Year Inducted: 1947 (BBWAA, ballot #3, 140/161)
The All-Star Game can catapult a lot of great players to an even higher plane of fame. While the value has recently been diluted due to fan voting, there are still some excellent moments in All-Star history that have helped cement some players place in the Hall of Fame. Pedro Martinez’s mastery in the 1999 game in Fenway Park brought to the forefront an anecdote of an earlier game. In 1934, the AL team boasted a lineup that would make most pitchers cry. Ruth/Gehrig/Foxx/Simmons/Cronin were slated at 3-7 with Bill Dickey 8th and Lefty Gomez 9th. And, with the exception of Dickey, all of those batters whiffed against one of the toughest pitchers of all-time, Giants ace Carl Hubbell.
Hubbell is widely known for that one game performance, but his dominance on the mound shouldn’t be overlooked. Nicknamed “The Mealticket”, Hubbell pitched his entire 16-year career for the New York Giants, tossing over 3500 innings while winning 253 games and having an ERA of only 2.98. Despite his legendary performance in 1934, Hubbell only struck out 1677 batters in his career (a little more than 4 every 9 innings) but only walked 725 guys (less than 1.9 every 9 innings) to help maintain dominance over his opponents. During Hubbell’s career, pitchers weren’t looked at to strike out a lot of batters, as they are now. As such, the more important things for a pitcher to do were to keep batters off base (Hubbell’s WHIP was 1.17 which is splendid), and to have a low ERA (his ERA- of 77 was sensational) both goals that he achieved despite the low K-rate.
In the context of Hubbell’s career, he ranked: 2nd in fWAR, second in wins, third in strikeouts, 1st in ERA, 1st in innings and 2nd in RA9-WAR. The only pitcher who consistently ranks ahead of him is Lefty Grove, who was just slightly more dominant than Hubbell (mostly due to a crazy low HR rate).
Hubbell’s numbers are slightly hurt by the one thing that made him so great-his screwball. It isn’t hyperbole to say that Hubbell was the finest screwball pitcher ever, but this did him equal harm as well as bring him fame. The screwball is thrown by rotating the forearm inward to give the ball a reverse break. For Hubbell, a traditional curveball would break away from lefty batters and in towards right handers. The screwball would do the opposite, which gave hitters a lot of trouble. However, this added a lot of torque on his arm, causing a decline in his numbers beginning in 1938 and a chronically sore elbow for most of his life thereafter. In fact, Hubbell’s left arm was almost entirely inverted due to the strain of the pitch he made his name with for 16 years.
Despite the slow decline (which mainly resulted in him throwing fewer innings rather than lower results for the most part), Hubbell’s early dominance is more than enough to warrant his election in 1947. No one could throw the screwball better, and no one could baffle the opponents quite like The Meal Ticket could.
Stay tuned for the next updates.
On deck 11/18/16:
#65- One of the first pitchers to make the jump from college to the majors.
#64- How could a pitcher that has an award named after him rank so lowly?