Sunday, October 18, 2009
#99) NICK WILLHITE
Nick Willhite was traded by the California Angels to the New York Mets for Jack Hamilton on June 10, 1967. The veteran arrived to New York at the trade deadline and was only with the Mets for 12 days before being released and ending his major league career.
"I felt pressure every time I stepped on that mound," Willhite said. "Boy, when you got to the big leagues, you had to win. I never felt comfortable. I had to do it right then and if I didn't do it right then I was going to be sent out. So I forced my way through the pain. I remember a couple times I was hurting so bad that I had to go back to the clubhouse and puke. But I didn't want to say anything because I was afraid I was going to be pegged as having a bad arm so I just gutted myself up pretty good. It's very tough, because your rhythm is off and your concentration is off. You're trying to throw harder than you can. You're trying to do stuff your body won't let you do."
Nick faced several challenges after his playing career ended. Following three failed marriages he found himself living on the streets of Salt Lake City as a drug and alcohol addict. He reached out to former Dodgers teammate, Stan Williams in 1989. It was Stan who put him in touch with the Baseball Assistance Team (B.A.T.), which helps former players in need. Two days later Willhite entered a drug treatment center. After he completed a rehab program, Herman Franks helped him find a proper place to live. Don Newcombe and Peter O'Malley assisted Nick in getting his 1963 World Series ring back. He earned the ring as a rookie with the Dodgers and had hocked it a few years earlier when he needed $1,100 to fix his car.
Nick ultimately became a Utah-based alcohol counselor and a coach at a youth baseball program with Brigham Young University. Willhite was diagnosed with cancer and passed away at his son's home on December 14, 2008.
Nick Willhite signed his card in the set from an autograph request sent to his home. I received the return on December 1, 2008, just days before his passing.