Outfielder Jim Dwyer played for seven major-league teams over parts of 18 seasons (1973-1990) without ever making 300 plate appearances in a single year. His 103 pinch hits tie him with Mike Lum for 17th all-time as of 2021. The streaky, left-handed pull hitter enjoyed his greatest success with the Orioles. During his eight seasons in Baltimore, Dwyer blasted a franchise-record nine pinch-hit home runs and was a key piece of the 1983 World Series champions. As the 37-year-old Dwyer produced a career year in 1987, Orioles GM Hank Peters described him as “a professional hitter” and manager Cal Ripken Sr. praised him as a “true team player.” “And yet,” wrote Richard Justice in the Washington Post, “no one seems to know much about Jim Dwyer.”1
James Edward “Jim” Dwyer was born on June 3, 1950, in Evergreen, Illinois. His father, Joe, owned Dwyer’s Tap, a tavern on Chicago’s South Side, where Jim and his brothers – Mike was older, Dennis was younger – swept the floor every night at 2 A.M. and washed and waxed on Fridays. Their mother’s name was Lillian, and they had a sister, Pat. The family was of Irish-Hungarian ancestry. While Jim rooted for the Cubs, who were on TV every day, his father was a diehard White Sox fan. In 1947 Jim’s uncle, Don Dwyer, played second base for the Pirates’ York White Roses affiliate in the Class B Interstate League. After retiring to raise a family, Don wound up in a local fast-pitch softball hall of fame.
Jim graduated from St. Laurence High School in the Chicago suburb of Burbank in 1968. In addition to making a second straight baseball all-star team as a senior, he was also honored for his basketball play. It appeared that his next step would involve being drafted into the armed forces, but he skirted the draft by accepting a baseball scholarship to attend Southern Illinois University in Carbondale instead. He played summer ball for the Springfield Caps in the Central Illinois Collegiate League. In three years at SIU, Dwyer set school records for hits, doubles, and triples, and played in two College World Series.2 (The Salukis missed the 1970 tournament because they were eliminated in the regionals by an Ohio University squad featuring Mike Schmidt.) Dwyer earned All-American recognition that season. He was named SIU’s Most Valuable Player in 1971 when the team nearly won it all in Omaha, Nebraska. “We lost to Steve Busby and Southern Cal in the finals,” Dwyer recalled.3
The St. Louis Cardinals selected Dwyer in the 11th round of the June 1971 amateur draft and he signed with scout Fred McAllister. He reported to the Cedar Rapids Cardinals in the Class A Midwest League and batted .313 in 58 games. In 1972 he began the season with the Modesto Reds in the Class A California League. In 92 games, he hit .325, stole 21 bases, and led the circuit with 13 triples despite being promoted to the Arkansas Travelers of the Double-A Texas League on July 20. After a miserable start with the Travelers, Dwyer rebounded to bat .253 in 44 contests. His two home runs were unforgettable. “Now, I’m not a home-run hitter,” he admitted, “But those two homers at Arkansas were grand slams and each won a game.” 4 Before the year was over, Dwyer married Carol Norton, whom he’d met at SIU. In 1973 he finished up his accounting degree. “Jimmy worked around the clock, too,” Carol recalled.5
Dwyer spent most of 1973 with the Tulsa Oilers of the Triple-A American Association. When he began the season with 21 hits in his first 43 at-bats, The Sporting News noted, “Appropriately, Dwyer is enjoying such hitting success in the native state of his baseball idol – Mickey Mantle.” Dwyer explained, “I always liked Mantle because he was such a good hitter and played despite his many injuries. Mickey had plenty of courage.”6 Dwyer, playing in 87 games, went on to win the American Association batting title with a .387 average and 22 doubles in 349 at-bats around a six-week stint in the majors. His big-league debut came against the Atlanta Braves on June 10. He went 0-for-4 as St. Louis’s leadoff hitter in the second game of a doubleheader in Atlanta. Three nights later, in Cincinnati, he collected his first big-league hit, a single off Jack Billingham in an 8-0 Cardinals win. Overall, Dwyer batted .193 in 57 at-bats with the Cardinals, failing to notch an RBI but scoring seven runs in 28 contests. That fall he went to the Dominican Republic and hit .339 in 52 games for the Leones del Escogido.7
In 1974 Dwyer made the Cardinals’ Opening Day roster, but he was sent back to Tulsa on May 7 after appearing in only 10 contests and going 0-for-5. After he batted .336 in 36 Triple-A games, however, he returned the majors. Noting Dwyer’s winter-ball experience, coach Vern Benson observed, “Jim looked a lot better prepared when he came back … than he did when he came up from Tulsa the year before. He was too awed by everything the first time. Now it looks like he’s come to stay.” Manager Red Schoendienst hailed Dwyer “for keeping his mouth shut and working hard all the time. That’s important.” The skipper added, “He’ll be around a long time.”8 Dwyer collected his first big-league RBI on June 23, and his first homer the following evening, “a drive into the right-field seats off Larry Demery.”9 He remained with the Cardinals for the remainder of the season and, in 74 games, batted .279 with two homers in 86 at-bats.
Dwyer began the 1975 season with St. Louis but received only 31 at-bats in 21 games before June 15, when he was sent back down to Tulsa. He had nothing left to prove in Triple A, however, as evidenced by his .404 batting average in 33 contests with the Oilers. On July 25 the Cardinals traded him to the Montreal Expos for second baseman Larry Lintz. Dwyer made an immediate impact after the trade, earning National League Player of the Week honors by hitting .478 between July 28 and August 3.10 He appeared in 60 games for the Expos, batting .286 with three homers in 175 at-bats.
In 1976, however, Dwyer’s playing time in Montreal declined. He had only 85 at-bats in 50 games, batting .185, when on July 21 he was traded again, to the New York Mets with outfielder Pepe Mangual for Wayne Garrett and Del Unser. Opportunities were even scarcer in New York; Dwyer appeared in only 11 games for the Mets and went 2-for-13 (.154). His only hits came as a pinch-hitter in his first and last plate appearances with the team. On December 8 Dwyer was in the process of leading the Dominican Winter League in slugging with a .438 mark in 52 games for the Tigres del Licey when he was traded again.11 The Mets received Sheldon Mallory in a three-team swap, with Pete LaCock going to the Kansas City Royals and Dwyer winding up with his hometown Cubs.
The Cubs sent Dwyer back to Triple A in 1977, and he won his second American Association batting title in five years by batting .332 with 18 homers in 130 games for the Wichita Aeros. He led the circuit with 113 runs scored and 38 doubles, and his dozen triples were a new Wichita record. (His doubles total also established a new club mark.)12 Dwyer joined the Cubs at Wrigley Field in September, but playing for the team he’d rooted for as a child wasn’t to be.
Per the new 1976 free-agency rules, a number of minor leaguers were now eligible for free agency. One was Dwyer. Recalled from Wichita in September, Dwyer was confronted at a morning batting practice at Wrigley Field by general manager Bob Kennedy, “who informed Dwyer he must sign a contract if he wanted to play for the Cubs. Dwyer refused and Kennedy ordered him to the clubhouse. The Cub G.M. then sought waivers on Dwyer, who was claimed by the Cardinals and signed for the rest of 1977 and 1978. [Players Association Executive Director Marvin] Miller cited the case as ‘a particularly flagrant example of an attempt to coerce a player into signing.’
“‘Dwyer was falsely told he was getting a chance to play in the majors,’ Miller said. ‘Actually the Cubs never let him take the field. They put him on waivers, signifying a verdict that he didn’t measure up, without even giving him a chance.’”13 Less than a week later, Dwyer returned to the Cardinals as a free agent. Over the last three weeks of the season, he saw action in 13 contests with St. Louis and batted .226.
In the 1977-78 Puerto Rican Winter League, Dwyer batted .350 in 223 at-bats for Indios de Mayagüez and topped the circuit in hits (78) and doubles (14). His second stint with the Cardinals was similar to his first, however. He opened the season in the majors but got only 75 plate appearances in 34 games before June 15, when he was sent to the San Francisco Giants as the player to be named later in St. Louis’s trade the previous October for Frank Riccelli. As Dwyer, now 28, joined his sixth organization, The Sporting News wrote: “Call it the Saga of Jimmy Dwyer. Will he eventually make it at least fairly big in the major leagues? Or is he destined to be remembered as just another blazing Triple-A hitter, like a Ted Savage or even a Steve Bilko?”14 With San Francisco, Dwyer appeared in 73 games and batted .225 with five homers in 173 at-bats. He returned to Mayagüez that winter, batted .309 and earned MVP honors by topping the Puerto Rican League in homers (15) and slugging (.566).15
It wasn’t enough for the Giants, however. In 1979 spring training, Dwyer was on the move again – sold to the Boston Red Sox on March 15. “We got him as insurance for Fred Lynn, in case Lynn was hurt,” explained Boston manager Don Zimmer.”16 Before the end of the exhibition season, Dwyer had impressed his new teammates and become a media favorite. “You want to know who was this spring’s Sunshine Superman? Who may be the next cult hero in Boston? Who is Don Zimmer’s dream-come-true?” wrote Peter Gammons. “James Edward (Pig Pen) Dwyer. The media have nicknamed him Pig Pen because his hat’s pulled down over his ears, his pants pulled down on his hips and he’s always dirty from diving somewhere.” Gammons described how Dwyer stole a base one pitch after he’d been hit by a pitch on his kneecap and scored the winning run in one game after hollering, “Be alive!” to Dwight Evans and executing a double steal. “‘He’s a heads-up player who knows how to win,’ said Zimmer. ‘He can play four positions. He can pinch hit, pinch run and do a lot of things. It’s a funny thing. When his name came up, I didn’t know anything about him. I asked Eddie Yost, who had him with the Mets. He said he wasn’t anything. But apparently, he’s learned to hit, and now Yost can’t believe him. This guy can play. He’s one of the biggest improvements on this club.’”17 Dwyer’s first American League hit was a game-winning, pinch-hit single off Bill Castro of the Milwaukee Brewers on April 12.18 He finished 1979 batting .265 for the Red Sox in 113 at-bats in 76 games.
In 1980 Dwyer got off to a great start for Boston. When players were poised to walk out on May 23, he was batting a team-leading .417 and coming off a series in Toronto in which he’d homered four times in three games – doubling his ’79 output. “His bat … has gone crazy,” insisted the Boston Globe in a front-page feature while Zimmer raved, “He has been brilliant.” Dwyer himself said, “I’ve been on a streak. There’s no explanation for it. I’m just in a time when I’m hitting well. I don’t know what happens. … That’s the way it is now. I go up there and know I’m going to hit the ball.” When it was suggested that he could play sandlot ball under an assumed name should the players carry out their threat to strike, he remarked, “I’d use Jim Dwyer. … Nobody’d know who I was.”19
After Dwyer keyed a one-run Red Sox victory on May 19, Larry Whiteside of the Boston Globe quoted manager Zimmer as saying, “What didn’t Dwyer do tonight? He got a walk, drove in a couple of runs with a double and a home run, and made a throw that saved the game for us.”20 For the next month, Dwyer made the bulk of the right-field starts as Dwight Evans suffered through a deep slump. The perennial Gold Glover soon reclaimed his position, however, and Dwyer returned to his bench role. He improved his batting eye by hitting in the cage under the bleachers in Fenway Park, moving closer to the pitching machine to increase the velocity that he was facing. By season’s end, Dwyer had played in 93 games, made a career-high 292 plate appearances, and batted .285 with 9 home runs and 38 RBIs.
In the postseason free-agent re-entry draft, a dozen teams selected Dwyer. Only catcher-infielder Dave Roberts was picked by the maximum 13.21 The Red Sox were not one of the clubs, but Dwyer was intrigued by possibility of joining the Orioles. After comparing his statistics to those of similar players, he noticed that Baltimore manager Earl Weaver gave everyone on his roster more chances to play. Dwyer told his agent that he preferred to sign with Baltimore, and an agreement on a three-year deal was reached. Dwyer told the Baltimore Sun, “Like every other ballplayer, I want to play for a winner. I think I’ve accomplished most of the other [individual] goals other than having that [World Series] ring on my finger.”22 Orioles GM Hank Peters remarked, “Jim’s hitting and fielding ability should be a real asset to our club.”23
During the strike-shortened 1981 season, Dwyer batted .224 in 68 games. He really began making a name for himself in Baltimore in 1982, when he hit .304 in 71 contests, including 26 appearances in a pinch-hitting role. Twice he pinch-hit home runs: one in the eighth inning, the other in in the ninth. Dwyer noted that early in his career, he felt like the 25th man on the roster, but beginning in 1982, he felt like a true major leaguer. Before one contest, he was surprised to see that he wasn’t in the lineup against the Minnesota Twins instead of slumping right fielder Dan Ford. As the game progressed, he realized that Weaver was saving him to face Twins closer Ron Davis, whom Dwyer clobbered for a .462 career batting average (6-for-13). Weaver, noted Dwyer, kept index cards with his statistics against every pitcher in the league.
Dwyer recalled his play during the 1982 pennant race as one of his proudest moments in baseball. His ninth-inning RBI single in Detroit helped the Orioles rally to a comeback victory to set up a final weekend showdown with the Brewers for the AL East title.24 In the win that pulled Baltimore into a tie for first place heading into the final game, Dwyer had two hits and two walks to extend his streak of reaching base safely to 13 consecutive plate appearances. Informed that he’d moved within three of Ted Williams’s major-league record, a grinning Dwyer told the New York Times, “That’s just one streak for me. He did it his whole career.”25 In the final game, Dwyer went 1-for-3 against Don Sutton, but the Orioles fell to the Brewers.
Before the 1983 season, The Sporting News reported that the Orioles had one roster spot left at the end of spring training, for either Dwyer or fellow left-handed hitter Terry Crowley. “I started to take some clothes to the cleaners when we got back [to Baltimore], then it dawned on me I might not be there when they got back,” Dwyer said. The next morning, he was shocked to learn that Crowley had been released.26 “We’re the best of friends,’ Dwyer said, “and I feel really bad, even though I’m still with the club.” Crowley said, “This is too bad because this team is going to go all the way this year.”27 He was right.
Dwyer batted .286 in 1983 with 17 doubles (a career high), 8 homers, and 38 RBIs. He appeared in 100 games, 43 as a pinch-hitter. On September 12 Dwyer helped the Orioles sweep a doubleheader in Boston with a tiebreaking three-run double in the 12th inning.28 The Orioles won the AL East title and met the AL West champion White Sox in the League Championship Series. According to Dwyer, when his father, Joe, was interviewed on TV beforehand, he wished Jim well, but said he would be rooting for his White Sox to prevail. As it happened, the Orioles clinched the pennant by defeating the White Sox, three games to one, and faced the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series. In his only fall classic, Dwyer went 3-for-8, including a home run in his first plate appearance against NL Cy Young Award winner John Denny. It was another proud moment, though it was Baltimore’s only run in a Game One defeat. When the Orioles beat Denny in Game Four to seize command, Dwyer singled and doubled. He became a world champion the next day, and his father attended all five World Series contests.
Baltimore dropped to fourth place in 1984 as Dwyer, in 76 games, batted .255 with only two homers in 161 at-bats. He missed six weeks of the second half of the season because of torn cartilage in his left knee. His average slipped to .249 in 1985, but he produced seven homers and 36 RBIs in 233 at-bats. On May 15 of that season, he enjoyed one of his favorite moments in baseball. After making easy outs his first three times up against White Sox pitcher Tom Seaver – who was especially tough on him – Dwyer decided to swing at the first pitch his fourth time up, no matter what, and smacked a game-tying home run.
Despite Baltimore’s last-place finish in 1986, Dwyer made some history while batting .244 with eight homers in 160 at-bats. His first career grand slam, off Jeff Russell, was one of a major-league-record three in a game between the Orioles and the Texas Rangers on August 6. The National Baseball Hall of Fame requested his bat, along with those used by teammate Larry Sheets and Texas’s Toby Harrah.29 Dwyer’s three pinch-hit home runs that season tied an Orioles record.30
Early in 1987 the Washington Post noted, “Dwyer does not rock boats. When the Orioles wanted to cut his salary from $400,000 to $275,000 last winter, he hesitated about six seconds and signed. When he got only 15 at-bats this spring … he did not complain.”31 He clubbed eight home runs in May alone and went on to hit a personal-best 15 during the season in which he turned 37. Dwyer’s most dramatic homer came on September 6, his second (and final) career walk-off. Batting against future Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley with a teammate on base in the ninth inning, he hit a first-pitch fastball into the right-field seats to give the Orioles a victory. It was Dwyer’s ninth pinch-hit homer for the Orioles, a franchise record.32
In 1988 the once-mighty Orioles lost their first 21 games, accelerating a rebuilding movement, Dwyer’s eight-year run in Baltimore ended on August 29, when he was traded to the Twins for a player to be named later (minor leaguer Doug Kline). After making only 66 plate appearances before the trade, Dwyer had 56 in a little over a month with Minnesota and finished the season batting a combined .255 with two home runs.
Dwyer returned to the Twins in 1989 and became the club’s primary left-handed designated hitter in mid-May when Gene Larkin moved to first base to replace the injured Kent Hrbek. In 88 games, Dwyer hit a career-high .316. Minnesota was out of contention, however, and dealt him to the Expos on August 28 for a player to be named later (Alonzo Powell). In his career, Dwyer made 93.8 percent of his plate appearances against right-handers, but his pinch-hit single off southpaw Mitch Williams on September 25 delivered a Montreal win over the Cubs in the bottom of the 10th. After Dwyer went 3-for-10 for the Expos, they traded him back to the Twins in January for minor leaguer Jim Davins.
In 1990 Dwyer batted .190 in 63 at-bats for the Twins over 37 games. On June 22 – 19 days after his 40th birthday – he was released, bringing his 18-year major-league career to an end. In 1,328 games, Dwyer batted .260 with 77 home runs. As of 2021, his 103 pinch hits were tied for 17th place all-time.
In the fall of 1990 Dwyer joined the Sun City Rays of the Senior Professional Baseball Association, batting .319 with one homer and 12 RBIs in 22 games before the league folded. From 1992 to 1994, Dwyer managed the Twins’ farm team in the Class A Midwest League: one season in Kenosha, Wisconsin, then two in Indiana when the team became the Fort Wayne Wizards. A father of four – sons Ryan, Rhett, and Andrew, and daughter Jaimie – Dwyer was able to see his own children play ball and said, “I’m more nervous watching…than I was when I played.”33 Ryan played four games for the Kalamazoo Kodiaks of the Frontier League in 1997.
Dwyer remained in baseball for many years as a hitting instructor in the Minnesota Twins organization until 2016. As of 2021, he was retired and residing in Fort Myers, Florida.
Last revised: June 8, 2021
Special thanks to Jim Dwyer (telephone interview January 13, 2021).
This biography was reviewed by Malcolm Allen and Len Levin and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Referenee.com, Retrosheet.org, and SABR.org.
1 Richard Justice, “Down for Count, Orioles’ Dwyer Swings Back,” Washington Post: May 22, 1987: D1.
2 1987 Baltimore Orioles Media Guide: 46.
3 John Ferguson, “Tulsa’s Red-Hot Dwyer Fulfills Advance Notices,” The Sporting News, May 12, 1973: 34.
4 “Tulsa’s Red-Hot Dwyer Fulfills Advance Notices.”
5 “Tulsa’s Red-Hot Dwyer Fulfills Advance Notices.”
6 “Tulsa’s Red-Hot Dwyer Fulfills Advance Notices.”
8 Neil Russo, “Dwyer Due for Heavier Duty in Card Garden,” The Sporting News, November 30, 1974: 49.
9 United Press International, Washington Post, June 25, 1974: D2.
10 “Expos’ Dwyer Picked NL Player of Week,” Hartford Courant, August 5, 1975: 43.
12 The Sporting News, September 3, 1977: 36.
13 Ralph Ray, “Bostick, Hisle and Zisk Top Free-Agent Field,” The Sporting News, October 15, 1977: 14.
14 Neal Russo, “Tears – His Own – Mark Dwyer’s Cardinal Exit,” The Sporting News, July 1, 1978: 26.
16 Larry Whiteside, “Easler Traded; Dwyer (.235) Acquired,” Boston Globe, March 16, 1979: 59.
17 Peter Gammons, “Dwyer May Be the Newest ‘Cult Hero,’” Boston Globe, April 3, 1979: 38.
18 Associated Press, “Red Sox Outlast Brewers, 12-10,” Hartford Courant, April 13, 1979: 69.
19 Leigh Montville, “What Does He Do with His Hot Bat?,” Boston Globe, May 23, 1980: 1.
20 Larry Whiteside, “Pitching, Dwyer Save Sox, 4-3,” Boston Globe, May 21, 1980: 29.
21 Associated Press, “2 Unknowns Lead Baseball Draft,” Los Angeles Times, November 13, 1980: A1.
22 Kent Baker, “Dwyer, Morales Came by Different Paths,” Baltimore Sun, April 9, 1981: C20.
23 Associated Press, “O’s Sign Dwyer to 3-Year Pact,” Washington Post, December 24, 1980: C4.
24 Wire Services, “Orioles Prevail Over Tigers, 6-5,” Hartford Courant, October 1, 1982: C4C.
25 Frank Brady, “Orioles Tie for East Lead After Defeating Brewers: Orioles Win and Tie for Lead,” New York Times, October 3, 1982: 1.
26 Jim Henneman, “Dwyer Fearlessly Sends Out Laundry,” The Sporting News, March 26, 1984: 20.
27 Jim Henneman, “Crowley Shocked by Orioles Release,” The Sporting News, April 18, 1983: 24.
28 Thomas Boswell, “Orioles Take Two from Red Sox, Lead East by 5½,” Washington Post, September 14, 1983: D1.
29 Tim Kurkjian, “Dwyer, Sheets, Harrah Bats to Rest in Cooperstown Rack,” Baltimore Sun: Aug 8, 1986: 6E.
30 1988 Baltimore Orioles Media Guide: 128.
31 Richard Justice, “Down for Count, Orioles’ Dwyer Swings Back,” Washington Post, May 22, 1987: D1.
32 1988 Baltimore Orioles Media Guide: 128.
33 Paul Sullivan, “Following Dads on Basepaths: Sons of Hairston, Dwyer Hitting Stride,” Chicago Tribune, May 13, 1994: E16.