Don Hoak

Don Hoak

3B, 2B, SS
February 5, 1928
6' 1"
170 lbs
Major League Debut:
4-18-1954 with BRO

He was the kind of player who’s worth doesn’t always show up in the box score, but yet his determination and aggressiveness to win made him one of the most valuable players on the world championship of 1960.  Don Hoak, nicknamed Tiger by Dodger pitcher Clem Labine because he was always starting fights, was a solid fielder who twice led the circuit in fielding percentage at third base who also would contribute at the plate, hitting over .280 in three of his four seasons with the Bucs.
Many players felt he was such an important cog to the club’s championship run.  Cy Young Award winner Vern Law felt his fighting spirit rubbed off on everyone helped push the club over the hump to the title, while legendary reliever Roy Face thought he was the most underrated player on the team.  What ever it was, Hoak definitely wanted to fit the tough boy persona.  He was a Marine in World War II where he saw some action in the Pacific theater and also spent sometime as a boxer in the middleweight division and his tough image was something he prided himself on.
Tiger came up with the Dodgers in 1954 and was part of their memorable 1955 world championship team, the only title that the legendary team from Brooklyn would win.  He was dealt to the Cubs the year after where he hit .215 and went on his way Cincinnati in 1957.  It was there that his career finally started to take shape as he led the senior circuit in doubles with 39 and fielding percentage with a .971 mark while hitting career highs in both homers 19, and RBI’s with 89.  Hoak was named to his one and only selection in the mid –summer classic that year.  Don slumped in 1958 and was dealt to the Bucs along with Smoky Burgess and Harvey Haddix in a seven-player deal that many felt was the final piece in the Pirate 1960 championship machine.
In 1959, Tiger proved that his .261 average in 1958 was just a fluke as he broke .290 for the first time when he hit .294, before moving into his best all around season in the Steel City.  Hoak would show a rare glimpse of power during that magical season, hitting 16 homers to go with 79 RBI’s and a .282 average.  While his numbers were good, it was his grit, determination and leadership that found him finishing second to teammate Dick Groat in the National League Most Valuable Player voting ahead of such Hall of Famers as Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Roberto Clemente and Eddie Mathews.
When injuries ravaged the club in 1961, Hoak stepped up to hit a career high .298 finishing in double digits in homers for the third and last time in his career with 12.  Don slumped in 1962 hitting only .241 and was dealt to the Phillies afterwards where he finished his career in 1964.
After his playing career ended, Hoak took a spot in the Broadcasting booth for a couple years for the team and then was named as a manger in the Pirate farm system.  Hoak showed what a leader he was by first leading Salem to the Carolina League title in 1968, then after being promoted to the AAA club in Columbus, he led them to the International League finals in 1969.
So successful was his managerial stint in the minors that Hoak was being heavily considered for the post at the major league level recently vacated by Larry Shepard.  On October 9th, 1969, Hoak had learned that the club had intended to bring back Danny Murtaugh to head the team.  Unfortunately, the scrappy Hoak was involved in a more dangerous quest, his brother’s car had just been stolen and he took off to the streets to chase the burglar.  Not long after, he slumped over the wheel of his car and had a heart attack, which he died of shortly after being taken to Shadyside Hospital, leaving behind his Pop Singer wife Jill Corey and a son.
Hoak regrettably died the way he lived, fighting tooth and nail.  It may not have been his total stats that landed Don on the top 100 list, but without a doubt its his spirit and inspiration that gave this city one of its most treasured sports moments, a title in 1960, that has him remembered as a true Pirate great.

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