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Happy Hooton Hears Hall Call

Congratulations to Burt "Happy" Hooton, who was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame Monday night.  Hooton, who grew up in Texas and went to college at the University of Texas, was acquired by the Dodgers at age 25 via a trade with the Cubs, for pitchers Geoff Zahn and Eddie Solomon.  Hooton was a mainstay in the Dodger rotation for nine seasons, and holds the Dodger franchise record for playoff starts (11) and wins (six).

Hooton finished second to Gaylord Perry in the 1978 National League Cy Young award voting, when he won a career-high 19 games with a 2.71 ERA and 130 ERA+.   He was at his best in the 1981 postseason, going 4-1 in five starts, with an 0.82 ERA, winning elimination games in both the division series and league championship series.  In addition to winning the 1981 NLCS MVP, Hooton also won the clinching Game 6 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium.

Hooton's signature pitch was a knuckle curve, a pitch he learned almost by accident.  He told the San Antonio Express-News the origin came from a former Hall of Famer:

Burt Hooton recalls sitting at home one summer afternoon in Corpus Christi in 1964, watching Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese provide the television play-by-play for the major league game of the week.

On the mound for the Chicago White Sox was knuckleball hurler Hoyt Wilhelm, throwing a nasty pitch that floated toward the plate like a drunk butterfly.

Hooton, then 14, was intrigued.

“The wheels started turning in my head,” he said Monday night. “I had Pony League practice that afternoon, and I went out before the coaches did and messed around with the kids that had already shown up.”

But instead of fluttering when he threw it with his knuckles curled atop the baseball, it spun and dropped. Angry, he kept throwing harder and harder. The ball spun harder — and dropped just as hard.

Hooton didn't realize it until later, but he'd discovered a pitch more devilish than anything Wilhelm was lobbing at hitters.

In ten seasons with the Dodgers, Hooton rode his knuckle curve to a 112-84 record, with a 3.14 ERA (113 ERA+) in 322 games, including 265 starts.  He won't warrant a spot in the Walter O'Malley Suite of Vin Scully's Lords of the Ravine, but he was an important part of Los Angeles Dodger history.