San Antonio baseball icon Joel Horlen passes away at age 84

For a young boy who practiced pitching in the 1940s by flinging baseballs into a tire in his San Antonio backyard, Joel Horlen enjoyed quite a career in the game.

To date, he remains the only player to have won titles at a Pony League World Series (1952), a College World Series (for Oklahoma State University, in 1959) and a Major League World Series (for the Oakland A’s, in 1972), according to his obituary.

Horlen has died at the age of 84, according to a story published Monday on the athletics website at Oklahoma State. He had been battling dementia for the past five years.

Slightly built at 6 feet and 170 pounds, Horlen played for 12 seasons in the major leagues, mostly with the Chicago White Sox. He pitched in 361 games and compiled a 116-117 record, with a 3.11 earned run average.

Remarkably, a year after winning a championship with the A’s in the World Series, he agreed to help out a struggling Double-A baseball franchise in his hometown.

He pitched in the summer of 1973 for the San Antonio Brewers and led the team to the Texas League championship series, according to author David King’s book, “San Antonio at Bat.”

It was the last professional season on record for Horlen, a former American Legion baseball teammate of San Antonio’s Gary Bell, another former major leaguer.

Gregory H. Wolf, who authored the ball player’s biography for the Society of American Baseball Research, said Horlen preferred to be called “Joe,” and not Joel.

“All my friends call me Joe and that’s what I go by,” he told Wolf. “When I got into baseball, it became Joel somehow. I guess because that’s how I sign my contract.”

Wolf pointed out in his article that Horlen led all American League pitchers with a 2.32 ERA over a five-year period (1964-68) as the right-handed ace of the White Sox.

“After pitching for the notoriously weak-hitting South Siders for his first 11 years, Horlen concluded his career as a reliever and spot starter for the world champion Oakland Athletics in 1972,” Wolf wrote. “With a career record of 116-117, Horlen could lay claim as one the best pitchers with a losing record in major-league history.”

Both Horlen and Bell were inducted into the San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.