Heralded Giant rookie Clint Hartung makes his first pitching appearance and throws six shutout innings against the Braves. He will start twenty games, and will also play seven games in the outfield, batting .309/.330/.543 for the year. (The Braves will win today, 6-2, behind Warren Spahn.)
A strapping Texan from the little town of Hondo, Texas (hence his nickname, “The Hondo Hurricane”), Clint Hartung had excelled as both a pitcher and a hitter in high school, in the high minors, and on military service teams during World War II. He was touted as the next Babe Ruth when he was signed by the Giants before the war. He even hit a home run in his first Giant at-bat, during an intrasquad game in spring training in 1947. The headline of the Life magazine article about him declared, “One-Man Ball Team.”
But Hartung had an undistinguished major league career, playing six seasons, and he became a symbol of unfulfilled promise. “The Faded Phenom” was the headline of a column by Arthur Daley in The New York Times in 1951 (subscription required). “Hartung made one mistake,” observed Tom Meany. “He stopped at the Polo Grounds. He should not have stopped. He should have gone right to Cooperstown.” In his Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James created an unofficial award in Hartung’s honor, describing the most overhyped rookie of each decade of baseball history as the winner of the Clint Hartung Award.
Hartung was 6-foot-4, and well over 200 pounds. His career as a pitcher began well enough, but he was a poor outfielder, and his managers, first Mel Ott and then Leo Durocher, couldn’t figure out whether he was a pitcher or an everyday player, and he never sustained distinction as either. His career ERA+ was 80 and his career OPS+ was 84.
Hartung’s most famous moment on the field was as a pinch-runner. Just before Bobby Thomson‘s home run, the so-called “shot heard round the world” in the third 1951 National League playoff game against the Brooklyn Dodgers, which the Giants won to advance to the World Series, Hartung replaced Don Mueller at third base after Mueller tore an ankle tendon during his slide into the bag. After the game, Durocher said he picked the big Texan to run because once the game ended Hartung could stand between the Giant manager and Dodger pitcher Don Newcombe, whom Durocher had been riding all game.