Saturday, January 9, 2010

Blast From the Past: Jim Ray Hart

Several readers have commented on the shout out to Jim Ray Hart in my biographical sketch. I thought I would do a retrospective on Jim Ray's career, and maybe start a series looking at some of the less well-known Giants of yesteryear.

JIm Ray Hart was signed by the Giants as an amateur free agent in 1960 out of Hookerton, NC. He had a rather rough introduction to major league baseball in 1963 at the age of 21, when in his second MLB AB, he was hit by a Bob Gibson fastball that broke his left scapula. In his fourth game back from that injury, he was beaned by Curt Simmons and sat out the rest of the season. Injuries would continue to play a major role in Jim Ray's career. In 1964, he was coming into second base against the Dodgers and Maury Wills skulled him with a relay throw that hit him square in the forehead. Hospitalized overnight for observation, Jim Ray came back to play the next day. I remember listening to the second game of a doubleheader in 1966, I think, when the Giants needed a hit late in the game. Jim Ray had suffered a hand injury in game 1, and came up as a pinch-hitter in that spot with his thumb bandaged, delivering the key hit that the Giants needed. Another shoulder injury in 1969 contributed to the rapid decline of his career, although injuries may not have played the key role most biographies attribute to them.

For 5 seasons, from 1964-1968, Jim Ray Hart could hold his own in any discussion of who were the best Giants players, even in who the best hitters in baseball were!:

1964: .286/.342/.498 with 31 HR's.
1965: .299/.349/.487 with 23 HR's, 30 doubles and 6 triples.
1966: .285/.342/.510 with 33 HR's.
1967: .289/.373/.509 with 29 HR's.
1968: .258/.323/.444 with 23 HR's. Remember, 1968 was The Year of the Pitcher after which they lowered the mounds and made other rule changes.

During this run, Jim Ray finished second to Richie Allen in the 1964 Rookie of the Year voting. He was top 20 in MVP voting in '64, '65 and '67, and played in the All-Star game in 1966. He was league top 10 in many offensive categories during that run. On July 8, 1970, long after his career had started to decline, Jim Ray showed that he had something left by hitting for the cycle including a HR and triple with 6 RBI's in ONE INNING! Jim Ray was not a good fielder, and hated playing third base. "It's just too damn close to the hitter," is one quote attributed to him. Although he made a lot of errors, and seemed to have limited range, he was involved in 24 DP's in two of his seasons, which is a lot for a third baseman. I remember as a kid not understanding why the shortstop was considered part of a double play combination because it seemed like all the Giants DP's were started by Jimmy Ray from 3B!

Ages 27-32 are the peak years for most baseball players, but Jim Ray's playing time started to fall way off in 1969 at age 27, and he was out of baseball by 1974 at the age of 32. The mid-late 60's were part of a second "dead ball era" in baseball which may have also held down his offensive stats. Another factor in holding down his stats was the wind at Candlestick Park. In the afternoon and evenings, the wind would blow straight out to RF, sometimes at gale force, which tended to blow balls hit to straightaway LF out toward CF where they would be easily caught by the centerfielder. Willie Mays could compensate for this by driving the ball to right-center and RF, but Jim Ray was a dead pull hitter, and it affected his numbers. I found a chart of his Home-Road Splits:

PA: Overall- 4236, Home- 1987, Road- 2249.
HR: Overall- 170, Home- 72, Road- 98.
BA: Overall- .278, Home- .258, Road- .296.
OBP: Overall- .345, Home- .329, Road- .360
SLG%: Overall- .467, Home- .430, Road- .500!

While his relatively short career has been often attributed to an accumulation of injuries, another factor probably played a much larger role. I found an article from Baseball Digest, June 1991 where Jim Ray talked about what might have been had he not had an addiction to alcohol. He admitted that in later years, he was much more interested in collecting his paycheck for drinking money than in playing the game, and often came to the park hung over or drunk. At one point in his life, he lost everything and was basically on the streets of SF picking up lost change just to buy drinks. He passed out on a flight to Toronto for an old-timer's game, and that was the wake-up call he needed to get his life back. He entered and successfully completed a rehab program in San Mateo. As of the 1991 Baseball Digest article, Jim Ray was sober, working at a warehouse in Sacramento, and living there with his family. That is the last reference I was able to find in my internet search.

How much could the Giants use a hitter like Jim Ray Hart now? When I see Giants prospect Thomas Neal play, he reminds me a lot of Jim Ray, the stocky yet athletic build, the ability to hit for average, power and plate discipline. The Giants will be very fortunate if Thomas has a career resembling Jim Ray Hart's. Hopefully, Thomas will take better care of himself and enjoy a much longer career.

24 comments:

  1. The first baseball card of a Giants player I got was that of Jim Ray Hart (1970). By then, Dirty Al was already the Giants' regular third baseman. Still, Jim Ray Hart remains special to me. Thanks for the article on him. The other obscure Giants of that era that I fondly remember is Ed Goodson and Jim Rosario. I wonder what happened to them.

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  2. It's still a mystery to me how a team that had a core of 4(actually 5, but Gaylord Perry and Orlando Cepeda didn't really overlap) HOF'ers plus Jim Ray Hart couldn't win so much as a NL Pennant let alone a WS during the mid-late 60's.

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  3. Hey DrB, just found this..

    Great Blog and keep it up...I haven't been posting much over at the old Prospects folder but continued reading the good stuff from you and the others..I will be checking here regularly..

    And great stuff on Jim Ray Hart..He was a favorite of mine also..Growing up in the 1960's in NY, I became a Giant fan becasue of my boyhodd hero Willie Mays...And I loved marichal and McCovey, but there is always a player you latch onto that becomes a favorite, and for me that was Jim Ray Hart..Proabaly becasue I was a wanna be 3B in Farm league and minor leagues...Too bad things oprevented him from lasting longer as a Giant

    SteveVA

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  4. Steve,

    Thanks for checking it out. Hope you come back often. I'll try to keep in interesting and real.

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  5. I AM THE DAUGHTER OF WILLIE HART JIM RAY HART BROTHER,HAVE'NT HEARD FROM RAY IN YEARS THE LAST TIME I SAW HIM WAS ON ,T.V.1973 GAME,MY DAD THINK ABOUT RAY ALL THE TIME I HAVE PICTURES IN MY DAD ROOM OF RAY HART GET BRING TEARS TO MY DAD EYES WHEN I SAY WOULD BE REAL NICE TO SEE HIM BEFOR NOE OF US PASSES AWAY,BUT MY UNCLE WAS GOOD MY DAD WENT TO ALL RAY HART GAMES WHEN HE CAME TO NEW YORK,CITY EVEN TOOK MY MOTHER AND SISTER I HOW NICE THAT WAS,I WISH MY DAD COULD SEE MY HIS BROTHER AGAIN.

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  6. I am James Ray Hart, son of Jimmy Ray Hart. I have not seen him since 1971, I was 7 years old. The only memories I have of him are his baseball cards that I have cherished since then. I have 4 kids that would love to meet their grandfather. My son Jimmy Ray Hart also carries his baseball cards in his wallet. It would be an honor to meet him again.

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  7. DrB, thanks for posting this fine info on one of MY favorite Giants from the 1960's Jim Ray Hart! A good JRH story for you ... who knows maybe you'll also recall this one! I was listening to a Giants game sometime in 1966 or 1967 on KSFO and Lon was talking about how the winds were gale force that night! He was talking about it being windy even by Candlestick standards ... as Jim Ray stepped into the batter's box Lon said "Russ I don't know if ANYBODY can hit a ball out to left tonight!" and Russ agreed ... just then I heard a loud crack and Lon was going "hit DEEP to left.. way back.. way back ... YOU CAN TELL IT GOODBYE!! Jim Ray Hart hits an impossible homerun through a hurricane to deep left field!!" My ALL TIME memory of Jimmy Ray!!

    I'll see you on Extrabaggs!!

    Go Giants!!

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  8. I WAS JUST WONDERING IF THERE WAS ANY THING ELSE NEW ABOUT JIM R HART, IF I COULD SPEAK WITH THE BROTHER OF JIM HART, WILLIE HART.

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  9. I am the neice of Jim Ray Hart. My mother would like to find out any information that she can on Uncle Ray. We have not seen him for several years and would love to make contact with him. We also would love to meet his son and his grandchildren.

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  10. Jim Ray was my idol, I graduated three years after him @ Greene County Training, interfaced with him brieftly during the summer & fall of 63 when he was home recovering from the Curt Simmons beaning. I kept up with his stats and in late march of 67 me and an Air Force buddy attended an exhibition game between the Giants and Angels @ candlestick Park. I was allowed to chat with him from the stands as he took before game warmup throws with Jesus Alou. He was unusually talkative, trying to get updates from home. In August, 2010 after reading a blog that he was living on the streets of Newark, NJ I tried to track him down. He was staying at a safe and secure senior complex. The director of a nearby community center implied that he and one of his brothers, I asume Sylvester; we used to drink totgether back home in Hookerton, often had meals there. Although, I didn't see him, I was relieved to hear that he is an intelligent man and not living on the streets. And, I do plan to make another attempt meet with him before yearend.

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    1. will you let me know, my
      name is James r Hart.

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  11. Hello Amanda this is James Hart, you can make contact with me on facebook, under James Hart in phoenix az. It will be a pleasure just to hear from someone on my dad side of the family. I'm So excited just to get this far and learn that there are more family members that can know.
    I also like to thank everyone who gave me more information about my dad its been a long time and
    I think my kids would be happy

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  12. Anymore information that will help me meet my father (Jim Ray Hart) will be a blessing. I had one daughter who passed away 7 years ago at the age of 6 who never met her granddad but I. Don't want my other kids to miss that chance. Thank you, James R Hart jr.

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  13. I can still remember seeing Jim Ray hit a home run to left field at Candlestick, a line drive that went out of the park faster than any I've seen before or since. Thanks, all, for the memories of a great player, a great team, a great time . . . .

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    1. I know Jimmy or more so, know of him. I see him occasionally pop out to the kitchen when I'm visiting friends (his family). I couldn't believe he was the same Jim Ray on the bronze Giants Hall of Famer plaque outside of the SF Giants ballpark. I had heard that the Giants tried to reach out to him for their 50th Anniversary but he wasn't interested. I don't know why he's chosen to remove himself from much contact but could be because of the battle he's had with alcohol and his feelings about the "what-could-have-beens" that was described in the article. Kinda sad to know thats his stance but it's a familiar story with athletes and former fame. He has his reasons and a right to his privacy I guess. I'm not too into baseball at all but it's interesting to stumble on this dude that is just Jimmy to us that had such an amazing career. He's still in the greater Sacramento area doing his thing.

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  14. THANK YOU FOR THAT REPLY, I'M GLAD HE'S DOING GOOD AND I HOPE SOME DAY HE WILL GET IN CONTACT WITH ME OR I COULD GET IN CONTACT WITH HIM. I REMEMBER THE LAST TIME I SAW MY DAD IS WHEN HE WAS LAID UP IN HIS HOTEL BED WITH A BUMB KNEE. I WAS JUST A TINY LITTLE FELLOW BUT I STILL REMEMBER WHEN HE CAME TO VISIT ME WHEN HE WAS IN TOWN BACK IN THE 60'S. THERE WAS OF HIM ON THE BASEBALL FIELD WITH HIS HAT UP A LITTLE BIT AND I WILL SHOW THE STUDENTS AT MY SCHOOL AND THEY ALWAYS SAY THAT THATS YOU JAMES. I GUESS I DO HAVE HIS FEATURES. IF YOU SEE HIM AGAIN MY NUMBER IS 623-329-5976. IT WOULD BE AN HONOR TO SPEAK TO HIM. THANK YOU (JAMES RAY HART JR.)

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  15. i sent a number out for Jim Ray Hart to call me if he could but that number has changed, the new number is 6233324392, please see that Jim Ray Hart gets this number I really do appreciate it. James Hart

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  16. Just came across this thread. I'm 61 yo, so saw Jim Ray Hart play many times. What a hitter! Saw him hit two HRs one day off of Chris Short. I was at the game in 1968 when Bobby Bonds became the only player in the 20th century to hit a grand slam in his first game. On base? Mays, McCovey and Hart. Still remember the PA at Candlestick "Batting fifth.... number 16....Jimmy Ray HART." My best wishes to Mr. Hart. Older Giants fans would love to see him at events. He is not forgotten. KezarMike

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  17. William F. BryantMarch 1, 2013 at 2:05 PM

    James:
    Contact me ASAP 713 542-6202

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  18. This weekend I was in contact with the family his uncle and they have had no contact with Jim even when his mom and dad passed, I don't get that so maybe the brother is not physically or mentally able to contact his family I don't know. I sure would like to know. contact me 281 326-2437 or e-mail me ra1446450@msn.com

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    1. sorry forgot to put my name on the post William F. Bryant from Hookerton N.C. now living in Houston TX

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  19. Look on ebay for "Jim Ray Hart signed" and you will see many of his autographed cards as well as a current photo of him.

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  20. As i continue to search for my dad (Jim Ray Hart), I have learned that he had lots of fans here in Phoenix,Az. I mention my dads name to a track coach and a dish washer here at Trevor Browne high school and they told me stories as if they lived next door to him but let me tell you it was great to hear them. I will continue to follow my goal in this search and hopefully it will workout for me.
    James Hart

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  21. I spoke with a young lady who says she's the stepdaughter to my dad Jim ray Hart. When I stated that I am the son of Jim Hart, she believed me at a point until her mother told her that my dad didn't have any kids which is false. I will prove to everyone that Jim Ray Hart is my dad. My dads birthday is approaching and I would love to tell him happy birthday.

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