John Hoover

John Hoover

This article was written by Dan Taylor

When baseball made its return to the Olympic Games in 1984, the star of Team USA’s mound staff was John Hoover. That same year, he’d capped a glittering collegiate résumé: Hoover had shattered records, was named college baseball’s pitcher of the year, and became the Baltimore Orioles’ first-round draft pick. The right-hander possessed a wicked curveball and was known for his competitive drive. Various factors derailed the high expectations for Hoover’s bright big-league future, however; he made it to The Show for just two games with the Texas Rangers in 1990.

Through the years Hoover’s inability to turn his celebrated amateur output into success at the big-league level has been the subject of finger pointing. “I think we got an injured product. Hoover had pitched all those innings and we figured with rest he’d be OK,” said Tom Giordano, the Orioles’ scouting director when Hoover was selected in the 1984 draft.1Hoover’s college coach, Bob Bennett, sharply disagreed. “When he got into pro ball, they tried to change him. They changed his leg kick. That messed with his timing. His best pitch probably was his curve. They wanted to change him into a slider guy. He wasn’t the same pitcher we had at Fresno State.”2

Hoover’s life also ended tragically in 2014. He was just 51.

John Nicklaus Hoover was born three days before Christmas in 1962 to Henry and Patsy (Zuck) Hoover. Their family also included a daughter, Jane. Henry Hoover was a heavy equipment operator for the City of Fresno, California who liked to end his day with a game of catch with his son. “I was one of those kids who, when I was just old enough to walk. was playing catch,” John said.3

Hoover attended Fresno High School, an institution that counted baseball luminaries such as Frank Chance, Dutch Leonard, and Tom Seaver among its alumni. As a senior, Hoover was named to the all-North Yosemite League4 and Fresno Bee All-Metro5 teams, and he pitched in the North-South state all-star game.6

Next Hoover enrolled at Fresno State. In the spring of 1981, he became the winningest freshman in school history, compiling a 12-2 record and pitching the school into the West Regional of the NCAA tournament.7 Following his junior season, he was selected by the New York Yankees in the 20th round of the June 1983 amateur draft, but he chose to return to school. That summer Hoover represented the United States in the Pan American Games in Caracas, Venezuela,8 and the Intercontinental Cup in Belgium.9 In the USA-Japan series he won two games and received the Fighting Spirit Award.10

As a Fresno State senior, John Hoover enjoyed one of the greatest seasons by a pitcher in college baseball history, compiling an 18-3 record with a 2.09 earned-run average.11 “He was tough. He had a nasty 12-6 curve. I mean, it was nasty,” recalled Stanford first baseman Eric Hardgrave.12

Hoover led the nation with 205 strikeouts in 1984 and set NCAA records for complete games in a season (19) and career (42). Hoover left Fresno State with school records for career wins (44), and innings pitched (494).13 “John was extremely competitive,” said a teammate, Todd Soares. “He gave you everything every time he was on the mound. John had determination that was even greater than his natural talent.”14

Following the season, Hoover was named to the Converse All-America team and was selected as college baseball’s pitcher of the year by Baseball America.15 On June 5, the reigning World Series champion Baltimore Orioles made Hoover their first-round selection (25th overall) in the amateur draft.

Before playing pro ball, though, Hoover took part in international competition once again – but at a much more visible level. When the 1984 Olympic Summer Games took place in Los Angeles, baseball had been added as a demonstration sport. A team of collegiate standouts – including future major-league stars Mark McGwire, Will Clark, Barry Larkin, Bobby Witt, and Cory Snyder – would represent the United States. Hoover became the star of the pitching staff.16 He started six contests on the U.S. team’s 40-game preparation tour, playing minor-league teams in 33 cities around the country. On July 28 Hoover and his teammates marched into the Los Angeles Coliseum for the opening ceremonies of the XXIII Olympiad. “I never had chills like that before. Why, I had goosebumps the size of golf balls,” Hoover said.17

When the competition began, U.S. coach Rod Dedeaux tabbed Hoover to start the opening game. In a 2-1 win over Taiwan, Hoover’s performance was described as “brilliant” by the Los Angeles Times.”18 He pitched a complete game, scattered four hits, allowed only one unearned run, walked three and struck out five.19 When the U.S. reached the gold medal game, Dedeaux again handed the ball to Hoover to start against Japan. In the eighth inning with two runners on base, Hoover hung a curve which was hammered over the left center-field wall in Dodger Stadium. The home run helped Japan win, 6-3.20

After the Olympics, Hoover hoped to return home and rest.21 The Orioles, however, wanted him to join their Rochester (New York) Red Wings farm club in the Triple-A International League. On August 15, Hoover debuted in relief and walked the first batter he faced. He pitched 2 1/3 innings, allowed three hits, no runs, walked a batter and struck out a man.22 “I didn’t pitch very well,” he said afterward.23 In his first professional start four days later he faced only 11 batters before being removed. “It didn’t look like he had any idea what he was doing today,” said Rochester manager Frank Verdi.24 Hoover made three more starts that summer, the last of which was his most impressive – a three-hit shutout of Syracuse. He finished with a 2-3 record and 5.21 earned run average. Rather than rest, Hoover was assigned to pitch in the Florida Instructional League, where coaches worked with him to improve his changeup.25

Hoover spent part of 1985 spring training in Baltimore’s big-league camp as a non-roster invitee. Before he was reassigned to minor-league camp, he made an impression on observers. “He has as much stuff as guys who are winning in the big leagues. But he’s not used to the strike zone and the adjustment you have to make when you are playing games every day,” said the Orioles’ pitching coach, Ken Rowe.26 The Baltimore Sun’s Richard Justice wrote that Hoover “may be the franchise’s next star pitcher. He has been the most impressive of the young pitchers, and his fastball is better than scouting reports indicate.”27

Hoover hoped to return to Rochester, but on the final day of spring training he was assigned to the Charlotte (North Carolina) O’s in the Double-A Southern League. High expectations accompanied him – as did inconsistency – when the season began. For example, on May 6, Hoover pitched a three-hit shutout against Birmingham.28 But, in his next start he was rocked for five runs in one inning by Greenville. By mid-May his record was 1-5, and his earned-run average was 6.42.

Hoover’s confidence wavered. “I threw real well in spring training. I thought everything was going to go real good. But it didn’t, and I started pressing. My pitches have been up, and I’ve always been a low-ball pitcher, throwing ground balls, getting strikeouts. I don’t know what it is. I can’t explain it,” he said.29

He did right himself to a degree, finishing his first full professional season with an 8-16 record (4.72 ERA). On a bright note, he led the Southern League in strikeouts (128) and starts (29). That July, Charlotte manager John Hart said, “The cream always rises and if he’s got what it takes then it’s gonna work out for him.”30

In 1986 Hoover began the season with Charlotte. Early in the year he suffered pain in his right shoulder and went on the disabled list with tendinitis. He missed more than six weeks.31 Upon returning he struggled with his control. After two strong performances, Hoover again complained of pain. The organization sent him to the Miami Marlins in the Single-A Florida State League, where he was hit hard in two starts.32 The velocity of his fastball had dropped. The Orioles summoned him for an examination by their team physician. While in Baltimore he pitched batting practice for the Orioles, where it was agreed that his arm speed had slowed and his fastball velocity had declined.33 “I lost about nine miles an hour on the fastball. I was being diagnosed for bursitis and rotator strain, but the doctors didn’t know what my trouble was,” Hoover said.34

“It’s possible we have ourselves to blame for some of Hoover’s problems,” said Orioles’ general manager Hank Peters. “We brought him up to Triple-A ball in 1984 for five games after the Olympics. Considering his college ball and his Olympic experience he might have pitched more than 350 innings that summer.”35 After sitting out for three weeks, Hoover was sent to the Hagerstown (Maryland) Suns in the Single-A Carolina League. He went 2-0 (0.50) allowing just one run in 18 innings with 13 walks and 13 strikeouts.

Hoover was placed on the Orioles’ 40-man major-league roster.36 When 1987 spring training ended, though, he was assigned to Charlotte for the third straight year. During the first half of the season, he was inconsistent. Then on July 29, he produced a performance that brought optimism that he was back. In a 9-0 win over Huntsville, Hoover pitched a complete-game two-hit shutout. He didn’t walk a man and struck out eight.37 “After that arm injury I just didn’t have any arm speed. But I can feel it coming back. You can especially see it in my curveball,” he said.38 Hoover carried the strong effort into the playoffs, where he allowed just three hits and struck out 10 in a 4-1 loss to Jacksonville.39 He finished with a 9-8 record and 4.56 earned-run average.

As more and more members of the 1984 Olympic team became major-league stars, Hoover’s struggles were amplified. That intensified when the Orioles traded him to Montreal on February 16, 1988 – the eve of spring training. “Trading him is a gamble, but you have to take those. I’m trying to help the club now,” said Orioles president Roland Hemond, whose club picked up big-league righty Jay Tibbs in the five-player transaction.40 The Expos placed Hoover on their 40-man roster but declared they would assign him to the minor leagues, albeit with no expectations or timetable.41 They wanted him to progress at his own pace. Hoover returned to the Southern League and spent the 1988 season with the Jacksonville (Florida) Expos. He worked 159 2/3 innings in 28 starts, gave up 161 hits, and compiled a 10-11 record with a 4.11 ERA.

In the spring of 1989, Hoover learned that Montreal planned to assign him to a Mexican League club. He asked for a written guarantee that it would only be for two or three weeks at most. When the team refused, he asked for and was granted his release.42 In May, Hoover was signed by the Texas Rangers and sent to their Tulsa (Oklahoma) Drillers farm club in the Double-A Texas League. Pitching primarily as a starter, he went 9-6. His 3.38 earned-run average was the lowest of his career.

When the 1990 season began, Hoover had made it back to Triple-A, the level at which he’d begun his professional career six years before. He was, however, a different pitcher than the 1984 Olympic hero. His “fast” ball no longer was. Now he relied on a curve, slider, changeup, and splitter to get hitters out.43 Hoover opened the season in the starting rotation of the Oklahoma City 89ers, the Rangers’ top farm club, and enjoyed impressive results. Against Louisville, in his second start, he allowed just two hits over six innings. Hoover retired 16 of the first 17 batters he faced in an eventual 4-1 loss to Nashville.44 He then retired the first 10 hitters of the game in his next start, in which he allowed just one run to Buffalo.45 On May 20, Hoover had a perfect game broken up with one out in the seventh inning, then finished with a complete game three-hitter in a 4-1 win over Scranton.46 Three days later came the call he had long awaited.

On May 23 Texas placed Nolan Ryan on the 15-day disabled list with back spasms.47 To fill the void, the Rangers called up Hoover. “He’s a winner. No matter what he had to do, he got here,” said Texas manager Bobby Valentine. “He’s got a good split-finger, he’s a good competitor, and he throws strikes.”48 On the night he joined the club, Hoover was pressed into service. He was summoned from the bullpen to begin the eighth inning of the Rangers’ game in Detroit. The first hitter, Mike Heath, lined a single between the shortstop and third baseman. After the next hitter, Matt Nokes,grounded another hit between first and second, Hoover was removed. Heath eventually scored the Tigers’ final run of a 5-1 win.

Two nights later Hoover was called upon to pitch against his former team, the Orioles. With the Rangers trailing 6-1 in the fifth inning, he replaced Kevin Brown with a runner on third and one out. After the first hitter laid down an RBI sacrifice bunt on which no out was recorded, Hoover induced his former minor-league teammate Billy Ripken to ground out; Phil Bradley then flied out to end the inning. The sixth inning was blemished only by a single by Joe Orsulak. Hoover’s seventh inning was rocky. He surrendered four singles, walked three, and allowed five runs. He recovered, however, to pitch a perfect eighth inning and allowed just one hit in the ninth.

Hoover’s time in the big leagues proved to be short-lived. Just three days after he arrived, he was returned to the minors. In his two major-league games, he pitched 4 2/3 innings, allowed eight hits and three walks, and surrendered six earned runs for an 11.57 ERA.

Back in Oklahoma City, he pitched out of the bullpen. The results were in stark contrast to those from when he’d started earlier in the season: he had a 9.50 earned-run average in 14 appearances. His worst outing came on June 30 against Syracuse – he surrendered three doubles and two home runs in an inning.49 Following the game, he was demoted to Tulsa.50 Hoover returned to the role of starter in Double-A but after inconsistent results, he was released on July 21.51

On August 18 he was signed by the Expos’ Indianapolis Indians farm club, which was shorthanded because of injuries.52 Hoover got into just four games over the final four weeks of the Triple-A American Association season. A two-inning relief stint on the next to the last day of the campaign, in which he surrendered two runs, was his final game in professional baseball. When the season concluded, he was released.

That offseason, Hoover received no offers. He did not attempt to generate any, either. “Texas offered me a coaching job, but I have other interests,” he said at the time.53 One was a career in law enforcement. He joined the Sheriff’s Department in Central California’s Kings County and rose from deputy to detective. Hoover became an undercover narcotics agent. His appearance changed dramatically given the nature of his work. Friends did not recognize him behind a full beard and with long hair that flowed over his shoulders.

By 2014, those closest to Hoover recognized other changes. Once unflappable on the pitcher’s mound, Hoover – by then more than 20 years removed from the game – despaired. He abused alcohol. Friends, like his former college and pro teammate, San Francisco Giants coach Mark Gardner, tried to intervene, to no avail. On July 8, 2014, friends, former teammates, and coaches were stunned to learn that Hoover had died. He was just 51. The Fresno County Sheriff Coroner’s office reported that his death was due to natural causes.54 Many close to Hoover thought he had taken his own life.55

John Hoover’s drive to succeed was the aspect of his personality for which he is best remembered. “Competitive as hell – even as a coach,” said Ken Papi, the longtime coach at Fresno High, whom Hoover assisted for a couple of years. According to Coach Bennett of Fresno State, “He wanted to be the best of what he was doing all the time.”56

Yet Hoover revealed a different, lighter side of himself when reflecting on his baseball career in 1992. He told Ross Newhan of the Los Angeles Times, “I’m not frustrated or disappointed that I’m not playing, that my professional career wasn’t more successful. I did some things people only dream of doing. I had more fun than anyone has a right to have.”57



This biography was reviewed by Malcolm Allen and Rory Costello and fact-checked by David Kritzler.



Personal interviews with Randy Asadoor, Ralph Barrett, Bob Bennett, Eric Hardgrave, Todd Soares, and Cheryl Taylor (the author’s sister and a particularly close friend of Hoover’s).

In addition to sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted:,,,,, and



1 Frank Bilovsky, “The fall of the once-proud Orioles: A lot has happened since 1983 series,” Pensacola (Florida) News Journal, June 1, 1988: 26.

2 Bryant-John Anteola, “Former Fresno State Baseball Ace John Hoover dead at 51,” Fresno Bee, July 19, 2014: B1.

3 John Kolomic, “Wings to Test Hoover’s AAA Rating,” Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), August 15, 1984: 41.

4 “Bullard’s Asadoor, Gaynor, Noakes top NYL Picks,” Fresno (California) Bee, May 18, 1980: 88.

5 Andy Boogard, “Gaynor, Noakes, make All-Metro a Bullard affair, Fresno Bee, June 8, 1980: 71.

6 “South All-Stars hold on for 8-7 win over North,” Fresno Bee, June 8, 1980: 75.

7 Ron Orozco, “Slugging Titans await Hoover, streaking ‘Dogs,” Fresno Bee, May 20, 1981: 43.

8 Bob McCarthy, “Bedeviled Bulldogs,” Fresno Bee, May 31, 1983: 31.

9 “Cuba homers blast US in Intercontinental Cup,” Fresno Bee, July 26, 1983: 23.

10 “Hoover’s tenacity honored in US-Japan all-star series,” Fresno Bee, July 7, 1983: 54.

11 “Hoover named to All-America team,” Fresno Bee, June 4, 1984: 21.

12 Eric Hardgrave, telephone conversation, January 9, 2023.

13 “Hoover is selected ’84 pitcher of the year,” Fresno Bee, July 1, 1984: 40.

14 Todd Soares, telephone conversation, February 27, 2023.

15 “Hoover is selected ’84 pitcher of year.”

16 Alan Goldstein, “Orioles No. 1 pick will make Olympic Pick,” Baltimore Sun, July 4, 1984: 17.

17 Dave Nightingale, “Going for the Major,” The Sporting News, July 28, 1986: 4.

18 Bob Cuomo, “But, U.S. Team Just Went Flat,” Los Angeles Times, August 9, 1984: 121.

19 Cuomo, “But, U.S. Team Just Went Flat.”

20 Bob Cuomo, “Japan beats U.S. at Its Own Game for Championship before 55,000,” Los Angeles Times, August 8, 1984: J12.

21 Kolomic, “Wings to Test Hoover’s AAA Rating.”

22 John Kolomic, “Hoover makes debut with relief victory over Syracuse, Democrat and Chronicle, August 16, 1984: 35.

23 Kolomic, “Hoover makes debut with relief victory over Syracuse.”

24 Greg Bosok, “Hoover pitches to just 11 Guides in first pro start; Wings lose 12-1.” Democrat and Chronicle, August 20, 1984: 31.

25 Richard Justice, “Orioles’ spring rites: Of young arms they sing,” Baltimore Sun, February 22, 1985: 17.

26 Justice, “Orioles’ spring rites: Of young arms they sing.”

27 Richard Justice, “Lynn’s powerful pops impress the Orioles,” Baltimore Sun, March 10, 1985: 30.

28 Lee Roberts, “Hoover, In Groove, Pitches O’s to Win,” Charlotte (North Carolina) Observer, May 27, 1985: 39.

29 Kevin Quirk, “Pitching is betraying Hoover,” Charlotte Observer, May 25, 1985: 14.

30 John Dahl, “It’s still a mystery why O’s Hoover can’t win,” Charlotte (North Carolina) News. July 8, 1985: 29.

31 “Charlotte Ripped by Orlando,” Charlotte Observer, June 8, 1986: 38.

32 Stan Olson, “O’s Give Away 7-4 Game to Greenville,” Charlotte Observer, July 5, 1986: 14.

33 Tim Kurkjian, “Rayford says he probably will accept an outright assignment to Rochester,” Baltimore Sun, July 24, 1986: 20.

34 John A. Ferguson, “Hoover Stabilizes Staff with Pitching, Attitude,” Tulsa (Oklahoma) World, August 13, 1989: 65.

35 Dave Nightingale, “One by One, Olympians Get the Call to the Majors,” The Sporting News, July 28, 1986: 6.

36 A.L. East, “Orioles,” The Sporting News, December 14, 1987: 56.

37 Joe Posnanski, “Hoover Stops Stars,” Charlotte Observer, July 30, 1987: 25.

38 Posnanski, “Hoover Stops Stars.”

39 Stan Olson, “Expos Shackle O’s 4-1,” Charlotte Observer, September 4, 1987: 25.

40 “Notebook A.L. East,” The Sporting News, February 29, 1988: 38.

41 “Subtle Moves Could Mean Big Improvements,” Rock Island (Iowa) Argus, February 21, 1988: 26.

42 John A. Ferguson, “The Bullpen,” Tulsa World, August 13, 1989: 65.

43 Ferguson, “The Bullpen.”

44 Volney Meece, “Nashville Sweeps Pair from 89ers,” Daily Oklahoman, April 21, 1990: 21.

45 “Buffalo HR in 10th Nips Niners,” Daily Oklahoman, April 26, 1990: 45.

46 “89ers’ Hoover Hurls 3-Hitter at Scranton,” Daily Oklahoman, May 21, 1990: 17.

47 T. R. Sullivan, “Ryan’s back shows some improvement,” Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram, May 24, 1990: 55.

48 Sullivan, “Ryan’s back shows some improvement.

49 Volney Meece, “Strange but True: 89ers Lose Again,” Daily Oklahoman, July 2, 1990: 13.

50 Meece, “Strange but True: 89ers Lose Again.”

51 Scott Munn, “89ers Take on Redbirds in Opener of Homestand,” Daily Oklahoman, July 24, 1990: 45.

52 Dave Garlick, “Bruised Reyes bops Redbirds with game-winning grand slam,” Indianapolis Star, August 18, 1990: 54.

53 Ross Newhan, “A Silver Lining,” Los Angeles Times, July 22, 1992: 27.

54 Based on telephone communications between the author and the Fresno County Coroner’s office. The Fresno Bee’s article reporting the death of Hoover also cited natural causes. Anteola, “Former Fresno State Baseball Ace John Hoover dead at 51.”

55 Cheryl Taylor, telephone conversation, February 22, 2023. She may have been the last person to speak with Hoover on the night he died.

56 Anteola, “Former Fresno State Baseball Ace John Hoover dead at 51.”

57 Newhan, “A Silver Lining.”

Full Name

John Nicklaus Hoover


December 22, 1962 at Fresno, CA (USA)


July 8, 2014 at Fresno, CA (USA)

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