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Harley Hisner

Harley Hisner

Harley "Jim" Hisner

Position(s):
P
Born:
November 6, 1926
Bats:
Right
Throws:
Right
Height:
6' 1"
Weight:
185 lbs
Major League Debut:
9-30-1951 with BOS

When you only pitch a few innings in the big leagues, in a meaningless game on the last day of the season, you don’t necessarily expect to get a lot of respect. So perhaps right-hander Jim Hisner wasn’t surprised to find that the Associated Press accounts of his one start called him Harvey Hisner. His given name was Harley; his nickname was Jim. When he opened the newspapers on the morning of October 1, 1951, he read, “Against Harvey Hisner, the Yankees picked up a run in the second on singles by Yogi Berra and Bobby Brown and a scoring fly by Jerry Coleman. Then in the third Berra drove in two more with a bases loaded single to left center.”

The morning of his start – September 30, in Yankee Stadium – the New York Yankees were in first place and the Red Sox were in third place, 10 games behind the Yankees. The Cleveland Indians were in second place, four games behind New York, and the Chicago White Sox were in fourth place, 16 games behind. No matter which team won, it wouldn’t affect the standings. The Yankees were riding a four-game winning streak, and the Red Sox had lost eight in a row. Hisner had watched Allie Reynolds throw a no-hitter against the Sox on September 28 (it was his second no-hitter of the year), as New York took both games of a doubleheader – then took both games of the doubleheader on the 29th, too. Manager Steve O’Neill gave the game ball to Jim Hisner and hoped he could stop the bleeding and leave the team with a bit of a better feeling than to lose every one of the last nine games of the season.

The Yankees didn’t know whom they would face in the World Series, but they knew it was going to be a “subway series” – that morning, the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants were tied for first place.

Most of the Red Sox regulars were given the day off. Ted Williams didn’t play, nor did Dominic DiMaggio, nor Bobby Doerr, nor Walt Dropo, nor Vern Stephens. Yankees pitcher Spec Shea was 4-5 for the season, still struggling to get back to the promise he’d shown with his 14-5 season in 1947. He didn’t face the toughest of lineups. Six of the men in the Red Sox lineup had played in fewer than 10 games. First up in the Red Sox order was Al Richter, who singled. Then Shea walked Mel Hoderlein. Charlie Maxwell hit a fly ball to center field, and Richter scampered to third base. But Clyde Vollmer struck out, and Richter was tagged out at home plate.

Hisner was a 6-foot-1, 185-pound right-hander from Indiana who had been in the Red Sox minor-league system since getting out of the Army on the next-to-last day of 1946. The Yankees played all their regulars – and five of them later became Hall of Famers – Mantle, Rizzuto, DiMaggio, Mize, and Bauer. (Another one, Jerry Coleman, is recognized in the Hall of Fame for his work as a broadcaster.) In the bottom of the first, Mantle led off and Hisner got him. Mantle struck out. Rizzuto singled, but was erased at second base on Hank Bauer’s grounder to short. Joe DiMaggio singled to left field – it turned out to be the last regular-season hit of his major-league career. Mize flied out to right field.

The Yankees scored three runs, as described by the AP, but that was all they got. Sammy White was catching for Boston and he caught Hisner for six innings. Hisner gave up seven hits (all singles) and walked four. He struck out three – and can claim the distinction of having twice struck out Mickey Mantle, leading off the first inning and closing out the second. Shea shut out the Red Sox through five innings, and Johnny Sain threw four scoreless innings, combining on the 3-0 shutout.

American League pitchers still batted in those years, and Hisner went 1-for-2 at the plate, a one-out single to right field off Shea in the top of the fifth. But Richter hit into a double play. In the seventh inning Johnny Pesky pinch-hit for Hisner and grounded out. Harry Taylor threw the last two innings for the Red Sox.

Once Bobby Thomson won the National League playoff for the Giants, the Yankees took them on and beat them, four games to two.

Harley Parnell “Jim” Hisner was born in Maples, Indiana, on November 6, 1926, the youngest of four boys in a farming family situated a little southeast of Fort Wayne. The Hisner boys knew how to play baseball, and Fred Hunter, a local scout for the Red Sox, actually signed three of the four boys to Red Sox contracts. “One of them was released in spring training, and the other one played two months for one of their farm teams but got homesick and quit,” Jim told interviewer Richard Tellis.[1] Jim attended Hoagland Independent High School, but there was no baseball team at the high school, and there was no Little League in the area yet. He played basketball, but also got to play in a league for 14-year-olds in Fort Wayne. Hunter followed him from the time he was 14, and signed him after he graduated from high school for a $5,000 bonus.

Almost at the same time, Hisner was drafted into the Army on June 30, 1945. The war in Europe was over and the war in Japan came to a sudden end a little more than a month later, but there was still work to be done. He served, largely doing clerical work at the Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis and then at Fort Benjamin Harrison, closer to home in Indiana, until he was discharged on December 30, 1946. Hisner was able to keep in shape playing Army baseball at Fort Benjamin Harrison during 1946, and it was there that he met his future wife, Anna Bernice Cain. “She was working in Special Services and used to write up the games for the post newspaper.”[2] They married on January 4, 1948.

By the time he married, Hisner already had his first season of professional baseball under his belt. He started with the Scranton Red Sox, in the Class A Eastern League, going 2-6 (with a 4.75 earned-run average) before being sent west to work at a lower level, with the Class C San Jose Red Sox. He was 5-8 in the California League, with a 5.51 ERA. In between, he sat on the bench inactive for a month waiting for the Williamsport team to agree to drop its claim to him and allow him go to California. In 1948 Hisner was back with Scranton and had an excellent 11-3 year, with a 2.48 ERA that opened a number of eyes. Mike Ryba’s Scranton team led the league and easily won the Eastern League playoffs, taking only nine games to win both best-of-seven series, but Hisner hadn’t been able to pitch in the second half of the year due to serious chronic bursitis.

Scranton was home for 1949, too, after a very brief stint in Louisville – four innings in two games, an 0-1 record. With Scranton, dealing with arm problems all year long, he was 6-10 (4.20). Nineteen fifty started the same way – arm trouble in spring training. Sent to the Mayo Clinic, he was urged to have his tonsils removed, and things gradually got better. He spent the full year in Triple-A, with the Louisville Colonels, but it was again a difficult season (5-6, 4.65). It was only in 1951 that the pain finally went away.

The absence of pain didn’t help Hisner’s pitching much. His earned-run average in 1951 was 6.26 in 125 innings, 15 starts and nine relief appearances. He won seven but lost 13 for Pinky Higgins and a team that finished above .500. But he finished strong, winning each of his last four starts – and that gave him the boost he needed to be called up to Boston. It didn’t hurt that when he got there, manager Steve O’Neill found out he’d grown up maybe 35 miles away from where O’Neill had in Butler, Indiana. The Red Sox were only 2½ games out of first place when Hisner arrived, but then lost 11 out of 12 games – and O’Neill gave him the shot at the start that no longer really mattered.

In spring training 1952, Hisner lockered next to Ted Williams, but was cut from the team “two hours before the end of spring training” by new manager Lou Boudreau, who he suspected may have held it against him that he had declined to pitch batting practice at the beginning of the spring workouts, on Higgins’ recommendation that he favor his arm. He threw only three innings in a game that spring. He never made it back to the bigs. Two more years in pro ball, and another few in semipro, and that was it.

In 1952 it was back to Louisville and Hisner worked almost exclusively in relief (1-3, 2.95 in 58 innings) and then was traded to San Diego, in the Pacific Coast League and unaffiliated with any major-league club. But the Red Sox may have kept a string on him somehow, as reports in mid-October had Boston selling his contract to Louisville.[3]

Louisville took Hisner to spring training in 1953, but he never played for them that year. First, he was optioned to Syracuse (0-1), but he and the manager, Bruno Betzel, were on different pages. He told Louisville he was leaving, but the Colonels worked out a deal on May 26 and sent to him to the  Dallas Eagles of the Texas League. That was the shortest of stints – brought into a first-inning bases-loaded situation, and facing the top home-run hitter in the league, he worked the count to 3-and-2, then gave up a grand slam. Dallas sent him back to Louisville, who promptly sent him back to Texas, to Greenville (Big State League).  Hisner says he won three games right away, but he and Anna were frustrated with all the back and forth, so he told farm director Johnny Murphy of the Red Sox that he wanted to quit. He was still just 26 years old, but didn’t seem to be going anywhere. Murphy told him that Wichita Falls really wanted him and persuaded him to go there by saying he’d ensure that Hisner was paid the same as he would have been paid with Louisville. Hisner was 14-5 (3.87) for the Wichita Falls Spudders.

Wichita Falls sold his contact to the Corpus Christi Clippers of the Class C Gulf Coast League before the 1954 season, but the Corpus Christi management hadn’t realized that most of the money Hisner was being paid was “under the table” – the difference being made up per Murphy’s assurance. So the Clippers never did come up with a satisfactory amount of salary. Hisner retired, then took on some work playing in Canada for about a month and a half before returning to Fort Wayne and starting to play semipro ball. He learned something surprising when he was scheduled to pitch an exhibition game against the Phillies – he wouldn’t be allowed to pitch because he was on baseball’s restricted list. A quick phone call resulted in his being put on the voluntarily retired list.

Hisner played semipro ball all the way through 1961, his team winning both the National Championship and the Global World Series in 1956.

After he completed his Army service, Hisner had taken a position as a machinist and mechanic with the Rea Magnet Wire Company of Fort Wayne. He worked there during the offseasons until the summer of 1954, when he became full-time with the company, working there until retiring in 1987. When Richard Tellis interviewed him for the book Once Around the Bases, Hisner was driving a fertilizer truck part-time, and reported that he was still asked for autographs now and again.

And he could look back on a time he truly did team up with Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky, and Dom DiMaggio, and struck out Mickey Mantle the first two times he faced him.

Sources

The author relied on the Hisner chapter in Richard Tellis’s book Once Around the Bases (Chicago: Triumph Books, 1998). In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Hisner’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the online SABR Encyclopedia, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com. Some of this material was originally published in the book Red Sox Threads. This biography can also be found on the SABR Bio Project.





[1] Richard Tellis, Once Around the Bases, Triumph Books, p. 135
[2] Tellis, op. cit., p. 136
[3] See, for instance, New York Times, October 16, 1952
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