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Hutchinson, Fred (1919-1964): Baseball Legend

HistoryLink.org Essay 8357 : Printer-Friendly Format

Frederick Charles "Hutch" Hutchinson is Seattle's most venerated sports figure, the first to attain national eminence, and a true hometown hero, celebrated for his exploits on the field and his courage and class off. He came from a baseball-devoted family, in comfortable circumstances, a standout from his first days on the Rainier Beach sandlots. He starred as a catcher, pitcher, and fielder at Franklin High School, in semi-pro ball and with the Seattle Rainiers minor league team. He pitched for the Detroit Tigers in a 10-year career that was interrupted by service in the U.S. Navy in World War II. He went on to managerships that included the Tigers, St. Louis Cardinals, and Cincinnati Reds. His 1961 Reds won the National League pennant, but lost the World Series, 4-1, to a powerhouse New York Yankees team. The Reds were contending again in 1964, when Hutchinson was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died on November 12, 1964, at age 45. He won many honors during his career. In 2000 the Seattle Post-Intelligencer named him Seattle's Athlete for the Century. The Hutch Award, created in 1965, is one of Major League Baseball's top three humanitarian awards. The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, a world-renowned research facility, is the legacy of his older brother and mentor, Dr. William B. Hutchinson (1909-1997).

Hometown Boy

Fred Hutchinson was born in Seattle on August 12, 1919, the third son of Dr. Joseph Lambert Hutchinson and Nona (Burke) Hutchinson. Joseph was born in Maple Grove, Wisconsin, in 1873. Nona Burke was born in Peshtigo Harbor, Wisconsin, in 1878. They emigrated in 1907 to the Rainier Beach area in southeast Seattle, where Joseph set up a storefront medical practice, and also performed surgeries at First Hill hospitals. “Most of his practice was dealing with people who were injured at Taylor’s Mill lumber mill at Rainier Beach, but he also took the ferry to serve patients on the Eastside,” said Marvin “Buzz” Anderson, president of the Rainier Valley Historical Society, who knew the family.  

Fred’s older brothers, Bill and John, fostered his baseball skills and competitive spirit, at one point training him to bat left-handed in order to more quickly reach first base. Upon Bill’s death in 1997, Seattle Times columnist Emmett Watson said: “I remember that Dr. Bill once told me proudly, "I raised that kid." Bill and John both would go on to play baseball for the University of Washington’s legendary coach, Dorsett “Tubby” Graves (1923-1946). Bill captained the 1931 team, which won the Pacific Coast Conference championship, but gave up a promising baseball career to become a physician. Still, he remained devoted to baseball, coaching his sons, nephews, and others through the years. John, while attending the university, played a summer for the St. Louis Browns organization.

Fred Hutchinson came by his competitive zeal and success early. He led both Emerson and Brighton elementary schools to city championships as a catcher -- the position he played until he was a sophomore in high school. He then anchored Franklin High School’s championship teams from 1934 to 1937 as a pitcher, catcher, first baseman, and outfielder. In between, he played for American Legion League teams -- Gibson’s Carpet Cleaners and Palace Fish -- helping to take Palace Fish to the Western playoffs. He also pitched briefly in 1937 for the semi-pro Yakima Indians of the Northwest League, with a 16-2 record.

Born Competitor

He was blessed with big hands and “beautiful control,” said J. B. Parker, who caught Hutchinson in those early years. “He wasn’t fast, but he was fast enough ... . He was probably the greatest competitor I have ever seen” (Raley).

“His chief weapons were amazing control, a natural sinker, a short, choppy curve and a thoroughly domesticated change-of-pace” (Watson). His coolness on the mound earned him the nickname, “the Iceman,” but the anecdotes about his temper went back to his grade-school days. Paul O’Neil, Seattle newspaperman, pictured him in a Saturday Evening Post article: “…his shock of brown hair, pink cheeks, and the habit of looking at batters with a blank ... expression of one who detects a slightly unsavory odor.”

Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Emmett Watson, in a 1957 Sports Illustrated article, characterized Hutchinson as possessing a “face that might have been hacked out by an angry sculptor with a dull chisel.”

Emil Sick, owner of the Rainier Brewing Co., had bought the financially strapped Seattle Indians baseball team in 1937, apparently intrigued by the success of another brewery magnate, Jacob Ruppert (1867-1939), who had turned the New York Yankees into baseball’s storied powerhouse of the 1920s and 1930s. Sick renamed the team the “Rainiers” to promote his beer, and hired Roscoe C. "Torchy" Torrance (1899-1990), a Seattle sportsman-businessman, to run the club. Among Torchy’s new hires was Hutchinson, for $2,500 and 20 percent of whatever his future selling price might be. Brother John helped negotiate the contract and the 20 percent clause, said Fred Hutchinson’s widow, Patsy. Sick also built Sicks’ Stadium, a $500,000, 14,600-seat, state-of-the-art facility at Rainier Avenue and McClellan Street, “with his own cash ... . He did not ask the taxpayers for a penny” (Watson).

Spectacular Debut

Hutchinson was an instant hero on the mound and at the plate, and began generated banner headlines from his first game. On August 12, 1938, Hutchinson celebrated his 19th birthday by beating the San Francisco Seals, 3-2, for his 19th Pacific Coast League victory. An overflow crowd of 16,354 jammed Sicks' Stadium for the game. The event topped Seattle Times sports writer Dick Rockne’s list of “Seattle's Top 10 Greatest Moments” in sports on December 26, 1999. Hutch went on to compile a sensational 25-7 record with a 2.48 earned run average, pitching 29 complete games, while batting .313. He was the league’s star attraction, helped Seattle draw a league-leading 437,161 fans, and was named the league’s most valuable player. Sporting News named him the outstanding minor league Player of Year.

An Associated Press story in the July 8, 1938, Milwaukee Journal called Hutchinson the “‘find’ of the season” and several major-league teams, including the Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, and Detroit Tigers were interested in acquiring him. When the Yankees’ Ruppert  inquired, Sick asked for an unheard-of  $250,000 and 10 players. On December 12, 1938, Hutchinson finally was traded to the Detroit Tigers for $50,000 and four players, the biggest deal for a minor leaguer in 10 years. The trade gave the Rainiers a solid talent base and they won Pacific Coast League pennants in 1939, 1940, and 1941. Rainier fever gripped Seattle, they drew record crowds, and it was part of Hutch’s first legacy to his hometown.

Hutchinson attended the University of Washington for less than a semester in 1938.

His major league pitching debut was inauspicious, but it also was “one for the ages” for baseball historians (Eals). It took place on May 2, 1939, when the New York Yankees were in Detroit on their first road trip, the day that baseball immortal Lou Gehrig (1903-1941) benched himself, ending his consecutive-game string of 2‚130, a record that stood until 1995. Hutchinson was called in as a reliever and gave up eight runs in two-thirds of an inning, giving up four hits and walking five, as the inspired Yankees demolished Detroit 22-2. Hutchinson was immediately sent down to Detroit’s AA farm club, the Toledo Mud Hens. He bounced back, then in 1941 was sent down to the Buffalo Bisons, where he had a stellar season: a 26-7 record on the mound, a .385 batting average, and he earned International League Most Valuable Player.

Call to Arms

World War II interrupted Hutchinson’s career, as it did for many major leaguers, to say nothing of millions of other Americans. He joined the Navy for a four-year tour on October 24, 1941, to avoid being drafted into the Army, and became part of the Navy’s physical education program being organized by Lieutenant Commander Gene Tunney (1898-1978), onetime world heavyweight boxing champion. He was a chief petty officer during his tour of duty. He had some hunting experience and for a while was a shooting range instructor at Norfolk Naval Training Station, Virginia, but playing baseball (and some basketball) remained his primary contribution.

In 1943, he married a Franklin High classmate, Patsy Finley, in St. Augustine, Florida, where she was stationed as a member of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, later known as the Women’s Army Corps (W.A.C.). She left the service, but their military life was a nomadic precursor of their baseball years, taking them from Norfolk to Idaho to Sand Point Naval Air Station in Seattle. Hutchinson then was shipped to Hawaii, without Patsy. They would have four children: Fred Jr. (“Rick”), born in 1944; John (“Jack”), 1945; Patty Jo, 1948, and Joseph, 1953.

Pitcher and Hitter

Hutchinson was discharged from the Navy in 1946 and rejoined the Tigers, earning a spot in a powerful starting rotation that included Paul (“Dizzy”) Trout (1915-1972), Hal Newhouser (1921-1998), and Virgil (“Fire”) Trucks (b. 1917). Hutchinson compiled an 87-57 record with Detroit from 1946 to 1951. He also was an excellent hitter, especially for a pitcher, and often pinch-hit. He appeared in the 1951 All-Star game, with “Lyall Smith of the Detroit Free Press tagging him ‘baseball’s most amazing modern pitching personage’ ” (Eals). On a less inspirational note, he gave up Ted Williams’s longest career homer, a 502-foot shot at Fenway Park, in 1946. The seat where the ball landed was painted red.

Hutchinson’s father, Joseph, suffered a stroke in 1948 and retired from his medical practice. He died in 1951 at age 78. His mother, Nona, died in 1962 at age 84.

Hutchinson was well-regarded by his teammates, who elected him player representative in 1947. The next year he was elected the American League’s player representative, a post he held until 1952, when he became a manager. “[H]e helped secure from owners a $25-per-week spring training expense fund, a $5,000 minimum salary, and designation of radio and TV All-Star Game and World Series proceeds to the players’ pension fund” (Eals). In 1951, he testified before U.S. House of Representatives hearings on baseball’s reserve clause, which gave a team the unilateral right of contract renewal. Hutchinson testified that the clause was “a necessary and reasonable provision for the preservation of organized baseball,” and that the players supported it. That wasn't the case for all of them, however, and the clause was overturned in the early 1970s.

In July 1952, Detroit was in the American League cellar, and Hutchinson, 32, was struggling with arm trouble and a 2-1 record. The Tigers ownership tapped him as manager, replacing Robert ("Red") Rolfe (1908-1969). He led the team to sixth- and fifth-place finishes in the next two seasons, occasionally pitching or pinch-hitting, but quit after the 1954 season because the team would give him only a one-year contract. Al Kaline (b. 1934), the Tigers’ Hall of Fame outfielder, said, “He wanted his teams to be competitive and not embarrass themselves when they play ... . He was an up-front type guy” (Eals).

Magical Season

Hutchinson was not out of work long, and the Detroit experience kicked off an up-and-down, peripatetic managerial career for him. Dewey Soriano (1920-1998), an old Hutch high school teammate, in 1951 had become general manager of the then-ailing Seattle Rainiers. As part of the franchise rebuilding, he inveigled Hutchinson to return as manager in 1955, for less than half what he made with the Tigers.

“The 1955 season was the most magical of all Rainier seasons. Without a single .300 hitter or 20-game winner, Hutch simply out-managed and out-fought the competition and won the pennant in a climactic series with Seattle's loathed arch-rivals, the Los Angeles Angels” (Arnold, “New Video History,” August 23, 1999).

“Seattle nailed down the pennant on September 11, and the celebration was like V-E day and Mardi Gras put together” (Arnold, “A fan remembers,” August 23, 1999).  Baseball writers voted him the league’s manager of the year.

Hutchinson’s managerial skills, particularly with young players, caught the eye of Frank Lane (1896-1981), general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, another history-laden franchise that had fallen on hard times. The team improved under Hutchinson in 1956 and leapfrogged into second place in 1957 and his on-field demeanor remained tempestuous and no-nonsense. " 'He’s really kind of a happy guy inside,’ says Joe Garagiola, former Cardinal catcher, now a St. Louis television commentator, ‘only his face doesn’t know it' " (Watson).  

Doing His Job

The Cardinals’ success earned Hutchinson the National League Manager of the Year title, but any joy would be short-lived. He brooked no interference from beer-baron owner August Busch Jr. (1899-1989) or the opinionated Lane. In one especially disastrous situation that provoked fan outrage and a public scolding from Lane, in a game with the Brooklyn Dodgers on July 18, 1957, Hutchinson ignored baseball conventional wisdom and left Wilmer (“Vinegar Bend”) Mizell (1930-1999), a left-hander, in to pitch against right-handed Dodger slugger Gil Hodges (1924-1972) in the ninth inning, with the Cards ahead, 9-4. Hodges hit a bases-loaded home run to tie the score and the Dodgers went on to win, 10-9, in 11 innings. Hutchinson’s response to Lane and Busch: “Let me alone to do my job” (Watson).

The 1957 Cardinals finished respectably, in second place, with an 87-67 won-lost record, eight games behind the Milwaukee Braves. But the 1958 season was a disaster, as the Cards slipped to a tie for fifth place with the Chicago Cubs. Hutchinson was fired, but again landed back at the Rainiers in 1959, this time as general manager as well as field manager, albeit briefly. The 1959 Rainiers were owned by the Cincinnati Reds, and were the Reds’ top farm club. However, by July that year the Reds were struggling, despite a talent-laden lineup led by outfielders Vada Pinson and Frank Robinson and pitcher Don Newcombe. Hutchinson was hired to replace Mayo Smith (1915-1977) as manager.

The Reds came around under Hutchinson, but it was a struggle for two years. They finished 74-80 in 1959, 13 games out of first place, and stumbled further in 1960, to 67-87, sixth place and 28 games out of first. Front-office disorder had soured Hutchinson’s experiences at Detroit and St. Louis and it afflicted the Cincinnati Reds as well. General Manager Gabe Paul (1910-1998), who hired Hutchinson, quit to manage the Houston Colt .45s, an expansion team that became the Houston Astros in 1965. Bill DeWitt Sr. (1902-1982) took over as Reds’ general manager at the end of the 1960 season. But Powel Crosley, 75-year-old Reds’ owner for 27 years, died in March 1961, leaving team ownership a question mark.

Pennant Winners

Pre-season expectations were not high for the Reds, but DeWitt engineered some successful trades, veterans such as Pinson and Robinson had banner years and the Reds swept to the National League championship with a 93-61 record, their first pennant since 1940. The sports press continued to document Hutchinson’s “explosive” personality (Eals), but he again was named National League Manager of the Year.

The Reds’ World Series opponent, unfortunately, was the juggernaut New York Yankees, led by sluggers Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Elston Howard, and pitcher Whitey Ford. The Yankees cruised to a 4-1 series win.

In 1962, the Reds finished third, behind the San Francisco Giants, with a 98-64 record. They slipped further, to sixth, in 1963, with an 86-76 record. But the solid veteran club added future All-Star shortstop Leo Cardenas and second baseman Pete Rose, a local boy who was the 1963 Rookie of the Year. The Reds were expected to be a contender in 1964.

At Home and on the Ball Field

For the Hutchinson family, the nomadic life had been difficult and Patsy Hutchinson “had to handle it all,” she said. But, said Fred (“Rick”) Hutchinson Jr., of West Palm Beach, Florida, “Everyone adjusted. When we were younger it was easier, but it became difficult during the school years.” There were also some good times. The boys spent summers in Seattle living with their Uncle Bill and their cousins, and played baseball for the youth teams that Bill coached. Patsy recalled living in a quasi-compound of Reds’ families in Cincinnati, in postwar housing “little more than Quonset huts, but the kids had other kids to play with.”

Hutchinson was a  temperamental player, but patient with rookies. “He was pretty much the same as a Dad,” Rick said. “He didn’t care for mediocrity, as long as you tried, gave it your all . ... He had a lot of respect for guys who didn’t have a tremendous amount of talent, but gave it everything they had.” Unlike some of the more colorful managers of the time, such as Leo (“The Lip”) Durocher (1905-1991) or Chuck Dressen (1898-1966), Hutchinson was “old school and very traditional,” and he abhorred showboating. “He was very much a gentleman, and God help me if I didn’t open a door for a woman. And your table manners had to be impeccable.” His disciplinary style, however, was low-key: “A harsh look would do it.”

The Hutchinsons had built a permanent home in 1959 on Anna Maria Island, a sand spit west of Bradenton, Florida. Patsy Hutchinson said, “The older boys, Rick and Jack, finally backed away and said they wanted to stay in Florida and play American Legion baseball.” Jack played briefly for the Cincinnati Reds organization and Rick went on to play baseball at Florida State University, but had no interest in following in his father’s footsteps. “There was not as much money then and the moving around didn’t appeal to me. I had my fill of it.”  

The Cincinnati Reds’ 1964 season would become the least of Hutchinson’s concerns. In December 1963, a lump on his neck sent him to Seattle and to his brother, William -- “Dr. Bill” -- now a well-known surgeon. Hutchinson, a three-pack-a-day cigarette smoker since his Navy days, had malignant thymona -- and lung cancer. He made the announcement “in the Seattle office of his old friend Dewey Soriano ...  just eight days prior to the first Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Cancer – (and) it became big national news” (Eals). He began radiology treatment in Seattle but showed up for spring training, where he “perched in a lifeguard chair and tooled around in a golf cart” (Eals).

The season opened well for the Reds but not for Hutchinson. The disease was rapidly taking its toll and he underwent further treatment in a Cincinnati hospital on July 27. but returned to the bench August 4. The team responded by sweeping a doubleheader from the Milwaukee Braves, 5-2 and 4-2. He was selected as a coach for the 1964 All-Star Game at Shea Stadium, New York, and made an appearance, in great pain.

True Grit

The August 1964 issue of True, a man’s magazine, carried an “as-told-to” story with Hutchinson’s byline, “How I live with Cancer,” and “The article was yet another courageous act in the face of certain demise.” At a 45th birthday pre-game tribute on August 12, a tremulous Hutchinson told the fans, “What a lucky man I am” (Eals).

His inspirational response echoed one of baseball’s most venerated icons, Lou Gehrig, “the Iron Horse,” who died at age 37 of  amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the progressive degeneration of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that became known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” As Lou Gehrig bowed out, on “Lou Gehrig Day” at Yankee Stadium in 1939, he began his now-famous last speech with: "Fans, for the past two weeks, you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth."

On August 13, 1964, the day after the birthday tribute, Hutchinson again returned to the hospital for further treatment and third-base coach Dick Sisler (1920-1998) took over as manager. Hutchinson resigned on October 19, 1964, and was hospitalized again.

Fred Hutchinson died on November 12, 1964, at a hospital near his Florida home.

The inspired Reds won 29 out of their last 47 games, but finished tied with the Philadelphia Phillies for second place, one game behind the Cardinals.

Legacies

The Baseball Writers Association voted Hutchinson Most Courageous Athlete. Sport magazine posthumously named him Man of the Year for 1964 and the Reds permanently retired his uniform number, 1. In 1965, sportswriters initiated the “Hutch Award,” given annually to the player who best exemplifies his honor, courage, and dedication. It is one of three major humanitarian awards for baseball players, along with the Roberto Clemente and the Branch Rickey awards. In 2000, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer named Hutchinson Seattle’s Athlete for the Century.

Hutchinson is buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Renton.

His name also lives on in the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, a world-class facility in Seattle, which is the fruit of his visionary brother Bill’s lifelong labor. Surgeon Bill, convinced that research rather surgery was the best route in the fight against cancer, had helped create the Pacific Northwest Research Foundation in 1956. The Foundation created The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center as a division in 1965, the year after Fred Hutchinson’s death. The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center became an independent entity in 1975. Dr. William Hutchinson died in 1997 at age 88.

Sources:
Frank Chesley interview with Marvin (“Buzz”) Anderson, August 23, 2007; Dick Rockne, “Seattle's Top 10 Greatest Moments, Seattle Times, December 26, 1999,  (http://archives.seattletimes.nwsource.com); Emmett Watson, “’Hutch:’ His Days Were Full Of  Deeds,” Ibid, November 4, 1997,  (http://archives.seattletimes.nwsource.com); Dan Raley, “J. B. Parker Caught ‘Hutch’ in Pitcher’s Formative Years,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 5, 2005 (http://archives.seattlepi.nwsource.com);  Emmett Watson, “Mr. Sick, The ‘Family’ Missed You,” The Seattle Times, June 21, 1994,  (http://archives.seattletimes.nwsource.com); Clay Eals, “The Thought of Losing Was Just Abhorrent,” Rain Check: Baseball in the Pacific Northwest, ed. by Mark Armour (Society for American Baseball Research, distributed by University of Nebraska Press, 2006), pp.49-55; Paul O’Neil, Saturday Evening Post, March 11, 1939, p. 35; Frank Chesley interview with Frederick (“Rick”) Hutchinson Jr., September 10, 2007; Frank Chesley interview with Patsy Hutchinson, September 10, 2007; William Arnold, “New Video History of Rainiers Touches All the Bases of Magical Ballclub,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer,” August 23, 1999, (www.seattlepi.nwsource.com); William Arnold, “A Fan Remembers the Summer of ’55 -- and Joe Ginsberg,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 23, 1999, (www.seattlepi.nwsource.com); Emmett Watson, “In Shadow or in Sunshine,” Sports Illustrated, August 26, 1957, p. 31.


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Fred Hutchinson (1919-1964) playing for Seattle Rainiers, 1938
Courtesy MOHAI (Neg. No. 1986.5.29579)


Fred Hutchinson (1919-1964), 1938
David Eskenazi Collection


Rainiers manager Fred Hutchinson (number 29) disputes a call, 1955



Emil Sick holding a photograph of Fred Hutchinson, 1940s
Courtesy Washington State Historical Society


Dr. Bill Hutchinson (1909-1997) and his brother Fred Hutchinson (1919-1964), ca. 1962
Courtesy Charlotte Hutchinson Reed


Bill Hutchinson (1909-1997), ca. 1931
Courtesy Charlotte Hutchinson Reed


Fred Hutchinson, 1938
David Eskenazi Collection


Seattle baseball legends (l to r) Jeff Heath, Earl Johnson, Dewey Soriano, Emmett Watson, Early Sheely, and Fred Hutchinson, 3-0 Club Banquet, Seattle, 1947
Courtesy David Eskenazi Collection


 
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