It was a matter of numbers. That's what they told LaMarr Hoyt when they sent him down to Class A ball in the spring of 1978. Hoyt is the kind of guy who never bothered to tell anyone with the White Sox that he spelled his name with a capital "M." But when Chicago sent him down, after he had pitched in Triple A the year before, he thought he had had enough.
"I quit a couple of times," he said. "I went home for 10 days and came back." All those years in the New York Yankees' organization, before the trade in 1977, he never pitched for bad ball clubs, "never had to try, just threw a few sinkers and sliders." So he decided to try again.
It's always a matter of numbers and now Hoyt's got them. He is 9-0 so far this season and has won 14 straight over two seasons. His ERA is 1.45 and he is three victories short of the American League record for consecutive successes. His record since coming up to the White Sox in 1980 is 27-6. He is 16-0 at Comiskey Park.
"The only thing that keeps you going in the minors is the idea that somebody up there knows who you are, recognizes your ability," he said on the phone from Chicago. "After a while, if maybe they start sticking it to you, no matter what you do, it's hard to keep the faith. It tried my faith about the good things that could happen."
For Hoyt, that good thing that happened was Tony LaRussa, his manager. "He is no morning glory," LaRussa said.
Hoyt is 27. He has waited a long time for this. But when "Good Morning America" asked him to appear Tuesday morning after pitching, he asked them to wait a couple of days. "I'd have to get up at 5 a.m.," he said, "I didn't want to have it on my mind. I wanted to concentrate on what I was doing. Plus I had cold sores on my mouth."
The attention doesn't bother him, he said, except when they make him out to be a hillbilly in the big city. One Chicago writer, he said, quoted him as saying pitching " 'ain't nothing but tossin' hard and tossin' soft,' with all those do-hickeys on the end. I don't consider myself no hillbilly."
He is as laconic as he is hot. He considers himself a pitcher who finally got a chance, who finally was in the right place at the right time. "I'm a streak pitcher. Sometimes I throw super well and then I slack off. It's just a matter of cutting down on the mistakes."
White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf signed Hoyt to a two-year contract this spring. "Hopefully," Hoyt said, "if I keep up with the way I'm going maybe something can be done to renegotiate it."
The contract has incentive clauses, including one for winning the Cy Young Award. "They give them to a lot of guys in case they have a lucky year," he said wryly.
Some say that's exactly what Hoyt is, a lucky pitcher, a suggestion that rankles LaRussa. "What's the difference if you win 3-2 or 10-2," he said. "His job is to hold others from scoring and he's doing it consistently."
Hoyt started the season as a relief pitcher, winning three games before becoming a starter. The White Sox scored 52 runs in his first five starts. "It got to be a joke (with the local writers)," he said. "They never took me seriously. Of course, I never gave up many runs, either."
He said he has gone from the Rodney Dangerfield of pitching to the Werewolf of the mound, a cult figure in the bleachers. He has long hair and a beard, but "I'm not so tough."
Hoyt was raised by his aunt in Columbia, S.C. She will see him pitch for the first time on national television Saturday. He has little relationship with either of his parents. One of his cousins, a close friend, was shot and killed in his teens. Hoyt said he grew up pretty fast. "I'm a better person," he said. "Emotionally, I feel I can handle most anything."