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Retro Baltimore: Joe Hauser, a minor league Orioles slugger, was a big league talent

June 21 1930 Baseball Players Orioles International League
June 21 1930 Baseball Players Orioles International League (Baltimore Sun/Baltimore Sun)

He didn’t look like a slugger. At 5 feet 11 and 175 pounds, Joe Hauser cut a modest figure as he strode to the plate. But his quick wrists and sweet swing made him a terror at bat in 1930, when he hit 63 home runs for the minor league Orioles.

Never heard of Hauser? His time in Baltimore was brief (two seasons). Yet 90 years ago, the quiet, blond first baseman made news by becoming the first player in professional baseball to hit more than 60 homers in a season. In 1927, Babe Ruth, the Baltimore-born star of the New York Yankees, had hit 60 to set a big league mark that would last for more than three decades. Three years later, Hauser bested that record with the Orioles of the International League, the top rung of the minors.

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A fluke, it was not. At 30, Hauser already had made good in the majors. In 1924, he hit 27 homers for the Philadelphia A’s, second only to Ruth (46) in the American League. But a knee injury the following year sent Hauser to the bench and, eventually, the minors. Sold to Baltimore, the left-handerthrived in Oriole Park with its short (290-foot) right field, and wowed the crowds with his bleacher-rattling shots.

Joe Hauser and Babe Ruth in the September 8 1930 issue of The Evening Sun.
Joe Hauser and Babe Ruth in the September 8 1930 issue of The Evening Sun. (Evening Sun/Baltimore Sun)

Hauser’s first homer, in the third game of the year, sailed over the clock on the right-field fence and won the contest. The next day, he connected again. By early June, he had 14 homers; by Independence Day, he had 26. The son of a Milwaukee blacksmith, he obliged his followers, routinely signing autographs for an hour after home games. Fans called him “Joltin’ Joe” — a nickname they’d later pin on Joe DiMaggio — and “Unser Joe” (‘Our Joe” in German), a nod to his Teutonic roots.

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Reporters dug into Hauser’s personal life and interviewed his wife, with whom he lived in an apartment on St. Paul Street. Her hobby was “cooking and baking for my home run king,” said Irene Hauser, whom The Sun described as “the girl behind the man behind the bat.”

Hauser’s power kept the Orioles in the pennant race — they won 97 games but finished in second place ― and brought fans to the ballpark. The thought of anyone, even a minor leaguer, breaking Ruth’s hallowed record sparked talk from coast to coast.

On Sept. 2, in Reading, Pennsylvania, Hauser hammered No. 59. Two days later, the Orioles hosted the Philadelphia Phillies in an exhibition game. As if to prove himself against big league pitching once again, Hauser hit a three-run homer, “a zooming drive that disappeared over the fence,” The Sun reported, as 12,000 onlookers roared.

Five days later, egged on by a home crowd of 10,000, Hauser hit No. 60 against Jersey City. The line drive landed in the top row of the bleachers, where it was scooped up by a fan, Rudolph Trabing, who gifted it to Hauser afterward. And on Sept. 12, in the second inning against Newark in the first regular-season night game played in Baltimore, he launched No. 61, a moon shot on a dark night that cleared the center-field fence more than 400 feet away. The Babe’s mark was broken.

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Joe Hauser presented with ball from fan who retrieved ball Joe Hauser 60th Home Run tied Babe Ruth record September 7 1930 ran September 8 1930 Morning Sun Orioles International League
Joe Hauser presented with ball from fan who retrieved ball Joe Hauser 60th Home Run tied Babe Ruth record September 7 1930 ran September 8 1930 Morning Sun Orioles International League (Baltimore Sun/Baltimore Sun)

Two days after that, the city held “Joe Hauser Day” at the ballpark on Greenmount Avenue and 29th Street, showering its cleanup hitter with gifts, including a car, a watch, suit and silk underwear. He finished the season with a flourish, connecting twice in a 5-1 victory over Newark.

For the season, Hauser put up monster numbers, including 175 RBIs and 173 runs scored while batting .313. Surely, he had earned a return to the majors? Not so. In 1931, he was back in Baltimore where, sidelined early with a groin injury, Hauser hit a league-leading 31 home runs and batted .259. Fearing the worst, the Orioles sold him to Minneapolis, of the American Association. There, at age 34, in a cozy little ballpark, he hit 69 homers to make headlines again.

He never got back to the big leagues. In retirement, Hauser owned a sporting goods store in his hometown of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, where he died in 1997 at age 98. To the end, he had fond memories of his stay with the Orioles.

“Many’s the thrill I had playing there,” he told The Evening Sun years later. “Tell the fans of Baltimore that I have never forgotten the car they gave me.”

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