06/12/2002 5:21 PM ET
Where have you gone, Larry Hisle?
Larry Hisle's career stats
MILWAUKEE -- Baseball purists might remember Larry Hisle with ire because he was the first designated hitter to pick up a bat in 1973.
But despite that dubious distinction, Hisle is a hero. Especially to a group of kids in Milwaukee's inner-city trying to beat the odds.
After a 14-year playing career and a second career as a coach in the Blue Jays and Brewers systems including four seasons as the hitting coach in Toronto, Hisle left baseball to become a mentor to youngsters in the Milwaukee Public School system.
"Clearly this is the most challenging part of my life," said Hisle, who played for the Brewers from 1978-1982 and now lives in nearby Mequon, Wis. "A lot of them today are just so different than what I imagined kids to be."
Hisle said about half of his young pupils are considered "at-risk." He meets frequently with parents and principals, and requires parents to sign a waiver giving Hisle access to students' attendance records and report cards.
"If you took 70 percent of these kids in that environment and put them in a good one they would be fine. They would have the life that they deserve," Hisle said. "These kids deserve it -- it's not about where you are from or what color you are. If you want something it's about working hard enough to get it."
To prove that point, Hisle brings his kids by the ballpark to meet with Brewers players like Jeffrey Hammonds, who overcame a tough childhood in New Jersey to attend Stanford University and make it all the way to the Major Leagues.
Of his 14 kids, Hisle said only one had seen Miller Park before he brought them down to the field for batting practice.
"I hope it's a motivation and inspiration to change how they perceive life, and how they go about the things within their lives," Hisle said.
"It's important that the kids see there are people out there who came from the same kind of place they did, who made it."
And Hisle is one of those people.
"I had as tough a childhood as anyone in America," he said. Both parents died early in Hisle's life, leaving him an orphan at age 11. "It was as if I was left all by myself," he said. "It was very difficult at times but I was fortunate that there were people in my life to support me. I'm indebted to them forever."
Hisle was recruited to go to Ohio State University and signed his first professional baseball contract with Philadelphia while he was there. He was a Topps Rookie All-Star with the Phillies in 1969, but didn't flourish in the big leagues until 1973 with the Minnesota Twins.
It was that spring, the first with the designated hitter rule in place in the American League, when he made history.
Hisle was horsing around with his son, Larry Jr., when he tripped over a chair and seriously injured his big toe. The pain was so bad that Hisle couldn't take his normal spot in the outfield, so he started a March 6 exhibition against the Pirates at designated hitter.
And he made the new rule look good, collecting two homers and seven RBIs. For the record, the Yankees' Ron Blomberg was the first official designated hitter on Opening Day 1973 -- April 6.
After six successful seasons with the Twins including a Gold Glove-caliber year in 1976 and an All-Star appearance in 1977, Hisle signed a $3.2 million package with Milwaukee in 1978.
He delivered 34 homers and 115 RBIs and was an All-Star for the second straight year, and ranked third in AL MVP voting.
In April 1979, Hisle tore his rotator cuff making a throw and played just 79 games in four more seasons. He went into coaching after his career ended, a stint that concluded with a few seasons as the Brewers' minor league hitting coach in the late 1990s.
When his son, Larry Hisle, Jr., started Directors of Continuing Services (DCS) in Milwaukee, Hisle Sr. found it a perfect fit. The firm provides psychological, educational and mentoring services to kids and families.
"I always tell the kids, 'This is a lifelong relationship," Hisle said. "In five years, ten years, I'm going to be calling, I'm going to be stopping by. That's where I believe the challenge will be, because the goal is not for a kid to perform better than ever for six months, a year, but for year after year after year. I want the kids to do the things that are going to make his family proud. I'm only doing something for these kids that should be done for every kid in the country."
Adam McCalvy covers the Brewers for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com