Joe Hesketh

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Professional Baseball Player

In the crowded, demanding sport of baseball, Joe Hesketh’s road has led from the sandlots of Buffalo to the manicured lawns of the major leagues. In 2002, that road reached a fitting destination — the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.

As a senior at Hamburg’s Frontier Central, the talented southpaw was rated among the top high school pitchers in the area, but Frontier was beneath the radar of college scouts, and Joe received little exposure to or attention from recruiters from big-name baseball schools. This “problem” was a blessing in disguise for Hesketh, for it led him to the University of Buffalo and legendary coach Bill Monkarsh, who, between 1964 and 1980, produced nearly 50 players who signed pro contracts. Hesketh and others recall that the Monkarsh approach featured a strong work ethic and slavish devotion to the fundamentals, an approach that turned young flamethrowers into savvy pitchers. In Hesketh’s case, the results were spectacular.

Hesketh developed into the ace of the Bulls’ staff, a starter and reliever who gave his team the best his left arm had to offer in every situation. Joe’s college career featured a UB-record 10 complete games among 25 started, an overall ERA of 1.77 (0.91 his junior year), and highlights such as an upset win in Miami in the NCAA Division I playoffs against a ranked Hurricane squad, and a 4-0 shutout of baseball power St. John’s and its ace (and future major league star) Frank Viola.

These exploits helped earn Joe 1980 ECAC New York-New Jersey District Player of the Year honors. While college scouts had earlier failed to spot this diamond-in-the-rough, at this level of competition, the pro scouts took notice, and Joe was drafted by the Montreal Expos in 1980.

Hesketh’s road to the “show” was a difficult one, but after three years of toiling in the minors, his 1984 season at Indianapolis (12-3, 3.05 ERA, American Association Pitcher of the Year) opened the door. Joe made the big club in 1985, and made an immediate impact with Montreal. For most of the summer, it appeared he would battle Cincinnati’s Tom Browning for National League Rookie-of-the-Year honors. Joe was 10-5 with a sparkling 2.49 ERA in late August when a home-plate collision with Dodger catcher Mike Scioscia broke his leg and ended his season.

Hesketh never again reached that level with the Expos, and after several discouraging, injury-plagued seasons, appeared headed for early retirement when the Boston Red Sox called. Joe rewarded the Sox’ faith with a 12-4 record and 3.29 ERA in 1991, and was feted with the annual Tenth Player Award by Sox fans, only the second time in eighteen seasons that a pitcher had been chosen.

In 2002, Joe Hesketh received the accolades from hometown fans with a well-deserved induction into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.