Tiger Fred Hutchinson helped usher Kaline into big leagues

Fred Hutchinson

His untimely death due to cancer spawned the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, which still fights for a cure to the disease.

One of Detroit’s steadiest and most reliable pitchers in the 1940s and early 1950s was right hander Fred Hutchinson, who played his entire big league career with the Tigers from 1939 to 1953. In 1952, at the ripe old age of 32, he would also be named the team’s manager.

“Hutch” finished with a 95-71 career record and a 3.73 ERA, and appeared in the 1940 World Series and the 1951 All Star game. However his career was shortened by four years when he served in the Navy during World War II.

Although he was heralded as one of the country’s brightest pitching prospects at age 19 when he produced a 25-7 record in 1938 for the Pacific Coast League Seattle Raniers, his first major league appearance with the Tigers the next season was shaky to say the least.

On May 2, 1939, the same day that Lou Gehrig ended his record 2,130 consecutive game streak at Briggs Stadium, the Yankees were leading Detroit 13-0 at the top of the seventh with the bases loaded and no outs. Tiger manager Del Baker called in Hutchinson who lasted just two-thirds of an inning after giving up four hits and five walks as the Yankees went on to bury the Tigers 22-2. He was immediately sent down to Toledo for two months but returned to the team finishing with a 3-6 record for the fifth place Tigers.

After the war ended Hutchinson was an anchor of a great Tiger pitching staff that included Hal Newhouser, Virgil Trucks, and Dizzy Trout. From 1946 to 1951 “Hutch” won 87 games and lost 57.

He was also one of the best hitting pitchers in baseball history and was often used as a pinch hitter. He had a career .263 batting average and was used as a pinch hitter 91 times and hit four home runs.

Hutchinson was a tough competitor who was very well respected by teammates and opponents. In 1947 his teammates named Hutchinson their player representative for the fledgling players’ union and the following year the American League players elected him their representative.

Players were not the only ones impressed with Hutchinson’s leadership skills.

In July of 1952 while Hutch was struggling with arm problems, Tiger management fired Red Rolfe and named Hutchinson the team’s manager at the age of 32. (He is still the youngest manager in Tiger history.) Hutchinson would only appear in 21 more games as a player.

Hutchinson soon took under his wing two rookies who would become stars for the team, Harvey Kuenn and Al Kaline. Kaline was just 18 when he joined the Tigers in June of 1953. Number six once said of Hutchinson:

“He demanded 100 per cent effort, no alibi-ing at all. When you played for him you knew what to expect. There was no behind the back. He let you know, and you knew where you stood all the time which is really what anybody really likes to know. He was an upfront guy.”

Hutchinson quit the Tigers at the end of the 1954 season when the team refused to give him a two year contract. However he would go on to manage the St. Louis Cardinals for three seasons and the Cincinnati Reds for six years. In 1961 he led the Reds to the World Series but the team fell to the Yankees.

In December 1963, Hutch detected small lumps in his throat and upper chest and was told by his brother Bill (a medical doctor and cancer researcher) that he had a year to live.

Hutchinson returned to Cincinnati determined to manage the Reds. He received treatment on a regular basis but decided to conceal the true nature of his illness. He told his team and the media that he had been given a clean bill of health.

By mid-season, however, he was forced to stop traveling and the team finished under the direction of Dick Sisler. After the season ended, he returned to Florida where he died on November 12, 1964.

One year after his death, the Hutch Award was created by sportswriters who also created a scholarship fund for medical students engaged in cancer research to honor his memory.

The Hutch Award is presented annually to a major league player who best exemplifies the fighting spirit and competitive desire of Fred Hutchinson. The award is hosted by the world renowned Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the charity luncheon raises funds for early cancer detection research.