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Fred Hutchinson

Fred Hutchinson

Position(s):
P, 1B
Born:
August 12, 1919
Bats:
Left
Throws:
Right
Height:
6' 2"
Weight:
190 lbs
Major League Debut:
5-02-1939 with DET

He also was a manager for three major league teams. Stricken with fatal lung cancer at the height of his managerial career as leader of the pennant-contending Cincinnati Reds, he was commemorated one year after his death when his brother, Dr. William Hutchinson, created the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center as a division of the Pacific Northwest Research Foundation, in the Hutchinsons’ native city of Seattle, Washington. The FHCRC, which became independent in 1972, is now one of the best-known facilities of its kind in the world.
Pitching career

Biography:
Fred Hutchinson, known throughout baseball as “Hutch,” attended the University of Washington, where he was a 1939 initiate of Alpha Sigma Phi Fraternity. A right-handed pitcher, he entered the organized baseball ranks in 1938 with the unaffiliated Seattle Rainiers of the AA Pacific Coast League and caused an immediate sensation at age 19, winning a league-best 25 games and that season’s Minor League Player of the Year award as bestowed by The Sporting News.

After his contract was purchased by the Detroit Tigers of the American League, Hutchinson struggled in his early major league career with a 6-13 record and an earned-run average of 5.43 during the 1939-41 seasons. His ineffectiveness caused his return to the minor leagues in each season. In 1941, at Buffalo of the AA International League, he enjoyed another stellar campaign, leading the league in victories (26) and innings pitched (284). A successful major league career seemed to await Hutchinson, then 22, when the U.S. entered World War II. He saw active duty in the U.S. Navy, rose to the rank of lieutenant commander, and lost four full seasons (1942-45) to military service.

In 1946, Hutchinson – approaching 27 – returned to baseball with a vengeance, winning a place in the defending World Series champion Tigers’ starting rotation and beginning a string of six straight campaigns of ten or more wins, including seasons of 18 (1947) and 17 victories (1950). He was selected to the 1951 American League All-Star team, and pitched three innings of the junior loop’s 8-3 loss at Hutchinson’s home park, Briggs Stadium.

Overall, Hutchinson compiled a 95-71 career record over 11 seasons, all with Detroit – a stellar mark considering his early-career mishaps. He was known as a good teammate and a ferocious competitor, who once reportedly shattered every light bulb from the dugout to the clubhouse after being lifted from a ballgame. He also was one of the best-hitting pitchers of his time; a left-handed batter, he frequently pinch-hit and batted over .300 four times during his major league career. His career batting average was .263, with four home runs and 83 runs batted in — excellent totals for a pitcher.

On a dubious note, he is also recalled as the pitcher who gave up the longest homer in Ted Williams' career, a 502-foot (153 m) blast in 1946 that broke the straw hat of a startled fan sitting in Fenway Park’s right-center-field bleachers. The seat where the home run landed has been painted red since to mark the long ball. Hutchinson led the AL in home runs allowed with 32 during the 1948 season.

A Major League manager at 32

A slow decline in Hutchinson’s pitching career coincided with an alarming drop in the fortunes of his usually contending Tigers. On July 5, 1952, with Detroit in the surprising position of last place in the eight-team American League, the club fired manager Red Rolfe and handed the job to Hutchinson, still an active player and five weeks shy of his 33rd birthday. Hutchinson was chosen based on his leadership skills; he had been the AL’s Player Representative since 1947. Hutchinson managed the Tigers for the next 2½ years, serving into 1953 as a playing manager. He guided them from their eighth-place finish in 1952 to sixth and fifth place during the next two seasons. His reign included the 1953 debut of future Baseball Hall of Fame outfielder Al Kaline. However, Detroit’s ownership and front office were in flux and, at the end of 1954, Hutchinson was forced out as manager and replaced by the veteran Bucky Harris. It marked the end of a 16-year association with the Tigers.

Out of the major leagues for the first time since 1941, Hutchinson went home to Seattle and the Rainiers of the PCL, becoming their manager in 1955. Even though the club did not enjoy a major league affiliation, Hutchinson led Seattle to a 95-77 record and a first place finish. His success led to his second major league managerial job when he replaced Harry Walker as skipper of the St. Louis Cardinals for the 1956 season. The Cardinals, one of baseball's storied franchises, had fallen into the second division. With general manager “Frantic” Frank Lane constantly revamping the roster through trades and Hutchinson’s steady hand at the helm, the Cardinals improved by eight games in 1956, and catapulted to second place in 1957, behind only the eventual world champion Milwaukee Braves. Hutchinson was named National League Manager of the Year, and his popularity in the Mound City resulted in a new nickname, "The Big Bear", bestowed by Cardinal broadcaster Joe Garagiola. Hutchinson's typical unsmiling expression also led Garagiola to joke that Hutchinson was "really happy inside, only his face didn't know it." However, Lane's departure from the St. Louis front office and the Cardinals’ disappointing 1958 season resulted in Hutchinson’s dismissal that September, with the team six games below .500 and in fifth place.

Success in Cincinnati

Once again, Hutchinson returned to Seattle as manager of the Rainiers. The 1959 team did not have the on-field success of 1955's edition but the Rainiers were by then the top farm club of the Cincinnati Reds, who had stumbled badly in the National League standings coming out of the gate. In July 1959, with the Reds 10 games under .500, Hutchinson was called to Cincinnati to take over the club, replacing Mayo Smith. Under Hutchinson, Cincinnati went 39-35 and improved two notches in the standings, but the following season saw the Reds struggle again to a 67-87 record and sixth place finish. Like Detroit and St. Louis before, the Reds also were in front office turmoil, as the general manager who originally hired Hutchinson, Gabe Paul, departed for the expansion Houston Colt .45s and was replaced by Bill DeWitt. The sudden death of longtime owner Powel Crosley less than three weeks before the start of the 1961 regular season meant the team would soon be sold.

As a result, 1961 was a crucial season for Hutchinson. The Reds were projected as a second division team, lagging well behind the defending world champion Pittsburgh Pirates, the 1959 champion Los Angeles Dodgers, and strong San Francisco Giants, Cardinals and Braves outfits. But the Reds stunned the league. Led by NL MVP Frank Robinson, they were buoyed by three other factors: the maturation of young players such as outfielder Vada Pinson and pitchers Jim O'Toole, Ken Hunt and Jim Maloney; the acquisition of key contributors such as pitcher Joey Jay (who became a 20-game winner) and third baseman Gene Freese; and surprise slugging and clutch hitting performances by first baseman Gordy Coleman, Jerry Lynch (one the greatest pinchhitters in baseball history), and veteran Wally Post. The Reds surged into contention with a nine-game winning streak in May, and took first place for good August 16 when they swept the Dodgers in a doubleheader in Los Angeles.

The season was marked by numerous dramatic late-inning comeback victories, overcoming large margins, sometimes in a single inning. The Reds seemed never to be out of any game, until the last out. The 1961 Reds won 93 games and their first NL pennant since 1940. It would be Hutchinson’s second trip to the World Series; ironically, he was a Detroit pitcher in 1940 when his Tigers lost the Fall Classic to Cincinnati in seven games. However, the 1961 Reds drew one of the best teams of its era as its World Series foe: the New York Yankees of Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, et al., who had won 109 games. The Reds could muster only one victory, in Game 2, with utility infielder Elio Chacon racing home on a passed ball with the go-ahead run, barely before the crunching body tag of Elston Howard. Cincinnati lost the 1961 Series in five games.

Final years and legacy


Winning the 1961 pennant secured Hutchinson’s place in Cincinnati. In 1962, his Reds won 98 games but finished third, 3½ games behind the Giants. While the team fell to fifth in 1963, with an 86-76 mark, it continued to blend in young talent, such as shortstop Leo Cardenas and second baseman Pete Rose, who was named the National League's Rookie of the Year. With a solid corps of veterans and a strong farm system, the Reds were considered a contending club in 1964, provided that its pitching staff made a comeback. Tragically, an off-season medical examination revealed malignant tumors in Hutchinson's lungs, chest and neck. Given the cancer treatments available at the time, the prognosis was grim. The Reds made their manager’s illness public on January 3, 1964. As The Sporting News noted, the team played the 1964 season with the terrible knowledge that Hutchinson “probably was at death’s door.”

His health failing, Hutchinson nevertheless managed the Reds through July 27, when he was hospitalized. He returned to the dugout August 4, but could only endure nine more days before he turned the team over to his first-base coach Dick Sisler, one day after Hutch's 45th birthday. With their manager now critically ill, the inspired Reds caught fire and won 29 out of their last 47 games as the first-place Philadelphia Phillies collapsed, but the team finished in a tie with the Phillies for second, one game behind the Cardinals, who went on to win that year's World Series. Hutchinson formally resigned as manager October 19; he died three weeks later in Bradenton, Florida. SPORT magazine posthumously named him "Man of the Year" for 1964 in tribute to his courage in battling his final illness and the Reds permanently retired his uniform number (1). The Hutch Award is given annually by Major League Baseball in his memory as well.

Fred Hutchinson was inducted into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame in 1965. His career record as a major league manager, in all or parts of 12 seasons, was 830-827 (.501) with nine tie games. He should be remembered not only for his winning baseball teams, and as the man who launched Cincinnati into an historic winning era (which ended years after his death with the Big Red Machine in the 70's) but for his sometimes hard-driving management of developing talent, such as the young Frank Robinsion — who according to the sports press of the time felt that Hutchinson sometimes rode him excessively hard. On the other hand, Hutchinson is described favorably by pitcher/author Jim Brosnan in his two season memoirs, The Long Season (an account of Brosnan's 1959 campaign) and Pennant Race (about 1961). Brosnan describes the team's wariness of the manager's hot temper and its respect for his competitive nature and leadership skills, and notes Hutchinson's sense of humor as well.

Wrote Brosnan in 1959: "Most ballplayers respect Hutch. In fact, many of them admire him, which is even better than liking him. He seems to have a tremendous inner power that a player can sense. When Hutch gets a grip on things it doesn't seem probable that he's going to lose it. He seldom blows his top at a player, seldom panics in a game, usually lets the players work out of their own troubles if possible."

On December 24, 1999, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer named Hutchinson Seattle's athlete of the 20th Century.

Meanwhile, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center continues to make news as a cancer treatment center — in medical and baseball circles. When Boston Red Sox rookie left-handed pitcher Jon Lester, a Washington native, was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma during the 2006 season, he chose to receive his chemotherapy regimen at the Seattle facility. Coming full circle, on November 11, 2008, Lester — a 16-game winner and postseason pitching star — was chosen as the winner of the 2008 Hutch Award.

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