Baseball set to honor Burt Hooton's No. 20
April 23, 2009
Candice Eng, Texas Media Relations
During Saturday’s home baseball game against Kansas State, Burt Hooton will step onto UFCU Disch-Falk field, but not to windup on the pitcher’s mound as he would have 40 years ago.
Instead, Texas’ first-ever three-time All-American will be honored when his No. 20 is retired into Longhorn history. Hooton’s ceremony is the third of four this season to honor former UT baseball players, including Brooks Kieschnick, Greg Swindell and Scott Bryant.
“It’s quite an honor, needless to say,” Hooton said. “Texas Athletics has been around for over one hundred years and to be one so honored is a hard-to-describe feeling. It certainly means a lot that they would want to do that. It wasn’t something I was expecting, but I’m looking forward to it.”
Hooton, regarded by many as the best college pitcher of his era, boasted a 35-3 mark with 386 strikeouts and 13 shutouts during his collegiate tenure from 1969-71. Even after 40 years, his name still appears at the top of the list in UT’s record books in several categories, including ERA (1.14), opponent batting average (.158) and strikeouts per nine innings (11.94).
“When I went to Texas, I didn’t go there to set records. I went to go play baseball and do the best I could and have a good time doing it,” Hooton explained. “There have been many good pitchers who have gone to Texas. Just being a member of Texas Athletics when you’re 18 to 20 years old, that’s a pretty big deal. Everyone had excitement going to college during those years, but I had the added excitement of being on the Texas baseball team."
Hooton, who was inducted into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008, led the Longhorns to a Southwest Conference Championship three straight years and made two College World Series appearances.
“Burt is without a doubt the greatest college pitcher in the history of college baseball. There’s nobody who’s dominated the game like he did. From the mound, he just totally controlled,” said Baseball associate head coach Tommy Harmon, who was also Hooton’s teammate. “When he took the mound, you knew you were going to win and the other team did too. For three years, he did that.”
While he dominated on the field, Hooton’s teammates and friends remember him in a different light off the mound.
“He was real low-key. He had all these nicknames. We called him ‘Bear’ because he hibernated all the time and slept,” Harmon recalled. “Tommy Lasorda nicknamed him ‘Happy’ because he never smiled. Everybody would say, ‘That’s just Burt.’ He just kind of lumbered around, kind of slow-moving, but always a step ahead of the game because he knew what was happening.”
Known for his knuckle-curve, Hooton is one of 17 pitchers in Texas Baseball history to have had a no-hitter, and one of just four to do it twice.
He’s also responsible for two of UT’s most memorable pitching performances, crafting a seven-inning no-hitter in an 8-0 win over Sam Houston State on Feb. 26, 1971. He did it again less than month later, fanning 19 and facing the minimum 39 batters in a 13-inning, one-hitter for a 1-0 win over Texas Tech on March 19, 1971.
“For him to pitch a no-hitter, you wouldn’t think that was any surprise,” Harmon said. “I know his ERA was under two for his career. Nobody’s going to be able to do that with the amount of innings he had. That just goes back to the fact he totally dominated the game.”
With all his individual success, Hooton credits others for the reason his name is on the stadium wall.
“I had a great team, great teammates and Coach (Cliff) Gustafson was a great coach. He was very good at teaching us the game,” Hooton said. “We got along together as a team. All the teammates, we have that bond. In college, you have fraternities. When you play sports, the team you get to play on is your fraternity. We fostered friendships that last the rest of your life.”
After a prestigious collegiate career, Hooton enjoyed a 15-year Major League run with the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers and Texas Rangers. Going second in the draft, he is one of just 20 players to go straight to the big leagues without playing minor league ball since Major League Baseball started its draft in 1965.
“I think having my experience at Texas was a big stepping-stone in my career,” Hooton said. “It was kind of like my minor league baseball.”
Hooton proved he could hang in the big league too, throwing a no-hitter as a rookie in his first appearance for the Chicago Cubs in 1972. He earned National League Championship Series MVP honors in 1981, when the Los Angeles Dodgers went on to win the World Series.
“He just walked right in and he was being Burt again,” Harmon said. “They couldn’t hit the knuckle-curve in the big leagues either.”
Hooton ended his professional career with 1,491 strikeouts and 3.65 lifetime ERA. He is currently the pitching coach for the Round Rock Express.
“I watch Texas from a distance. I like to see how they’re doing all the time and I want them to win a National Championship every year,” Hooton said. “It’s my alma mater. The whole experience is memorable. I think the thing I remember most is that it went by too fast.
“With my love of playing baseball, being in a University of Texas baseball uniform and playing with the guys I played with, we had a good time and we developed lasting memories and relationships.”