How Don Hoak Scared The Hell Out Of Me When I Was A Kid

Don Hoak Becomes The Bogeyman

Don Hoak was a professional baseball player for 11 seasons. From 1954-1964 Hoak played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates and the Philadelphia Phillies. By all accounts he was a nice man and a decent player who had a career .265 batting average.

In real life Don Hoak probably never intentionally scared a child. Little did he know one day this baseball card would affect one superstitious, naive, ignorant kid.

One day when I was about 7-years-old I acquired some old baseball cards from the 1960s from my grandfather. I showed them to an older boy and when he came to Don Hoak  he said, “you know, he’s dead,” as he handed the card back to me.

Well I stared at the card and I got the willies. An actual shudder ran down my spine.

“Dead? What do you mean, dead?” I said.

My simpleton mind knew what dead meant, but I did not have much real life experience with death.

All I knew was that I was holding a dead man in my hand. How could he be dead? This card is only a few years old and he couldn’t have been an old man?

“How’d he die?” I needed to know.

“I don’t know but he died a few years ago (1969)” my companion said. Then he added, “He may have been murdered.”

Wellllll  now I was transfixed for about a full minute. This simple 1964 Topps baseball card of a smiling ballplayer took on new meaning.

My god. Murdered? Is this card bad luck? Hoak’s toothy smile was scary. I could hear Don Hoak in my mind saying. “You’re holding me and I’m dead.”

“That’s right kid, your going to be dead too. Hahahahahahaha. I’m going to killlllll you.” Hoak’s evil laugh echoed through my wildly imaginative childish brain.  Why I made this weird connection I don’t know. Freud might have a field day trying to figure it out.

I put the card back in the stack and vowed never to look at it.

Now, the logical thing to do was throw the card in the garbage and not think about Don Hoak again. But I couldn’t destroy the card. I collected baseball cards and couldn’t fathom tearing one up or throwing it away. Over the next few weeks I kept coming across the card when I looked through my collection. Every time I saw Hoak I would shiver with fear. This became a Pavlovian response, Hoak= shiver/fear.

So I moved Don Hoak to the bottom of a stack of 1964 cards. Of course a few months later I was going through my cards and I had forgotten where Don Hoak was. As I fanned through the cards… there he was. Don Hoak. The willies were still there. How can I avoid Don Hoak?

My solution was simple, I would isolate Don Hoak. I took the offending card and put it upside down in the bottom of a shoebox with some other damaged baseball cards.

I never saw Don Hoak again until years later when I was a teen and I was going through my cards. By then I no longer had a reaction to Don Hoak.

In actuality Don Hoak was not murdered, but he died at the young age of 41, on October 9, 1969. Hoak’s brother-in-law’s car was stolen out of Hoak’s driveway. Hoak got into his car and chased the thief. In pursuit, Hoak eventually pulled over his car, suffering a heart attack, and died, minutes after being transported to the hospital.

Earlier that same day, Hoak was crestfallen to learn that Danny Murtaugh was named manager of the Pirates. After successfully managing for a couple of years in the Pirates system, Hoak was considered to be among the leading candidates to become the Pirates manager for 1970.

I’m not sure this story has any meaning. If it does, it probably is that I was a pretty wacky kid.

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