This article was written by Brian Bratt
A person arriving at Elmwood High School near Bloomdale, Ohio, and looking at the pictures of students who had attained all-state status in various sports might see Chris Hoiles’s picture as a third team all-state football player in 1983 and assume he went on to play college and NFL football, but that person would be wrong. Even though he was never named all-state in baseball, Hoiles did go on to play college baseball, minor-league baseball in the Tigers’ and Orioles’ organizations, and 10 major-league seasons for the Baltimore Orioles, where he was known as a “clubhouse pillar.”1
Christopher Allen Hoiles was born March 20, 1965, in Bowling Green, Ohio, to parents Tim and Carol Hoiles (née Feltman), joining an older sister, Kimberly, and later a younger brother, Matthew. His future athletic prowess was honed at Elmwood, playing baseball, basketball, and football throughout all four years. Having earned his first baseball recognition in his sophomore year as a second-team Suburban Lakes League catcher, by his senior year he was a team captain, MVP, first-team SLL catcher, district co-player of the year, and participant in the All-Ohio All-Star game. All of these accolades contributed to his being named Most Athletic in his senior yearbook.2
After his success in high school, Hoiles took his next step up the baseball ladder at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan. While his three years at EMU did not result in Mid-American Conference titles or appearances in the CWS (the team’s best record was 27-35 in 1984), he was a three-year letterman. After leading the team in average (.372) and hits (61) in 1985, 1986 was the year he put it all together at the plate — 13 doubles, 6 triples, and 19 home runs resulting in 70 RBIs (all team highs), which pushed him into EMU’s career top 10 in RBIs (eighth — 130), batting average (sixth – .353), and home runs (fourth – 34).3
Hoiles’s strong showing caught the eye of scout Ken Madeja, who was later recognized for signings like Hoiles and John Smoltz with the Pro Baseball Scouts Foundation’s Legends in Scouting award.4 The Tigers drafted Hoiles in Round 19 of the 1986 amateur draft on June 2, and he signed five days later.5
The first stop in Hoiles’s minor-league career was Bristol, Virginia, where he played rookie ball for manager Tom Gamboa’s Bristol Tigers of the Appalachian League. He appeared in all 68 games, but only six appearances were as a catcher. A majority of his time (60 games) was spent at first base, where he had a .996 fielding percentage (two errors in 551 chances). At the plate, Hoiles had the second-highest batting average on the team (.320 behind the Tigers’ 1986 first-round pick Phil Clark, who hit .332) and led the team in home runs (13), RBIs (57), doubles (19), OBP (.392), slugging (.565), OPS (.957), total bases (143), and intentional walks (three).
The Tigers promoted Hoiles to Double-A Glens Falls, New York (Eastern League), for the 1987 season; however, instead of spending most of the season at first base, he caught 77 games and posted a .981 fielding percentage (9 errors in 465 chances). While he only led the team in one batting category (tied with two other players with 13 home runs), Hoiles’s overall numbers were solid (.276 batting average, 105 hits, 47 runs, and 53 RBIs), resulting in his being named an Eastern League All-Star.6
He started the 1988 season at Triple-A Toledo, but in 22 games he batted .159, and was returned to Glens Falls, where the Tigers continued to groom him to be their catcher of the future. He caught 75 games (.985 fielding percentage), and overall hit .283 with 21 doubles, 17 home runs, and 73 RBIs in 103 games.
While Hoiles was finishing his minor-league season in Glens Falls, Detroit was looking for some way to hang on to its AL East lead, which was never larger than four games, over Boston, Milwaukee, Toronto, and New York. Baltimore, which ended up finishing seventh in the division, was trying to bounce back from an AL-record 0-21 start, They had someone Detroit wanted — veteran outfielder Fred Lynn. To make the trade, on August 31 the Tigers sent Hoiles to Baltimore (players-to-be-named-later Cesar Mejia and Robinson Garces completed the trade on September 9 when they were sent to the Orioles).
Hoiles started the 1989 season with the Rochester Red Wings (International League), but was recalled by the Orioles in April when Bob Melvin went on the DL. He made his big league debut on April 25; pinch-hitting in the seventh inning against the Angels’ Bob McClure, he grounded out to third. Four days later he found himself in the starting lineup against the Seattle Mariners at DH, but two plate appearances still failed to produce his first major-league hit. Back in Rochester, he caught in 80 games and hit .245 with 10 home runs and 51 RBIs. Called up again in September, he appeared in four games. But it took until his last plate appearance of the season to notch his first major-league hit. In his first career start at catcher. the Orioles led the eventual AL East-champion Toronto Blue Jays at Skydome, 6-3, in the eighth. With Tim Hulett on base, Hoiles pulled an 0-1 pitch from Mauro Gozzo into left field for a double, scoring Hulett with the last Oriole run of the eventual 7-5 victory.
Hoiles faced two battle-tested catchers in his quest to become a starter at the major-league level in 1990: Tettleton, who started 90 games (and had hit 16 home runs by the end of May 1989, the most by an AL catcher at that point in the season since Rudy York in 1938),7 and Melvin, who started 73. The Orioles were satisfied to let Hoiles continue to develop at Rochester, where he saw action at both catcher and first base, and he continued to impress at the plate, hitting .348 in 247 at-bats with 18 home runs, 20 doubles, and 56 RBIs. Experience in the major leagues also continued to accumulate as he saw action in 23 games (68 at-bats at first base, catcher, DH, and pinch-hitter) and had his first career multi-hit and multi-RBI game at Milwaukee on June 6 as the DH (two-run double in the fourth off Mike Capel and a single in the ninth off Bill Krueger). Those were his last hits until June 27, when the Orioles returned home to face the Cleveland Indians. Facing the possibility of a hitless night, Hoiles stepped to the plate with one out and men on first and second in the bottom of the 10th inning with the score tied, 3-3. With a 1-0 count, Hoiles smacked Sergio Valdez’s next pitch over the center-field wall for his first career walk-off home run. A shoulder injury in the first inning of the September 23 game at home against Milwaukee while “trying to throw out Paul Molitor at second base”8 brought his season to a close with a .190 batting average, which included 12 hits and six RBIs.
What happened next was reported perfectly in a headline from the January 28, 1991, edition of The Sporting News: “Tettleton Trade Gives Hoiles Hope.” Tettleton, who had been with the Orioles since 1988, was traded January 11 to the Detroit Tigers for Jeff Robinson. That opened the door for Hoiles, and he stepped in with both feet, saying, “’I can’t say I’m happy about the trade because Mickey is a great guy…but I’m happy because it gives me a chance to play and be here.’”9 While he split time with Melvin (67 games), Ernie Whitt (12 games), and Jeff Tackett (three games), Hoiles started 80 games behind the plate and was as close as the Orioles had to an everyday catcher. It was during this season that Hoiles experienced for the first time at the major-league level what is arguably the dream of every catcher at any level — catching a no-hitter; however, this July 13 no-hitter wasn’t typical. In fact, it was only the second one of its kind; four pitchers — Bob Milacki (six innings), Mike Flanagan, Mark Williamson, and Gregg Olson (one inning each) — combined to no-hit the Oakland Athletics. It was also the second combined no-hitter in Orioles team history, following the effort of Steve Barber and Stu Miller in 1967.10 Hoiles not only helped behind the plate in the win, but he also contributed at the plate, driving in the first run of the 2-0 victory with a single to left field off Eric Show to score Chito Martinez.
Earlier that season, Hoiles hit his first career grand slam — a game-tying, top of the ninth blast off Kansas City Royals closer Jeff Montgomery in the first game of a June 23 doubleheader. Hoiles had entered the game in the top of the eighth inning as a pinch runner for DH Sam Horn. By the end of the top of the eighth, the Orioles trailed 5-4, but the Royals scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth to take an 8-4 lead. In the ninth David Segui walked, Brady Anderson singled, and a Ripken single loaded the bases for Hoiles, who was hitting in the clean-up spot. With a 2-0 count, he drove the first strike he saw over the left-center-field fence to tie the game, 8-8. Three runs in the top of the 10th resulted in an 11-8 win for the Orioles.
The good news for Hoiles was that there was another game to be played as the second half of a long doubleheader (3:44 and 4:27 to complete the two games). Starting at catcher and hitting eighth, Hoiles went 3-for-6 with a double, and threw out two of three would-be base stealers to lead the Orioles to a 9-8 victory in 12 innings and a doubleheader sweep.
Hoiles’s ninth-inning home run that day was one of four ninth-inning home runs he hit during the 1991 season, all contributing to Orioles’ wins. Overall, he finished the season batting .243 with 11 home runs, 15 doubles, 31 RBIs, and 29 walks in 107 games, and his .998 fielding percentage led American League catchers.
The “firsts” continued into 1992, with Baseball Digest describing Hoiles as “a proven catcher” after his 1991 season.11 The initial “first” of the season took place on April 6, which was Opening Day and the first official game played in Baltimore’s new stadium, Oriole Park at Camden Yards. After catching a ceremonial first pitch from President George H.W. Bush12 (he also caught President Bill Clinton in 199313), he stepped to the plate in the bottom of the fifth against the Cleveland Indians’ Charles Nagy and hit an automatic double to left-center to score Horn from second base, which put Hoiles in the record books for the first double and first RBI in the new stadium. The final result was a 2-0 Oriole win.
While the new season was off to a good start and Hoiles was the undisputed starting catcher, there was trouble on the horizon. An early seven-game winning streak had the Orioles sitting at 10-5; they were 39-28 and one game back of Toronto when they met the Yankees on Sunday, June 21. Hoiles, who was hitting .280 with 14 home runs, stepped in against Tim Leary in the bottom of the second inning with one out and the Orioles trailing, 2-0. On the second pitch of the at-bat, Hoiles was hit on the right wrist. He stayed in the game, but in the bottom of the fourth, Tackett pinch-hit for him. He was out with a broken wrist for 51 games, returning on August 18. According to a report in the July 6 Sporting News, the Orioles claimed the pitch that hit Hoiles was “an out-of-control scuffball.”14 The wrist was surgically repaired after the season.15
Despite the injury, Hoiles set new career highs for home runs (20), RBIs (40), walks (55), and batting average (.274) in 96 games. In 95 games as catcher he committed only three errors in 534 chances (.994 — third in AL).
Hoiles entered 1993, his third full season in the majors, ready to blossom, and there’s only one way to describe his season: consistent. He went hitless on Opening Day, but despite hitting safely in 11 of the 16 games he played in April, he was still only hitting .220 at the end of the month. As the weather warmed, though, Hoiles’s batting average rose. He hit .288 in May, then .350 in June with seven home runs. From June 20 to 26, he had six consecutive games with at least two hits (16-26, .615 average). The Orioles went 17-5 in games in which he played, and moved up from seventh to fourth by the end of June.
The Orioles continued to climb in the standings and reached first place by July 20, though it was for only one day. By the end of the month, they were back in fourth place, only four games out in the highly competitive AL East.
In August, Hoiles hardly had a chance to get started as he was injured on August 2 and diagnosed with a lower back strain,16 causing him to miss 20 games. In the eight games he did play that month, he hit only .269, but the two hits he had against the California Angels on August 31 foretold the monster remainder of the season he was about to have. In the last 28 games he played, Hoiles torched American League pitching to the tune of a .374 batting average with 34 hits and 25 RBIs. As a result of his performance, he was named the AL Player of the Month for September.
The Orioles finished the year in third place, losing 13 of their last 19 games, but 1993 was the strongest offensive season of his career. Playing in 126 games (one fewer than his career high), he finished the year with 28 doubles, 29 home runs, 82 RBIs, 80 runs, and 69 walks. His .310 batting average, .416 on-base percentage, .585 slugging percentage, and 1.001 on-base plus slugging percentage were all career highs, and he finished 16th in the AL MVP race (3% of vote). The Orioles’ writers and broadcasters also awarded him the Louis M. Hatter Most Valuable Oriole Award for his outstanding performance.17
A 15-8 record in April 1994 seemed to bode well for a push toward an AL East crown. With a .258 average through April 29, it appeared Hoiles was on his way to another strong season with the bat, but that was his batting average highpoint for the year. After the All-Star break it looked like his numbers and the team were on the upswing as he batted .264 and the team won five of their last six games, but that improvement was cut short by the players’ strike starting August 12. Hoiles finished with a .247 average in 99 games with 19 home runs and 53 RBIs. He also led the AL in innings caught (838 2/3).18
The strike didn’t end until April 2, 1995, and the season finally began on April 26 after an abbreviated spring training. Before the season started, Hoiles signed a five-year contract with the Orioles for $17.5 million. It was the longest contract for a catcher since 1983, when Terry Kennedy had signed a six-year deal with the Padres.19
Through the team’s first 31 games, Hoiles batted only .213 with five home runs and 24 strikeouts, and the Orioles’ record stood at 13-18. While the Orioles never did get over the hump in ’95 (finishing 71-73), Hoiles used a strong last two months to finish with a .250 average, .373 OBP, 19 home runs, and 58 RBIs. He also led AL catchers in fielding percentage (.996) for the second time in his career.
One interesting moment that season was the game played at Detroit on Thursday, September 21. It was the last home game of the season for the Tigers (they finished the year with nine games on the road), and it was expected to be the last game Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell would play in Tiger Stadium because of their anticipated retirements (Whitaker did retire after the 1995 season, while Trammell retired after playing 66 games in 1996). The October 2 edition of The Sporting News reported that while Whitaker and Trammell finished the game 0-for-7, it was of no fault of Hoiles and starting pitcher Mike Mussina. With Whitaker leading off the ninth inning and Trammell batting right behind him, and the Orioles leading,13-1, Hoiles “called for all fastballs in the last at-bat for both.”20 But both batters grounded out to third baseman Bobby Bonilla.
While his 1995 and 1996 seasons weren’t very different statistically, Hoiles experienced both a new manager (Davey Johnson) and his first appearance in the postseason in 1996. While playing the most games he ever played in a season (127), he finished with a .258 batting average, 25 home runs, and 73 RBIs. He also added the second and third walk-off home runs of his career . The first of those walk-offs occurred on May 17 at home vs. Seattle. One might think a four-hour, 20-minute contest (one minute short of the AL record for a nine-inning game at that time)21 would involve extra innings, but this was simply a nine-inning game in which each team finished with 21 hits. In the first inning, Hoiles had his first chance to impact the game with his hitting. He stepped to the plate against Bob Wolcott with the bases loaded and two out but flied out to center field. He had two more chances with runners in scoring position in the fourth and sixth innings but came up empty each time. With the Mariners leading, 13-10, with two out in the bottom of the ninth, Hoiles faced Norm Charlton with the bases loaded for one last chance to redeem the missed opportunities early in the game. With rain falling and a 3-2 count, Hoiles hit “a hanger right out over the plate”22 into the second row in left-center field for an “ultimate grand slam23 to win the game, 14-13.
Just under two months later (July 15), the Blue Jays led the Orioles, 6-3, in the bottom of the ninth inning. With nobody out, Bobby Bonilla hit a three-run home run to tie the game. After a pinch-hit Luis Polonia infield single with one out, Hoiles hit the second pitch he saw into the left-field stands for a two-run, game-winning home run. After the game, he said he was “looking for [a] fastball, got it, [and] I guess did what I was supposed to do.”24
Those game-winning home runs contributed to an 88-74 record for the Orioles (four games behind the division-winning Yankees) and a division series berth against the Cleveland Indians, who finished the season with a 99-62 record, the best in the AL. Though Hoiles only finished with one hit in the series (1-for-8, .143), the Orioles defeated the Indians three games to one and advanced to the ALCS against the division-rival Yankees. Both of Hoiles’s hits in the ALCS came in a Game Four loss when he went 2-for-4 with a home run and two RBIs. His first hit, a solo home run leading off the bottom of the third against Kenny Rogers, reduced the deficit the Orioles faced to 3-2, but they eventually lost the game, 8-4. The Yankees went on to win the series in five games before winning the World Series.
At first glance it appeared Hoiles saw his playing time begin to decline in 1997 as he played in 99 games (87 as catcher) while Lenny Webster played in 98 (97 as catcher). He missed 27 games between June 17 and July 17 as the result of a medial collateral ligament sprain in his right knee when Montreal’s F.P. Santangelo collided with him at home plate on June 16.25 Prior to that setback, one of his best games of the season took place on May 8 at home vs. Seattle. Playing first base, he faced Randy Johnson in the bottom of the first and hit a two-run double to score Brady Anderson and Jeff Reboulet and give the Orioles a 2-0 lead. In the sixth, with the Orioles clinging to a 2-1 lead, Cal Ripken, Jr. and Pete Incaviglia hit singles before Hoiles hit a 2-1 pitch from Johnson into the left-field stands for a three-run home run. After going 2-for-3 with five RBIs against Johnson, he faced Bob Wells leading off the bottom of the eighth and promptly sent the fifth pitch from Wells over the right-field fence for a solo home run to finish the game 3-for-4 with six RBIs and two runs scored.
While the number of games he played at catcher might have been reduced in 1997, the quality of Hoiles’s play was not. He tied a major-league record by finishing the season with a 1.000 fielding percentage on 630 chances, something which had not been accomplished in the AL since Boston’s Rick Cerone (499 chances) in 1988. At the plate, Hoiles finished the season batting .259 with a .375 OBP and 49 RBIs. Behind Hoiles’s defensive and hitting contributions, the Orioles again advanced to the playoffs after finishing the season with the best record in the AL (98-64). In the playoffs, they beat the Mariners in the division series but lost to the Indians in the ALCS.
By 1998, Hoiles was 33 years old and playing his 10th season with the Orioles. Long known as a second-half player, that held true again as he was batting .196 by June 1; however, by the end of August 14, a day when Hoiles would make history, he had raised his average to .273 by hitting .375 with 32 RBIs over 31 games starting June 17. In that August 14 game, played on the road in Cleveland, Hoiles started at catcher and batted eighth. With the Orioles holding a 3-1 lead in the top of the third inning, Hoiles hit a 2-1 pitch from Charles Nagy down the left-field line and into the bleachers for a grand slam, scoring Harold Baines, Cal Ripken Jr., and B.J. Surhoff. One grand slam is significant, but hitting two in one game is historic, and that’s exactly what Hoiles did in the top of the eighth inning off Ron Villone, scoring Rafael Palmeiro, Jeff Reboulet, and Rich Becker to give the Orioles a 15-2 lead. It was the ninth time in history the feat had been achieved, with Hoiles joining Jim Gentile (May 9, 1961 vs. Twins) and Frank Robinson (June 26, 1970 vs. Senators) as Orioles who did it.
Hoiles’s last major-league game took place on September 27 in Boston, where he went 1-for-2 with a walk. Despite the slow start, his season statistics were comparable to his season totals throughout his career — a .262 batting average, 15 home runs, and 56 RBIs.
With one year remaining on the contract he signed in ’95 and 10 years in the majors under his belt, 1999 held some uncertainty as spring training began. At the end of the 1998 season, there was discussion of Hoiles dealing with persistent hip and lower back pain, but he said, ‘“It’s not something that’s going to make me take myself out of the lineup. Whenever the manager puts my name on the card, I’m going to play. Sitting isn’t under consideration.’”26 One foreboding sign for Hoiles the winter after the 1998 season was that the Orioles traded Armando Benitez to the New York Mets in exchange for four-time NL Gold Glove-winning catcher Charles Johnson on December 1. After a spring training in which he did not catch (as a result of a degenerative hip condition) and hit only .189, Hoiles received the news from manager Ray Miller that he was being released despite the Orioles owing him $3.7 million.27 The decision was described both as “gut-wrenching” and “the most difficult thing [Miller]…ever had to do in the game.”28
Despite his playing days being behind him, various honors and opportunities were bestowed upon Hoiles. In 2000, he was inducted into the Eastern Michigan University Hall of Fame29 (they retired his number 32 in 1994),30 and he was inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame in 2006.31 Hoiles was a volunteer assistant for Bowling Green State University’s baseball team 2002-2004, and an assistant for Eastern Michigan’s baseball team in 2005 and 2006.32 In December 2006, Hoiles was named the first manager of the York (Pennsylvania) Revolution of the independent Atlantic League, managing them until August 2009.33
Hoiles married Dana Winn in 199434 (they later divorced); they have three sons: Dalton, Derek, and Drew. In 2017, he married Felicia Bourgeois. The Orioles signed Dalton, an outfielder, to a minor-league free agent contract in 2018.
Last revised: August 31, 2020
This biography was reviewed by Bill Nowlin and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also consulted Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.com. Special thanks to Tom Bentley, Elmwood High School principal, for providing access to Elmwood’s yearbooks.
1 Joe Strauss, “Hoiles catches walking papers; Orioles release starter of last 8 years; Conine obtained for Fussell; Hip spurs ‘toughest’ decision; Conine offers RH bat, flexibility in OF, at 1st,” Baltimore Sun, April 3, 1999, https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/bs-xpm-1999-04-03-9904030039-story.html, Accessed June 15, 2020.
2 1983 Elmwood High School yearbook.
3 Dan Whitaker, “Eastern Michigan 2017 Baseball Record Book,” March 14, 2017, http://www.emueagles.com/documents/2017/3/14//BASE_RECORD_BOOK_2017.pdf?id=4843, Accessed October 15, 2017.
4 Ryan Divish, “Mariners Scout Ken Madeja Receives ‘Legends in Scouting’ Award,” Seattle Times, January 18, 2016, https://www.seattletimes.com/sports/mariners/mariners-scout-ken-madeja-receives-legends-in-scouting-award/, Accessed October 18, 2017.
5 “Chris Hoiles.” Baseball Reference, https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/h/hoilech01.shtml, Accessed October 15, 2017.
6 “Around the Minors — Tigers,” The Sporting News, July 6, 1987: 38.
8 1999 Baltimore Orioles Media Guide, 105.
9 Moss Klein, “Tettleton Trade Gives Hoiles Hope,” The Sporting News, January 28, 1991, AL East sec.: 40.
10 Mike Huber, “July 13, 1991: Four Orioles pitchers combine for no-hitter against A’s,” Society for American Baseball Research, sabr.org/gamesproj/game/july-13-1991-four-orioles-pitchers-combine-no-hitter-against. Accessed January 1, 2018.
11 George Vass, “How Division Races Shape Up for the 1993 Season,” Baseball Digest, April 1993: 31.
13 1999 Baltimore Orioles Media Guide, p. 105.
14 Peter Pascarelli, “Injury and doubt disrupt Orioles’ easy ride,” The Sporting News, July 6, 1992: 14.
15 1999 Baltimore Orioles Media Guide, 105.
16 Peter Schmuck, “Baltimore Orioles,” The Sporting News, August 16, 1993: 25.
17 1999 Baltimore Orioles Media Guide, 104.
18 1999 Baltimore Orioles Media Guide, 104.
19 Bob Nightengale, “Around the Bases,” The Sporting News, March 6, 1995: 48.
20 Reid Creager. “Detroit Tigers.” The Sporting News, October 2, 1995, p. 31.
22 Baltimore Orioles, “Game #3: 5/17/96 Mariners at Orioles.”
23 “Ultimate Grand Slams,” Baseball Almanac, https://www.baseball-almanac.com/feats/walk_off_grand_slams.shtml, Accessed July 19, 2020.
25 1999 Baltimore Orioles Media Guide, 103.
26 Peter Schmuck, “Angelos isn’t hurrying to find G.M. candidates,” The Sporting News, September 7, 1998: 66.
30 1999 Baltimore Orioles Media Guide, 105.
31 “The Orioles Hall of Fame,” Orioles.com, https://www.mlb.com/orioles/history/orioles-hall-of-fame, Accessed June 16, 2020.
32 Matt Markey, “Hoiles catches on as college coach,” The Blade, May 1, 2005, https://www.toledoblade.com/sports/college/2005/05/01/Hoiles-catches-on-as-college-coach/stories/200505010007, Accessed June 19, 2020.
33 “Chris Hoiles,” B-R Bullpen, December 5, 2014, https://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Chris_Hoiles, Accessed June 16, 2020.
34 1999 Baltimore Orioles Media Guide, 105.