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Ron Hunt's painful 1971 season

3/19/2011

In the arena of sports, in my opinion, baseball is the most workman-like game out there. Sure, you'll find players like Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds or Babe Ruth -- players with talent so huge and vast that they seem like perfectly formed giants by the time they've taken their first swing. But, you'll also find players like Ron Hunt. Guys who didn't have the talent to bash 50 home runs in a single season or steal 60 bags but who found a way to succeed in the majors by sheer determination alone.

The phrases "scrappy" or "gamer" have been tossed around so much in modern baseball they've lost some of their meaning. However, Ron Hunt's 1971 season is the ultimate example of succeeding at all costs.

In 1971, while playing second base for the Montreal Expos, Ron Hunt was hit by a pitch 50 times -- setting a major league record for most HBPs in a season. Hunt shattered the previous record of 31 plunks in a season that was originally set by Steve Evans way back in 1910.

Some facts from Hunts' record-breaking season in '71:

  • Nolan Ryan, never a stranger to hitting batters (158 career HBP), hit Hunt four times in '71, the most of any pitcher that year.

  • Bill Bonham must have really despised pitching to Hunt. Hunt had four plate appearances against Bonham and was hit in three of them. Hunt's line against Bonham reads: 4 PA, 1 AB, 0 H, .000/.750/.000

  • Hunt had six games in which he was hit by a pitch at least two times.

  • For Ron Hunt, getting hit by pitches was a real strategy. He finished '71 with a sterling OBP of .402. If you removed even half of his HBPs, his OBP drops all the way to .377. If you removed all of his HBP, his OBP plummets to .350. By the result of getting hit by pitches, Hunt added nearly 50 points to his OBP in '71.

There's something admirable about knowing your limitations, and finding a way to succeed even if you aren't the most talented player on the field. For me, Ron Hunt embodies that "get the job done" workman mentality. He's another reason (among countless others) that baseball is such an interesting game to follow.

Chris Quick writes Bay City Ball, a blog about the San Francisco Giants.