Former big league pitcher and coach Kevin Hickey has passed away. His cause of death is unknown but he was a diabetic and had been found unresponsive in his hotel room in Dallas prior to Opening Day last month. He was 56.
Hickey did not have a distinguished big league career except to say that it is a minor miracle that he pitched in the big leagues at all. Born on the South Side of Chicago, Hickey worked in a steel mill and in his spare time played softball and semi-pro baseball. In 1977, he was one of 250 players to attend an open tryout at Comiskey Park and was the only player offered a contract by the White Sox. He made his big league debut with the Chisox in 1981.
He pitched with the White Sox through the 1983 season. That year the White Sox reached the post-season for the first time in 24 years winning the AL West by 20 games over the Kansas City Royals. It marked the first of 14 post-season appearances for manager Tony La Russa. I remember the ’83 White Sox well. Ron Kittle won AL Rookie of the Year on the strength of his 35 homeruns. Greg Luzinski, Carlton Fisk and Harold Baines also supplied power. There were the Laws – Rudy and Vance (no relation). And how many people besides diehard Chisox fans remember that Jerry Dybzinski was the starting shortstop?
Then there was the pitching staff led by LaMarr Hoyt, whose 24 wins would earn him the AL Cy Young Award. Richard Dotson quietly won 22 games. The starting rotation was rounded out by Floyd Bannister, Britt Burns and 40-year old Jerry Koosman of Amazin’ Mets fame. The Chisox didn’t really have a closer that season. Dennis Lamp led the team with 15 saves but Salome Barojas had 12 while Juan Agosto and Dick Tidrow had seven apiece. For his part, Hickey recorded five saves in ’83.
I remember Hickey because he had long hair and a moustache. He looked like a lefthanded version of LaMarr Hoyt. Most baseball fans might not remember Hickey but George Brett sure does. The three time AL batting champion and Hall of Famer was 0-for-15 lifetime against Hickey.
But then Hickey disappeared. He was released by the White Sox prior to the 1984 season but re-signed with them days later. He would be traded that summer to the New York Yankees along with pitcher Doug Drabek (who would later win the NL Cy Young Award with the Pittsburgh Pirates) as players to be named later for Roy Smalley. Hickey would bounce around in the minors with the Philadelphia Phillies, back with the White Sox and with the San Francisco Giants before signing with the Baltimore Orioles prior to the 1988 season.
I was shocked to see Hickey when he returned to the big leagues with the O’s in 1989 after an absence of more than five years. His hair was much shorter but he still found a way to get lefthanded hitters out. That year the Orioles nearly went from worst to first in the AL East. Unfortunately, the Toronto Blue Jays had other ideas. Nevertheless, Hickey was back in the bigs and would remain with the O’s until they released him during the 1991 season.
In 1994, Hickey got some acting work and appeared in Major League II alongside Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Corbin Bernsen and ex-big leaguers Bob Uecker and Steve Yeager. After being out of baseball for more than a decade, the White Sox hired Hickey as a part of their coaching staff as a pre-game instructor/batting practice pitcher in 2004 and was on hand in 2005 when the Chisox won their first World Series in 88 years.