Joe Hinchman of Lexington KY passed away peacefully on August 8, 2021. Joe was a larger-than-life but modest man, a native of Eastern Kentucky who loved his wife, his children, his community, his country, and University of Kentucky basketball. Joe was a well-known figure in Eastern Kentucky, first for his professional baseball career (a southpaw pitcher), then as sales manager for Sandy Valley Explosives, and later, along with his wife Mary, as a community volunteer and organizer. Joe was quick to make friends and often ran into people he knew whether at the local pizza den or in his travels to remote corners of the country.
Joe was born to Virgil and Georgia Layne Hinchman on March 19, 1930 at Sugarloaf, near Prestonsburg, in Floyd County KY. He was married to wife Mary (née Wilhelm, of Lewisburg OH) for 62 years and had four children. Joe was preceded in death by his parents and brothers Clyde, Herbert, and David. Joe is survived by his wife and their children: Paula Willis (Marlon), Cheri Widzowski (Daniel), Stephen Hinchman (Vicki), and Kevin Hinchman (Elise). Other survivors are his grandchildren Elizabeth Willis Thompson and her son Ethan Thompson; Ele Willis Rosier (Jason) and daughter Emilee; Nick Widzowski (Rabia) and daughters Dara and Hana, Katie Widzowski, Sophia Widzowski, Stephanie Widzowski; Zachary Painter and Joseph Hinchman; and Emma Hinchman. Joe is also survived by his two sisters Bonita Porter (Tom) and Pat Derossett (Ricie), and many cousins, nieces, and nephews.
Joe’s early education was at a one-room schoolhouse in Tram KY, where he skipped a grade and got paid a quarter a week to light the pot-bellied, coal-burning stove for the teacher early in the morning before the other students arrived. At Betsy Layne High School, Joe sang tenor in the Glee Club, pitched on the school baseball team, and was Valedictorian his senior year.
After graduating from high school in 1947, Joe played with several local baseball teams, culminating with the Turner Elkhorn Mining Company’s semi-professional team at Drift KY. In 1949, Joe led the team to win the Elkhorn League Championship. In 1951, he began pitching in the minor leagues, first with the Cleveland Indians farm club. He pitched for the Enterprise Boll Weevils in the Alabama-Florida league winning 12 games and being selected for the All-Star Team.
In 1952, Joe joined the Albuquerque Dukes in the West Texas-New Mexico League and won 16 games and again pitched in the All-Star game. For Joe, 1953 was a great year. He was named League Player of the Year winning 25 games and striking out about 250 batters during the regular season including 16 in one game (at that time setting Albuquerque records for both games won and strike outs). In one game against the top-ranked opponent, Dukes manager Tom Jordan was ejected from the game and asked Joe to take over as manager. Joe, a very strong batter, especially for a pitcher, put himself in as pinch hitter in the 9th inning when bases were loaded. Joe hit a strong triple and drove in 3 runs, winning the game and putting the Dukes into first place in the league. Joe was a unanimous pick for the 1953 All-Star game, where he was the starting and winning pitcher.
Joe went to California the following year to pitch for the Los Angeles Angels in the Pacific Coast League. There he met film and television star and former Angels player Chuck Connors who interviewed Joe on his television program at Wrigley Field. Later in 1954, Joe played for Cedar Rapids in the Three I League, where he kept Roger Maris hitless in six times at bat (Maris later became well known for breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1961). Other well-known ball players that Joe pitched against included Frank Robinson, Luis Aparicio, and Norm Cash.
Joe moved on to the Macon Peaches in 1955, then moved up to the Major Leagues in 1956, spring training with the Chicago Cubs in Mesa AZ. However, Joe injured his pitching arm and his professional career ended before he could pitch in a regular season game. Although his professional career was only 6 years, Joe was a very successful Minor League pitcher, pitching 1073 innings with an ERA of 3.13 and striking out 720 batters.
Later, Joe was working in a factory in Dayton OH when he met Mary (who was from nearby Lewisburg OH) and after they married they moved to Henderson KY where Joe managed Time Finance Company for 10 years while Mary cared for their children. In 1970, Joe and family moved back to Eastern Kentucky to work as sales manager at Sandy Valley Explosives. Many of his customers remembered Joe’s days as a pitcher and some had even seen him pitch for Turner Elkhorn. His renown as a sports figure, warm and friendly personality, and story-telling abilities made Joe a well-known figure and that combined with his sales and business savvy made him very successful in the field of sales.
After retiring in 1982, Joe was actively involved in the Parent-Teacher Organization at the elementary school in Allen KY, and served as Master of Ceremony for a number of events. He and his wife were actively involved in a genealogical organization, the Hinchman Heritage Society, where he served as President. Joe, along with Mary, also organized and moderated over a large, multi-decade high school class reunion for his alma mater, Betsy Layne High School for several years. In 2015, Joe was honored by his high school and inducted into the Betsy Layne High School Hall of Fame.
Joe was a wonderful father, grandfather, and great-grandfather – the Patriarch of the extended Hinchman family – who served as a positive role model and advisor and delighted his extended family with stories and songs and anecdotes of his various adventures. Joe had the gift of being able to sing a song for almost any occasion or word prompt. In addition to his famous rendition of Eddie Arnold’s Cattle Call, Joe knew many jingles from the radio and television commercials of yesteryear (Pepsi’s Nickel song; Ajax cleanser). Joe was a kind and generous person whose greatest joy in life was spending time with his wife and family.
A memorial service is scheduled for a later date.