Billy Hoeft hailed from Oshkosh, Wisconsin. He was born on May 17, 1932. He graduated from Trinity Lutheran Grammar School and Oshkosh High.
As an American Legion and Oshkosh (Wisconsin) High School pitcher, he reeled off a string of 34 consecutive victories in 1948 and 1949 before losing the last game of the season. In 1949, he won six more games in Legion ball, with the fewest number of strikeouts in any one game being 18. In two of the games, he struck out 25. And he topped that on April 29, 1950, striking out every one of the 27 batters he faced, beating Hartford, 4-0.
It was no shock the scouts descended on him, most of them waving big wads of folding money. It was the Tigers who prevailed and got his signature on a contract for a reported $55,000.
He was placed in Class-D ball in 1950 and pitched for the Richmond (Indiana) Tigers of the Ohio-Indiana League. They could hardly have been happier with his first half-season in pro ball, going 10-1 with a 1.71 ERA.
He advanced to Triple A in 1951 while still 18 years old when the season began. He pitched for the Toledo Mud Hens (American Association)., where for the first time he faced some real competition, and posted an ERA of 5.76
He made the majors in 1952, a month before he left his teenage years, and had two very good seasons with the Detroit Tigers in 1955 and 1956. Like many starting pitchers in those days, he was eventually converted into a reliever and fashioned a career that saw him through 15 seasons of big-league baseball.
His major-league debut came on April 18, 1952, in Cleveland. He pitched in 34 games, 10 of them starts, and posted a 4.32 ERA. His 1953 season saw him starting in 27 of his 29 games.
In 1954. he had another so-so year (7-15, 4.58) but he earned one distinction, leading the American League in strikeout-to-walk ratio, with 114 Ks to 59 BBs. Everything came together nicely for him in 1955. He went 16-7 with a 2.99 ERA, leading the majors with seven shutouts. The Tigers as a team, however, finished fifth again. It was another fifth-place finish in 1956, even though he became a 20-game winner (20-14, 4.06), while struiking out a career-high 172 batters in 248 innings, also a career high.
Though they won four fewer games in 1957, the Tigers finished fourth. Billy, however, despite improving his ERA significantly to 3.48, won only nine games. By the time the 1958 season began, he was age 25 and was the club’s “grizzled veteran” in terms of service time, being on the roster for six full seasons. Rumors of trades involving Billy began after the season, but come spring training in 1959, he was still with the Tigers. He pitched exceptionally well at the start of spring training, but then came down with a sore arm that knocked him out of action for a couple of weeks.
Then in May, he was traded to the Boston Red Sox for infielder Ted Lepcio and pitcher Dave Sisler. It was known that he had a sore arm at the time, but the Sox still wanted to take a chance on him. He lost each of his first three starts for the Sox and then appeared in a pair of games in relief. At that point he was 0-3 with a 5.60 ERA, and the Sox lost patience. They traded him on to his third team of the season, the Baltimore Orioles. He went 1-1 with a 5.71 in 16 appearances for the Orioles.
A few days after the 1960 season began, before he appeared in a big-league game, he was sent to the Miami Marlins in Triple A just to get in some innings. Baltimore brought him back in June.
Suddenly he had a very good year in 1961. He mixed starting (12 games) and relieving (23 games), working a total of 138 innings and compiling a 2.02 ERA, that was by far the best of his career.
He went 4-8 with a 4.59 ERA in 1962. In December, he was traded to the San Francisco Giants as part of a six-player swap. He didn’t pitch for the Giants until June, due to a fall in early spring training which resulted in a badly-jammed shoulder.
In December 1963, he was part of a seven-player deal that made him one of the Milwaukee Braves. He was with the Giants for just under a year. The Braves cut ties with him in mid-October 1964 and he re-signed on with his first team again, the Tigers, in November. But at the end of spring training, they released him.
He then started working out with the Chicago Cubs, and went to the Salt Lake City Bees of the Pacific Coast League. In June, he returned to the majors, pitching for the Cubs, losing a game to the Dodgers in his first appearance, despite only yielding one run in five innings of relief. He proved be a good addition to the Cubs, with an earned run average of 2.81 in 29 games (two starts).He pitched for the Cubs again in 1966, appearing in 36 games, before being released in August. One week later, the San Francisco Giants hired him to pitch batting practice. He signed and appeared in four games. Those were his last big-league ballgames. The Giants released him in October and Billy announced his retirement.
In January 1967, he took a position as a corporate service representative for Manufacturers Bank in Detroit. Four months later, he was pitching for a “sandlot team sponsored by a Detroit sporting goods store.
Billy ended up working as a sales rep for Compugraphics and for A. B. Dick. His final position was one selling high-capacity printing equipment in the Detroit area for a company named Besco Graphics. He worked there until February 1998.
After retirement, he and his family moved to Canadian Lakes, Michigan, about 50-60 miles north of Grand Rapids. He sort of acted as the ‘guest host’ or greeter at St. Ives Golf Club near Canadian Lakes.
Billy Hoeft died after battling cancer at age 77, on March 16, 2010 at Canadian Lakes.