Curtis Eriksmoen, Published September 05 2010
Did You Know That ...: Hunt buried near his pal MarisIn 1961, two players from North Dakota combined to hit 86 home runs in the major leagues.
Most sports fans are aware of the 61 homers amassed by Roger Maris, but Ken Hunt, playing in his first full season in the major leagues, hit 25 home runs for the expansion Los Angeles Angels. Hunt and Maris played together in 1960 with the New York Yankees, but the team did not protect Hunt as the American League expanded by two teams in 1961.
After the 1960 season, Hunt returned home and got a job at a radio station in East Grand Forks, Minn. He knew that the American League was expanding to Los Angeles and Washington and that one of these expansion teams would likely draft him.
While reading the news at the station on Dec. 14, he saw on the wire service that he was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels.
Hunt said, “I was so happy I just stopped reading the news.”
He knew he would now have the opportunity to be a regular player on a major league team.
Hunt had a good season in 1961 with the Angels, hitting 25 home runs and batting .255. He also led the team in runs batted in. He looked forward to 1962, but early in the season, he developed an aneurysm near his right shoulder and had to undergo surgery. During 1962, Hunt appeared in only 13 games.
One of the benefits of playing in Los Angeles was that Hunt discovered a romantic interest. He married Patty Lilly, a single mom with a young son. The 8-year old was no average child – he was an actor who had already appeared in movies and on television. His name as an actor was Butch Patrick.
Hunt’s shoulder bothered him throughout the 1963 season, and he batted only .183 in 59 games. The Angels sold him to the Washington Senators on Sept. 12. The 1964 season was even worse. Hunt batting only .135.
He and Patty lived in Washington, but Butch received a major role playing Eddie Munster on “The Munsters.” That meant they had to fly the 11-year old boy across the country every week to Los Angeles.
Hunt decided not to play baseball in 1965, and he returned to Los Angeles. Early in the year, he appeared in an episode of “The Munsters” as a baseball catcher who feared Eddie’s father, Herman Munster.
In this episode, “Herman the Rookie,” Herman hits a baseball seven blocks that lands on the head of Leo Durocher. Durocher was coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers and, in this show, signed Herman to play for the Dodgers. At the conclusion of the show, Butch asked Durocher “to sign his stepdad, Kenny Hunt.”
He could not do it at the time because, in 1965, he was not employed by any team. In 1966, Durocher became manager of the Chicago Cubs. Keeping his word, the Cubs obtained Hunt in a trade on April 2. Hunt was assigned to Tacoma in the Pacific Coast League. After batting only .235, he decided to retire.
As a member of the actor’s guild, Hunt appeared as an extra in a couple of movies and also found steady work in the aerospace industry. He and Patty divorced, but he kept in close contact with Butch. Also working at the aerospace company was Sherry Conklin, who became Hunt’s wife. Together, they opened a “neighborhood bar” near the company.
In 1984, the city of Fargo decided to host a golf tournament to raise money for Shanley High School and to honor its local hero, Roger Maris. Along with Maris, the other celebrities who participated in this worthwhile venture were Hunt, Mickey Mantle, Bill Skowron, Whitey Ford and Bob Allison.
Each year, the tournament grew in the number of celebrities who participated, and when it was learned that Maris had cancer, money was raised for the MeritCare Roger Maris Cancer Center in Fargo.
Hunt always looked forward to being a part of the tournament, even after Maris died in December 1985. Besides playing in the golf event, Hunt would also always visit the Maris grave at the Holy Cross Cemetery in Fargo.
When he and his wife, Sherry, visited the grave in 1992, he said he needed to decide where he should be buried. When they paid their respects to Maris in 1996, Hunt told his wife, “I want to be buried here.”
In 1997, the Hunts were looking forward to returning to Fargo for the Maris tournament.
On June 8, Ken decided to watch his team, the Anaheim Angels, on television. One of the team’s stars was Darin Erstad, a rookie outfielder from Jamestown, N.D. When Hunt’s wife, Sherry, returned home, she said she immediately knew Hunt, who was sitting in his easy chair in front of the television, was dead.
When the Maris tournament began on June 28, Hunt was laid to rest next to Maris, his friend and former rival.
In 1961, Ken Hunt established the season home run record for a player born in North Dakota – Roger Maris was born in Hibbing, Minn. This record lasted for nearly 40 years and was tied by Erstad in 2000.
Travis Hafner, a Sykeston, N.D., native who signed a professional contract six days before the death of Hunt, broke the record when he hit 28 home runs in 2004. It has been reported that, “Mickey Mantle said that Ken Hunt was the best athlete he had ever played with.”
Correction: Last week I incorrectly reported that prior to 1951, St. James of Grand Forks had never defeated Shanley.
“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by
Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your suggestions for columns, comments
or corrections to the Eriksmoens at firstname.lastname@example.org.