James Hoyt Wilhelm (July 26, 1922 – August 23, 2002), nicknamed "Old Sarge", was an American Major League Baseball (MLB) pitcher with the New York Giants, St. Louis Cardinals, Cleveland Indians, Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Sox, California Angels, Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs, and Los Angeles Dodgers between 1952 and 1972. He is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
After growing up in North Carolina and fighting in World War II, Wilhelm spent several years in the minor leagues before starting his MLB career. He was best known for his knuckleball, which enabled him to have great longevity. He appeared occasionally as a starting pitcher, but he pitched mainly as a specialist relief man, a role in which he won 124 games, still the record for relief pitchers. He was the first pitcher to reach 200 saves and the first to appear in 1,000 games.
Wilhelm, who did not enter the major leagues until his late twenties, pitched until he was nearly 50 years old. Wilhelm retired with one of the lowest career earned run averages in baseball history. After retiring as a player in the early 1970s, he held coaching roles with the New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves for many years. He was a longtime resident of Sarasota, Florida, where he died in a nursing home of heart failure in 2002.
By Dean Hanley
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