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Feb 17

Chuck Hinton: Remembering a good guy

  Originally posted on January 30, 2013 at http://dickheller.wordpress.com/

  When the Alexandria Club of Grandstand Managers selected Chuck Hinton as the expansion Washington Senators’ MVP for 1962, the sports editor of the venerable Alexandria Gazette speculated — in print, yet — whether the African American outfielder would have to eat dinner in the George Mason Hotel kitchen before the ceremony.

  Although this was the period of massive resistance to school integration in Virginia, I can’t believe I wrote something so crass. I was 24 and thought I knew it all, but I should have been fired and probably would have been if Eddie Crane, the Gazette’s managing editor and former sports editor, hadn’t interceded with management on my behalf.

  Years later after Hinton had retired as a player and settled into a 28-year run as baseball coach at Howard University, we used to laugh ruefully about the Grandstand Managers incident. “Heck,” Chuck said. “I not only got to eat at the head table, they gave me dessert, too.”

  Memories of Hinton came flooding back recently when his daughter, Kimberly Hinton Stewart, sent word of Chuck’s death at 78 from Parkinson’s disease. There’s no question that slugger Frank Howard was the biggest attraction in the lamentable 11-year-history of the expansion Senators — now, of course, the Texas Rangers — but Hinton deserved at least a second-place tie with crafty pitcher Dick Bosman.

  Originally signed by the Baltimore Orioles, Hinton was selected by the newly minted Senators in the American League’s expansion draft after the 1960 season. Chuck batted a respectable .260 in 1961, then blossomed the following year with a .310 batting average, 17 homers and 75 RBI in 151 games.

  That might not have made fans forget Maris and Mantle, but on a team that finished 10th in the American League with a record of 60-101, Hinton was the closest thing Washington had to a star this side of John Kennedy (the one in the White House, not the Senators’ reserve infielder who got into 14 games that season).

  Unfortunately, Hinton couldn’t maintain that high batting level. After his average slipped to .269 and .274 the next two seasons, the Senators traded him to Cleveland. He enjoyed a nice resurgence in 1970, hitting .318 in 107 games at age 36, but the next year was his last in the majors.

  After retiring, Hinton remained highly visible. In addition to coaching at Howard for nearly three decades and winning more than 600 games, he worked as a Roving Leader for the D.C. Department of Recreation. He also founded the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association. 

  A few of Chuck’s friends, about 200, turned up for a retirement party in November 1999 that was held, appropriately, in RFK Stadium’s Rose Room, several levels above where he used his speed and bat on behalf of the Senators. The affair was called a Chuck Roast, but that was misleading because nobody could find anything bad to say about the guy, even in fun. At evening’s end, Chuck got up and preached about things like love, friendship and devotion. As always, his sincerity came through loud and clear.

  “You’ll never hear me talk about race,” he said that night. “A lot of times, that’s just an excuse. The things that happen just happen — that’s life. Given an opportunity at anything, you can do it. Words mean  nothing in life — it’s what you do.”

  Throughout his life, Chuck Hinton did so much in so many areas, nearly all of it well. We can be glad that this native North Carolinian hung around long enough to see major league baseball return to his adopted home town — and sad that he won’t be around to watch the Nats pursue pennants in years to come.

  Daughter Kimberly described her dad this way: “It was important to him to be more than a major league player. He strove to be a major person.”

  Chuck Hinton was that, in a variety of venues. He will be missed by a lot of people. R.I.P.