleveland’s Dick Tidrow – and also singled and walked in the White Sox’s 4-0 victory. Later, when reflecting on the impact of injuries on his team, White Sox manager Chuck Tanner said, “I like that kid Sharp. He’s an aggressive little guy and he can really shag the ball out there.”27
When Sharp hit his first big-league homer in the first game of a June 10 doubleheader in Cleveland, Tidrow was the victim again. The eighth-inning blast chased the right-hander from the contest and brought Chicago – leading the AL West at the time – within one run in a game that they wound up winning.
The White Sox fell below .500 as the season wore on. They were in third place, 15½ games behind the defending World Series champion Oakland A’s, as play began on August 28. Sharp starred against the visiting Milwaukee Brewers that night. He reached base three times, including a bunt single in the third inning, after which he stole home with two outs to give Chicago the lead. The White Sox were still on top, 6-4, with one out in the top of the ninth when Milwaukee’s Dave May drove Cy Acosta’s pitch deep to right-center field. The runner on first base, Bob Coluccio, “had rounded second and was halfway to third.”28 With a perfectly timed leap, Sharp gloved the baseball near the top of the nine-foot high concrete barrier and fired the ball to second baseman Jorge Orta, who threw to first baseman Tony Muser to complete a game-ending double play. Tanner said the catch, which caused Sharp to scrape his arm on the wall coming down, was a “game saver.”29
Sharp credited minor-league coach Ted Beard, a 5-foot-8 former Pirates and White Sox outfielder, for making him a better defender. “He…taught me never to give up on the ball. I’ve caught balls I never dreamed I’d get to just by keeping after them,” Sharp said.30 The coach also encouraged him to emulate Ken Berry, another Beard pupil who won two Gold Gloves and shared tips with Sharp.31
Although Sharp had not joined the White Sox until shortly before Memorial Day, his 10 assists tied for fourth among American League centerfielders. By hitting safely in nine of his last 11 at-bats – including a four-hit game against the Royals on September 27 – Sharp batted .366 in September to raise his overall mark to .276 in 77 contests. Those numbers led Tanner to say of Sharp, “He’s going to be around a long time…. He isn’t afraid to work. He’s my kind of player.”32 That winter in the Dominican Republic, Sharp played for the San Pedro de Macorís-based Estrellas Orientales. He hit .285 and made the All-Star team.33
Nevertheless, Sharp was sent back to Iowa when the White Sox made their final cuts at the end of 1974 spring training.34 He quickly made it clear he belonged in Chicago, hitting safely in the Oaks’ first 16 games while batting .433 with 20 RBI.35 Other teams took notice, and “the Minnesota Twins offered 34-year-old pitcher Bill Hands to the Sox for Sharp’s contract. The Sox…gave the Twins a flat ‘no.’”36
Sharp returned to Chicago when outfielder Lamar Johnson was sent back to Iowa.37 Playing right field for the first time in the majors in his season debut on June 4, Sharp picked up right where he had ended his last stay with the White Sox by going 2-for-3 with an RBI against the Yankees. On June 19, he notched his second career four-hit game, this time in Cleveland. Sharp doubled and singled against Indians starter Steve Arlin – a graduate of another Lima school, Shawnee High – and finished with three runs scored and an RBI in the White Sox’ 15-4 laugher.
Sharp went on to start the bulk of Chicago’s games in right field, supplanting 1973 All-Star Pat Kelly. “You’ve got to give Bill a lot of credit,” Kelly said. “He hustles and does everything he can to help us win. He plays as hard, or harder, than anybody.”38
On August 7, California Angels right-hander Nolan Ryan carried a 1-0 lead and a bid for his third career no-hitter into the ninth inning at White Sox Park. Chicago’s Dick Allen broke it up with a one-out infield single and – after an error – scored the tying run on a Henderson single. With two outs, Sharp pulled a curveball into right-field to score pinch-runner Lee Richard with the game-winning run.39
Overall, Sharp hit .253 with 13 doubles and 45 runs scored in 100 games. As the season ended, he likely hoped that Tanner – when making roster decisions for the 1975 season – would maintain the mindset he had in June: “We sent [Sharp] out earlier because he would have had to sit on the bench, but we think now the time has come where he has learned to play the game.”40 The manager encouraged Sharp to get some rest that winter instead of playing winter ball, so he stayed in Chicago to work for Interlake Steel Corporation in public relations.41
Sharp started the 1975 season on the major-league roster for the first time, but the season did not begin as he had hoped. Although he appeared in 18 of Chicago’s first 26 games, he started only seven of them – three in succession from May 4-7 when he was apparently being showcased for a deal. Sharp was attending a National Guard meeting on May 8 when White Sox general manager Roland Hemond phoned to tell him he had been traded to the AL East-leading Milwaukee Brewers for outfielder Bob Coluccio. Milwaukee manager Del Crandall called and told Sharp he would play center field for the Brewers.42
After joining Milwaukee, Sharp started the first 29 games and raised his batting average 52 points (from .190 to .242) with a 12-game hitting streak from May 10-23 while batting either second or leadoff. By mid-June, however, Gorman Thomas – a slugger who had walloped 51 homers in Triple-A the previous year – became the primary center fielder while Sharp split time among all three outfield positions. Thomas batted just .179 in 121 games, though, and Sharp reclaimed the position for the last six weeks of the season. Sharp’s 3.31 range factor per nine innings was second best among AL center fielders in 1975, and former teammate Tony Muser described him as “an outfielder who gets a great jump on the ball.”43 Sharp’s overall .991 fielding percentage ranked third in the league, and his four double plays tied for fifth. As a Brewer, he hit .255 with 27 doubles (one behind Robin Yount for the team lead), three triples, and 34 RBIs in 125 games – despite playing hurt for several weeks with a sprained ankle and then a pulled muscle in his back.44
Despite being in first place as late as July 5, the Brewers finished the season 28 games behind the Red Sox in the AL East with the league’s second-worst record (68-94). Even so, Sharp said, “I’m real happy overall with the Brewers and I don’t have to look over my shoulder at anybody. And I think that I will be an important factor this coming year in the outfield.”45
Heading into spring training 1976, Milwaukee general manager Jim Baumer indicated that Sixto Lezcano would be the Brewers’ regular center fielder, with Bobby Darwin in left and Sharp and Thomas competing for time in right.46 When major-league owners locked the players out of camp in a labor dispute, Sharp went to Arizona and worked out with Mike Hegan, George Scott, and Pete Broberg.47
As it happened, Sharp – platooning with Darwin – started six of the first eight games in right, but he batted just .136, and his playing time decreased. He made the most of his chances in May, though, raising his batting average to .305 by month’s end by hitting .373 in 21 appearances, including another four-hit game in Cleveland on May 22. Sharp sprained his wrist during batting practice on June 10, however, one week after the Brewers had acquired lefty-hitting outfielders Von Joshua and Bernie Carbo on consecutive days.48 In Milwaukee’s remaining 115 games, Sharp saw action in only 42 (11 starts) and made just 68 plate appearances. Sharp finished his only full season in Milwaukee batting .244 in 78 games with four doubles and 11 RBIs. When he came off the bench to catch a fly ball hit by Elliott Maddox and then fly out against Ed Figueroa in a 5-3 loss to the Yankees in front of 40,383 fans at County Stadium on September 17, it proved to be his final major league game.
When the Brewers sent Sharp a one-year contract in February 1977, he initially refused to sign it. He sought a multi-year deal to see if he truly fit into Milwaukee’s future plans, and he was willing to accept the possibility that he might have to play out his option and become a free agent in 1978.49 Sharp decided to sign for one year in early March;50 however, he was sent to the Brewers’ minor league complex for reassignment as one of the team’s final cuts on April 4.51
With the Spokane Indians of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, Sharp still received his major-league salary.52 Because Spokane had four outfielders “with major league contracts totaling at least $100,000,” there was speculation that Sharp “could very well be included in a trade put together by the parent Brewers prior to the May trading deadline.”53
When Spokane opened its season in San Jose, Sharp started in right field, but he was out of the lineup with a badly sprained wrist by the time they reached Honolulu for the following series.54 He was then “sidelined by a knee injury [in] the fifth game of the season.”55 Doctors recommended surgery, expecting to discover torn cartilage, but they instead found only a strained ligament, leading Sharp to estimate that he would be playing again in two to four weeks.56
Despite the initial optimism, doctors later diagnosed a “wearing of the cartilage,” leading Sharp to concede “that the 1977 season for him [was] wiped out.”57 He played only five games for Spokane, hitting .211 in 19 at-bats.
Sharp appeared on the Brewers’ roster in The Sporting News as spring training approached in 1978.58 He wound up signing with the Indians’ Triple-A affiliate, the Portland Beavers.59 He did not appear in any games, however, ending his seven-season professional career. In the majors, Sharp batted .255 in 398 games.
Sharp settled in the Chicago area, where he was “still working as an executive for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois” as of 2015.60 He returned to professional baseball as the co-manager of the independent Prairie League’s Dakota Rattlers in 1995 (with Rich Bristow) and 1996 (with Dan Brown). The team went a combined 63-86. From 2005 to 2007, his son Matthew was a catcher/first baseman in the White Sox chain, peaking in Single-A.61
In 2018, Bill Sharp was part of the Lima City Schools Athletic Hall of Fame’s inaugural induction class.62
Last revised: December 2, 2021
Special thanks to Cassidy Lent for retrieving and reviewing Bill Sharp’s file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and sharing its contents.
This biography was reviewed by Malcolm Allen and Rory Costello and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com.
1 “Gary D. Sharp,” Tributes.com, http://www.tributes.com/obituary/show/Gary-D.-Sharp-89379292, Accessed March 28, 2021.
2 “Son Follows in Father’s Steps,” Lima (Ohio) News, December 10, 1967: 21.
3 Bill Sharp, Publicity Questionnaire for William J. Weiss, May 5, 1977.
4 John Grindrod, “Major League Recollections from a Former Spartan,” December 7, 2015, https://www.limaohio.com/sports/158168/major-league-recollections-from-a-former-spartan, (Accessed April 1, 2021).
5 Chuck Dell, “Sports Scope,” Lima News, August 20, 1967: B1.
6 Chuck Dell, “Sports Scope,” Lima News, December 10, 1967: B1.
7 Chuck Dell, “Sports Scope,” Lima News, December 10, 1967: B1.
8 “The Ohio State University 1969 Football Information,” https://ohiostatebuckeyes.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/1969_guide.pdf (Accessed April 1, 2021): 50.
9 “The Ohio State University 1969 Football Information”: 27.
10 Grindrod, “Major League Recollections from a Former Spartan.”
11 Chuck Dell, “Sports Scope,” Lima News, August 23, 1970: C1.
12 “1970 NBC All-American Team,” https://nbcbaseball.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/70_allamerican_team.pdf, (Accessed May 16, 2021).
13 Chuck Dell, “Sports Scope,” Lima News, June 27, 1971: B1.
14 “Baseball Yearly Leaders,” Ohio State, https://ohiostatebuckeyes.com/baseball-yearly-leaders/, (Accessed April 11, 2021).
15 “Bill Sharp,” Baseball Hall of Fame Player File.
16 “1971 Baseball Draft,” Baseball Almanac, https://www.baseball-almanac.com/draft/baseball-draft.php?yr=1971, (Accessed April 11, 2021).
17 Chuck Dell, “Sports Scope,” Lima News, June 27, 1971: 15.
18 Chuck Dell, “Sports Scope: Asheville Season Completed,” Lima News, September 12, 1971: 17.
19 “Bill Sharp,” LA84 Foundation – Digital Library Collections, https://digital.la84.org/digital/collection/p17103coll3/id/144851/rec/2, (Accessed April 18, 2021).
20 Grindrod, “Major League Recollections from a Former Spartan.”
21 Judith Hoeffler, “Career in Music Flowering for Park Concert Performer,” Lima News, July 10, 1977: 25.
22 Chuck Dell, “Sports Scope,” Lima News, February 20, 1972: 35.
23 Chuck Dell, “Sports Scope – Sharp at .288 at Knoxville,” Lima News, July 23, 1972: 31.
24 John Sotak, “Relaxed Sharp Produces 16-Game Hitting Streak,” The Sporting News, May 25, 1974: 33.
25 Chuck Dell, “Sports Scope – Sharp Got News at 1 a.m.,” Lima News, May 27, 1973: 25.
26 “4 Tribe Home Runs Sink Chicago, 8-3,” Lima News, May 27, 1973: 27
27 Edgar Munzel, “Chisox Bring Up Reserves After Injuries Riddle Ranks,” The Sporting News, June 16, 1973: 10.
28 “Sharp, Acosta ‘Save’ Sox,” Belvidere (Illinois) Daily Republican, August 29, 1973: 5.
29 “Sharp, Acosta ‘Save’ Sox.”
30 Sotak, “Relaxed Sharp Produces 16-Game Hitting Streak.”
31 Sotak, “Relaxed Sharp Produces 16-Game Hitting Streak.”
32 Jerome Holtzman, “Sharp Coming Fast in Chisox Garden,” The Sporting News, September 29, 1973: 14.
33 Chuck Dell, “Sports Scope,” Lima News, January 20, 1974: 29.
34 Jerome Holtzman, “Granger Replaces Johnson on White Sox Mound Staff,” The Sporting News, April 20, 1974, 26.
35 Sotak, “Relaxed Sharp Produces 16-Game Hitting Streak.”
36 Chuck Dell, “Sports Scope: Twins Offer Hands for Sharp,” Lima News, May 19, 1974: 33.
37 Jerome Holtzman, “Slumping Kaat Knows Value of Self-Discipline,” The Sporting News, June 22, 1974: 17.
38 Jerome Holtzman, “Sharp Cuts a Fancy Figure as Chisox Scoring Demon,” The Sporting News, August 3, 1974: 17.
39 Dan Hafner, “Chisox Ruin Ryan No-Hit Bid,” Los Angeles Times, August 8, 1974: F1.
40 “AL Flashes,” The Sporting News, June 22, 1974: 22.
41 Chuck Dell, “Sports Scope,” Lima News, October 9, 1974: 20.
42 Chuck Dell, “Sports Scope,” Lima News, May 9, 1975: 20.
43 Jim Henneman, “Muser Sees Greener Fields as Oriole Flyhawk,” The Sporting News, August 16, 1975: 14.
44 Chuck Dell, Lima News, October 15, 1975: 17.
45 Chuck Dell, Lima News, October 15, 1975: 17.
46 Lou Chapman, “Mending Shattered Brewer Spirit Alex’ Top Task,” The Sporting News, March 6, 1976: 27.
47 “Several Brewers Get Off-Season Jobless Benefits,” Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin), March 9, 1976: 13.
48 “Bill Sharp,” Lima News, June 30, 1976: 45.
49 Chuck Dell, “Bill Sharp Seeks Two-year Contract,” Lima News, February 6, 1977: 31.
50 “Bill Sharp,” Lima News, March 9, 1977: 25.
51 “Transactions,” Waukesha (Wisconsin) Daily Freeman, April 5, 1977: 10.
52 “Lima Senior Graduate Bill Sharp,” Lima News, April 5, 1977: 14.
53 Chuck Dell, “Sharp Trade Still Likely,” The Lima News, April 24, 1977: 53.
54 Dell, “Sharp Trade Still Likely.”
55 “Coast Toasties,” The Sporting News, June 18, 1977: 36.
56 Chuck Dell, “Sharp Receives Pleasant Surprise,” Lima News, May 29, 1977: 27.
57 Chuck Dell, “Bill Sharp’s Season in Limbo,” Lima News, June 19, 1977: 33.
58 “1978 Milwaukee Brewers Roster,” The Sporting News, February 18, 1978: 57.
59 Russell Schneider, “Duffy’s Return Signals Start of Indian Trading,” The Sporting News, March 18, 1978: 56.
60 Grindrod, “Major League Recollections from a Former Spartan.”
61 “Player Bio: Matt Sharp – UCLA Official Athletic Site,” https://uclabruins.com/news/2013/4/17/208182474.aspx (Accessed September 26, 2021).
62 Beth Jokinen, “First Class of Athletic Hall of Fame Inducted,” Lima Senior Spartans, December 18, 2017, https://limaspartannation.org/2017/12/18/athletic-hall-of-fame-inductees-announced-tickets-available-in-january/ (Accessed September 25, 2021).