Tom Hilgendorf

March 18, 2008
This is the last of a few Tom Hilgendorf cards of negligible worth. He was cut by the Phillies the year it came out, right around when the team broke camp. It’s something of a mystery why this cut was made, as Hilgendorf had done well the previous season, posting a 2.14 ERA in 96 innings of work. Maybe the Phillies felt they had enough left-handed pitching, with newly acquired Jim Kaat joining Steve Carlton and Tom Underwood in the rotation and Tug McGraw anchoring the bullpen. Or maybe Hilgendorf just lost it that spring. Maybe he just couldn’t get anybody out all of a sudden.

I couldn’t get out of bed this morning. When my alarm clock went off my first conscious feeling was shame. Vague, general shame. The day before had been a waste, yet again.

I’m now older than all but a handful of current major leaguers, yet on some level I still think of myself as the kid and the players as the adults. It’s becoming less this way as the years go by, however. While cheering on the Red Sox this past season I understood that it made all the sense in the world that Jonathan Papelbon, for example, was not even born when I played my last little league game. Where I find it more difficult is when I look at these cards and realize these examples of adulthood are all younger than I am now. These were always the adults. I understand how I can be older than a kid who Riverdances all over the infield in his red underwear, but how can I be older than the Cardboard Gods? At the time of this picture, Tom Hilgendorf–frumpy, expendable Tom Hilgendorf–was several years younger than I am now.

My alarm clock is tuned to the sports radio station. I start every day with the sounds of Mike shouting at Mike, or vice versa. This morning I turned off the alarm clock and lay there in the dark. I wish I could build a fort out of couch cushions and stay there forever. Eventually I got up and fed the cats and shoved food down me and made a sandwich and walked up Western Avenue in the drizzle and bought a newspaper to get some tips on filling out my NCAA bracket and heard the elevated train coming as I passed through the turnstile and bounded up the concrete steps two at a time and made it in just before the doors closed and sat there breathing hard and sweating and made it to work on time.


  1. 1.  Tom Hilgendorf probably felt the same way in 1976. He was mentioned in two Sporting News spring training articles about how great the Phillies bullpen was going to be. His release was announced without comment in the April 24 issue, but the Pirates picked him up the next week and sent him to the minors. The week after that, he gave up three homers, two doubles and a single in the ninth inning of a 23-5 game, which his manager called “the worst beating I’ve ever had as a manager.” The article continues, “Asked if he had ever been rocked like that before, Hilgendorf replied, ‘Not since my mother rocked me as a baby.'” Later that month TSN mentioned that he had missed three weeks with a sore arm, and then he disappeared. Baseballreference doesn’t even mention when his Pirates time ended.

  2. 2.  1 : Thanks a lot for digging that info up. Good god, given all the particulars of that minor league game (i.e., demoted hurler trying to stop a career-dooming freefall and so low on the minor league squad totem pole that he’s pitching in the end-of-an-utter-blowout mopup spot usually reserved for the strong-armed rightfielder), that might be the worst inning pitched I’ve ever heard of.

  3. 3.  Reading a post about Tom Hilgendorf is like going for a ride on the Way Back Machine with Sherman and Mr. Peabody. In 1975 I was in second grade and just getting my first taste of being a Phillies fan and rooting for the likes of Tom Hilgendorf.
    I was hoping to add some insight into why Hilgendorf was released by the Phillies in 1976 but alas the newspaper databases of the Daily News and Inquirer do not date that far back. Also just a one line blurb about his stats in the Phillies Encyclopedia. Somewhat interesting he was released given his numbers in 1975.
    But yes Mr Hilgendorf does have a claim to fame — he was hit in the head with a folding chair during the infamous Cleveland 10 cent beer on June 4, 1974 (here’s an AP story on the 25th anniversary of this most interesting night http://www.hollandsentinel.com/stories/060499/spo_hangover.html
    Josh, if it’s any consolation I spent the better part of yesterday in the horizontal position — with the cats of course. When you have an opposable thumb you’ll always be a Cardboard God to felines no matter how old you are.

  4. 4.  Wikipedia makes it sound like he was Kevin Costner in the movie where he was a pitcher:
    His best year was also his last year when he won 7 and lost 3 with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1975. On this high note, he played his last game on September 28th, 1975 and retired.

    Incidentally, this page is the third hit for Tom Hilgendorf on Google. If we make something up about the end of his career, it will be the generally-accepted truth for anyone who does Hilgendorf research in the future.

  5. 5.  It is funny that you mention running to the train to get to work on time. On my second to last day of work at the job I just had, I actually cared about getting to work right on time that day. In all the time I have worked at that place, I was consistently 10-15 minutes late. I should have just been content with being late. I rushed to make the subway on time. The ticket machine ate my dollar coin. Out of frustration I gave the machine a little kick to see if that may persuade it to give my money back. Instead an alarm went off. The fair collector wrote me a ticket for vandalizing the machine. She then wrote that I was abusive when I told her that it was fucking bullshit that she was writing me a ticket for booting the machine not even that hard. Now I can expect a 200 + ticket in the mail. The lesson I learned is my temper and getting to work on time cost me 200 bucks. When are they going to invent transporter machines?

  6. 6.  What strikes me about that card is the awful logo inconsistency between the hat and the jacket. That would never happen today.

    I just now did the very same commuting dash in the rain described above, only to catch a bus. In college, when I worked part-time stocking shelves at a local supermarket, my boss remarked to me that I had “the worst on-time record in the history of the company.” (high-five)

  7. 7.  It looks like his picture was taken right after he got the news he was cut.

  8. 8.  Josh,

    Posting here, in case you don’t go back: the Bob Coluccio post is pure genius.

    By the way, did you know Western Ave. is (supposedly) the longest continuous street in the world?

  9. 9.  5 Sounds to me like trying to get to work on time actually cost you $201.

  10. 10.  8 : I did hear that about Western Avenue. I’m guessing it also has the record among streets for most check-cashing joints, too.

  11. 11.  9 Actually 202 dollars because I never got my lost dollar coin back and had to buy another ticket. Argh.

  12. 12.  I wouldn’t bet against it. For rent-to-own outlets, though, it’s definitely Milwaukee.

  13. 13.  Reminds me of The Onion’s “Statshot” from a few years ago, titled “How are we maintaining our dignity?” (http://www.theonion.com/content/node/36740):

    3. Never running to catch public transportation.

    I always think of that one when I’m running to catch public transportation.

    Followed of course by: 4. Acting like we quit.

  14. 14.  13 : Ha!

    Being a lowbrow, I was always particularly partial to this Onion “statshot”:


  15. 15.  Josh, I was about to post about the Onion “C$%^punching” Statshot, but then I thought…and…before I even checked the link, I knew.

    I always think of it whenever I pass by a Subway.


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