Oct 2, 2012

Former Mets Player & Minor League Manager: Chuck Hiller (1965-1967) (1970-1973)

Charles Joseph Hiller was born on October 1, 1934 in Johnsburg, Illinois. The five foot eleven. left hand hitter attended the University of St. Thomas a St. Paul Minnesota, eventually signing with the Cleveland Indians as an amateur free agent in 1957. The next year he was drafted away by the San Francisco Giants & hit .334 at AA Rio Grande in 1960.

In 1961 he made the Giants big league squad for Opening Day, getting a hit in his career first game. He was batting .230 by early July & was sent down to AAA where he hit .324 getting called up again in September. Upon his return he had three hits in his first game back, coming against the Philadelphia Phillies.

In 1962 he played every game for the Giants at second base, batting .276 with 139 singles (6th in the NL) 13 sac hits (2nd in the NL) 7 sac flies (5th in the NL) 3 HRs 22 doubles 48 RBIs & a .334 on base %. He earned the nick name “Iron Hands” after making 29 errors during that season.

Post Season: In the 1962 World Series he went 7-26 (.269) but made history becoming the first National League Player to hit a grand slam HR in a World Series. The historic HR came in Game #4 off pitcher Marshall Bridges, evening the Series at two games each.

The next year his average fell to just .228, followed by a .180 average in 1963. In 1964 Hal Lanier took over the Giants second base job and Hillers days were numbered in San Francisco. After four and one half seasons there his contract was sold to the New York Mets in May of 1965.

Hiller debuted on May 18th in Milwaukee entering the game as a pinch hitter in the 7th inning. In just his second Mets game he drove in two runs without even getting a hit, as both runs scored on ground outs with runners scoring from third base. Hiller started out slow but then hit well, raising his average up to .286 by early July. He began to see more time as the team’s main second baseman when Ron Hunt went down with injury.

Hiller would play in 100 games for the ’65 Mets batting .238 with 5 HRs 11 doubles & 21 RBIs posting a measly .275 on base %. Old Iron Hands made 16 errors in 80 games at second base.

In 1966 Hiller was seeing more time as a pinch hitter & reserve infielder behind Hunt. On June 8th he hit a 9th inning, pinch hit HR off the Braves Clay Carroll but the Mets still fell short 7-6. On July 3rd the Mets staged a dramatic comeback against the Pittsburgh Pirates in a six run 5th inning. Hiller completed the rally with a double scoring Jerry Grote in what turned out to be the game winning run.

From July 1st through the 18th he had eight multiple hit games, gathering 21 hits, hitting safely in 13 of 17 games. On July 31st he hit one of his two HRs for the year, helping the Mets to a 2-1 win over the Chicago Cubs in a game at Shea Stadium. Hiller batted over .300 throughout the season up until September. Overall on the season he Improved to a .280 batting average (second on the club to Ron Hunt) with a .332 on base %, a pair of HRs, eight doubles & 14 RBIs. At second base (45 games) he improved to a .981 fielding % making four errors. He also appeared in 15 games at third base behind Ken Boyer & 18 games in the outfield.

After just 25 games in 1967 he was batting .093 and was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for the harmonica playing Phil Linz. Linz had an incident a few years earlier with the AL New York manager Yogi Berra while playing harmonica on a team bus. Hiller ended up in Pittsburgh the next season after being drafted away as a Rule V draftee. He batted .385 (5-13) but finished his season & his playing career in the minor leagues by the end of the season. In a eight year career Hiller batted .243 with 516 hits 76 doubles 20 HRs 152 RBIs & a .299 on base %. He played the majority of his games at second base (546 games there) posting a .967 on base % making 84 errors in 2325 chances.

Retirement: After his playing days he came back to the Mets organization developing a close relationship with Director of Player Development Whitey Herzog. Hiller managed the AAA Tidewater Tides in 1970 finishing fourth & losing in the first round of the playoffs. In 1971 & 1972 he managed the Marion Mets in the Appalachian League returning for another stint in 1974.

In 1973 he served as a coach to Whitey Herzog with the Texas Rangers, he then moved on to the Kansas City Royals with Herzog from 1976-1979 winning three AL Western Titles. He returned back to the Mets organization to manage the Kingsport Mets in their first year in the Appalachian League in 1980 & then again in 1986. Hiller also coached for the San Francisco Giants & worked as a Cardinals minor league instructor.

Passing: In October of 2004 Hiller passed away in St. Petersburg Florida at age 70.

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