After eight forgettable seasons with three different teams, including the Los Angeles Dodgers, James Lucius Hickman was magically transformed from a perennial struggler to a powerful slugger.
In 1970 at the age of 33, “Gentleman Jim” somehow batted .315, with 32 home runs, 115 runs batted in, and 102 runs scored for the Chicago Cubs.
Not bad for a player whose previous career bests were a .257 average, 21 homers, 57 RBI and 54 runs scored. He also drove in a hard-charging Pete Rose with a 12th inning single in that season’s All-Star Game.
When asked to explain his surprising turnabout, Hickman replied, “I really don’t know. If I knew, I’d tell you.”
Originally signed by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1956, Hickman languished in the minor leagues for six seasons. He got his first break when the New York Mets selected him with the last pick in the October 1961 expansion draft.
Hickman played for the Mets for six seasons, from 1962 to 1966. In those days, the Mets were affectionately known as the “lovable losers” and Hickman was able to provide the club with some of their first exciting moments. He was the first Met to hit for the cycle and the first to smash three home runs in a single game.
On November 29, 1966, New York dealt Hickman along with Ron Hunt to Los Angeles for Tommy Davis and Derrell Griffith. Used sparingly by the Dodgers in 1967, Hickman batted a meager .163 with no home runs and 10 RBI in 65 games. The following season, he was dealt to Chicago, where he would resurrect his big league career.
Predictably, after his breakout season, Hickman came back down to earth, posting a couple of solid but unspectacular seasons before finishing his career with the the Cardinals in 1974.