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A GUNG-HO MARINE AT THE HOT CORNER
Walter Bingham
July 03, 1961
Don Hoak, Pittsburgh's roughneck third baseman, is trying his best to bully the Pirates into a second straight National League pennant
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July 03, 1961

A Gung-ho Marine At The Hot Corner

Don Hoak, Pittsburgh's roughneck third baseman, is trying his best to bully the Pirates into a second straight National League pennant

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Since coming to the Pirates in 1959, Hoak hasn't missed a game. Last summer he suffered an injury that would have kept a normal man out of the lineup for a week. A few of the Pirates were invited to a party in a Pittsburgh suburb one Saturday evening; there was a swimming pool on the property, and everyone went in to cool off. Coming out, Hoak slipped on the ladder and opened a huge gash on his right foot. It ran along the top, between the webbing of the toes and down into the sole.

"It was a terrible-looking cut," recalls Bob Prince. "One of the guests was a doctor, and he had his bag of instruments with him. He was going to sew it up, but he didn't have any anesthesia. 'Go ahead and sew the goddamn thing,' Don told him. The doctor started to sew and Don lay there smoking a cigarette. His face was white, but he didn't say a thing. Gino Cimoli looked a little sick and had to leave. I wanted to leave, but I was holding his foot.

"When the doc finished with the bottom he told Don he'd have to take three more stitches along the top and that it would hurt a lot more than the bottom. 'Just sew,' Don told him. When it was over the doctor told Don he wouldn't be able to play for some time. 'Go to hell,' Don said. 'There's a double-header tomorrow, and I play two.' "

Hoak did play two. He taped up his foot and squeezed it into an old, loose baseball shoe. Somehow he managed to keep from limping so that Manager Murtaugh never realized he was hurt. The second game went 11 innings and Hoak singled in the winning run. After the game was over, Hoak sat in his uniform in the dressing room until most of the players had left. When he eased off his right shoe his sock was soaked in blood.

Hoak's almost frightening competitive spirit was probably kindled during his childhood, which he is reluctant to talk about. "There's no point in discussing it," he says. "It would just hurt a lot of people." It has been written and is presumably true that he was born in Roulette, Pa. in 1928, that he joined the Marines at 16 (he lied about his age) and that he took part in landings on Okinawa and Saipan. After the war he wound up in Florida as a professional boxer, had about 40 fights in small clubs, got cut up and had his nose broken a few times and finally decided that baseball was a better way of life.

The Brooklyn organization signed him, and for seven years he struggled in the minors—Valdosta, Nashua, Greenville and Montreal. At Montreal under Walt Alston, now manager of the Dodgers, Hoak made a play Alston still raves about. " Toronto had a runner on third base," says Alston. "They flashed the squeeze sign. I never did know whether Don stole the sign or not, but he came racing in as the pitcher threw the ball. It took guts, because if the batter had swung he might have killed him. But the batter bunted and Hoak was in so close he grabbed the ball, tagged the runner coming home and then threw to first for the double play. I've never seen a play like it."

Hoak finally made it to the Dodgers in 1954, but he never got to play much. The Dodgers had men like Billy Cox and Jackie Robinson to play third base, and besides, as Hoak says, he was not a very good player then. His outstanding achievement was playing the entire seventh game of the 1955 World Series, the final game of the first series the Dodgers ever won. (It is interesting that Hoak wears his Dodger ring, not the one he got for being with the Pirates in last year's Series. "I guess I just got used to the old one," he says.)

The Dodgers traded Hoak that winter to Chicago, where he distinguished himself by hitting .215 and striking out six times in one game. "That's a record," Hoak says, and he can smile faintly when he says it. After the poor season with the Cubs he moved on to Cincinnati where he came under the direction of Birdie Tebbetts.

"Tebbetts taught me everything," says Hoak. Birdie changed Hoak's batting stance, telling him to stand up straighter at the plate. He also told Hoak that he was a better player than he thought he was. Hoak hit .293 for Tebbetts and drove in 89 runs. Not long ago Hoak was discussing players who don't hustle. "I can't understand a player who won't give you 90 feet [i.e., run out a fly ball]," he said. That used to be one of Tebbetts' favorite expressions.

On to Pittsburgh

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