Thursday, May 26, 2011
#35 Carl Hubbell
Born in 1903 in Carthage, Missouri, Carl Hubbell came to the major leagues later than most star players, but when he arrived, he made an impact on the game the few would ever make.
Hubbell was a star pitcher in high school, as the left-hander had a good fastball and curveball. After graduation, he pitched in the Oklahoma State League for a few years, and after 1925 his contract was purchased by the Detroit Tigers. By this time, he was developing a pitch that broke the opposite way as a conventional curveball. The pitch, now known as the "screwball" but in earlier years made famous by Christy Mathewson as the "fadeaway," was thrown by twisting the wrist in the opposite direction. Ty Cobb, the player/manager for the Tigers at the time, forbid the youngster from throwing the pitch, claiming he would hurt his arm. Without his best pitch, Hubbell faltered in spring training and was shipped out by the Tigers to the minor leagues.
While pitching in Beaumont, Texas, Hubbell was permitted to throw the screwball, and he quickly became a dominant pitcher in the league, and was purchased by the New York Giants and John McGraw. Hubbell joined the Giants in mid-1928 at age 25, and quickly made an impact, winning 10 games and posting a 2.83 ERA. In the next four seasons, he won no less than 14 games in a season, and quickly became the ace of the Giants. In 1933, he won 23 games and posted a 1.66 ERA, winning the NL MVP award and leading the Giants to a World Championship. This was the first of 5 consecutive seasons of 20 wins, including 1936 when he lead the Giants to another pennant with a 26-6 record and a 2.31 ERA, winning his second MVP award. The Giants returned to the World Series in 1937 as Hubbell went 22-8. In 1938, Hubbell was slowed by arm trouble, having bone chips removed from his elbow. Now 35, his career was in decline, but still showed occasional signs of brilliance, including a few one-hitters. Hubbell's career, 16 years in all, came to an end in 1943 at the age of 40. He won 253 games with a .622 winning percentage, and a career 2.98 ERA.
After his retirement, Hubbell was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1947. He became the director of the Giants farm system until a stroke in 1977. He retired to Arizona, where he lived the remainder of his life. He died in November of 1988 as the result of injuries suffered in an automobile accident. Carl Hubbell, the "Meal Ticket," was 85.
Of course, it would be tough to discuss Hubbell without mentioning the 1934 All-Star Game. King Carl turned in one of the most memorable performance in baseball history, striking out five of baseball's legendary players in succession: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin. This single event is what makes Carl Hubbell's name familiar to casual fans of the game today.
In 1985, my parents dispatched me across the country from Detroit to Phoenix to visit with my best friend, whose family moved out there a few years earlier. At 14, it was fun to travel by myself. I felt very adult. While in Phoenix, me and my friend Paul tried to contact Carl Hubbell to see if we could stop by and visit (helived in nearby Mesa). I spoke to him on the phone, but he said he didn't feel up to accepting visitors. Oh well, worth a shot.
The autograph: Hubbell autographed everything. As I overheard some autograph hound claim, in jest but probably in truth as well, Hubbell "would sign toilet paper if you sent it to him."
Below, Hubbell throws out the first pitch at the 1984 All-Star Game. Below that, Hubbell stops by the locker room to talk with Juan Marichal.