Carl Hubbell, a Hall of Fame pitcher who pioneered the screwball and used it to register one of the most memorable feats in All-Star game history, died at 85 Monday.
A spokesman at Scottsdale (Ariz.) Memorial Hospital-Osborn said Hubbell died of head and chest injuries suffered Saturday in a car accident near his home in Mesa. Hubbell lost control of his car and hit a metal post after suffering a stroke, according to the police report.
Hubbell, known as King Carl and The Meal Ticket, pitched for the New York Giants from 1928 to 1943. He had a 253-154 record and won 21 or more games for 5 straight seasons, starting in 1933. He pitched a then-record 46 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings in 1933, and was the National League’s most valuable player in 1936, when he won 26 games and lost only 6.
The Giants, with Hubbell as their ace, won pennants in 1933, ’36 and ’37, and won the World Series in ’33, with Hubbell winning the first and fourth games against the Washington Senators.
He had a 4-2 record and a 1.79 earned-run average in World Series competition, pitched a no-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1929 and went 18 shutout innings against the St. Louis Cardinals in 1933, allowing only 6 hits with no walks and 12 strikeouts.
However, Hubbell’s name will always be associated with the 1934 All-Star game, in which he struck out five future Hall of Fame hitters in a row.
Charlie Gehringer had opened the game for the American League with a single. Heinie Manush walked. Hubbell was then faced with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx, who combined to hit 115 home runs that year and 1,741 lifetime.
His catcher, Gabby Hartnett of the Chicago Cubs, went to the mound and told Hubbell: “Never mind the junk. Forget about being careful. Throw that screwball. It gets me out. It’ll get them out.”
Hubbell promptly struck out Ruth, Gehrig and Foxx to end the inning, then opened the second by striking out Al Simmons and Joe Cronin. He had 2 strikes on Bill Dickey when the New York Yankees catcher singled, snapping the streak. Hubbell struck out the opposing pitcher, Lefty Gomez, to end the inning, and left after 3 innings with a 4-0 lead.
“I guess I won’t ever forget that ’34 game,” Hubbell recalled years later. “I’ve often been asked what I was throwing those fellows. Well, it’s a little complicated because I was throwing everything I knew how, including fastballs and curves, but the only thing they got a chance to hit was the screwball.
“I saw to that very carefully. It was the only thing they hadn’t seen, and I knew what they could do with the other stuff if I ever got it within range.”
Fifty years later, in the 1984 All-Star game at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, Dwight Gooden of the New York Mets and Fernando Valenzuela of the Dodgers, another screwball exponent, combined for 6 straight strikeouts, the All-Star record.
Hubbell won more games than he lost in 14 of his 16 seasons with the Giants and retired in 1943 at age 40. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1947 and spent many years as the Giants’ farm director, both in New York and San Francisco. He remained a part-time Giant scout until his death and was a frequent visitor to the club’s spring training camp in Scottsdale.
“Young left-handers in our organization always regarded Carl as one of the legends of the game,” Duffy Jennings, a Giant spokesman, said.
He is survived by two sons, Carl Jr., and James, and two grandsons. Funeral arrangements are pending. A memorial service, Jennings said, is expected to be held later this week in Meeker, Okla., where Hubbell grew up on a pecan farm. He was born in Carthage, Mo.
He became a pro at 22, signing with the Cushing team in the Oklahoma State League in 1923 and was sold to the Detroit Tigers after the 1925 season. Ty Cobb, the Tiger manager, instructed Hubbell to discard the screwball he had begun tinkering with in the minors because, Cobb feared, it could hurt the pitcher’s elbow.
Hubbell’s confidence and control reportedly suffered as a result, and he was sold outright to Beaumont of the Texas League after spring training in 1928, having failed to reach the majors with the Tigers.
At Beaumont, encouraged to throw the pitch that he later likened to a “reverse curve,” Hubbell went 12-9 with 116 strikeouts and only 45 walks. The Giants, on the recommendation of scout Dick Kinsella, bought Hubbell for a reported $30,000, and he won 10 of 16 decisions for Manager John McGraw before the 1928 season ended.
A year later he went 18-11 and was on his way to becoming the Giants’ Meal Ticket. And it wasn’t until he had pitched 3,589 1/3 major league innings that Cobb proved to be right. Hubbell’s elbow gave out early in 1943 and he retired with a 4-4 record, the only time in his 16 seasons that he won fewer than 11 games.