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100 greatest Tigers #47: Fred Hutchinson

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Fred Hutchinson joined the Tiger organization in December 1938, pitched until 1953, and managed a bad club until 1954. He enjoyed success as a pitcher and great success as Reds manager in the sixties. Cancer prematurely ended Hutchinson’s life and career. Overall, his stint as with the Tigers as player and manager brought out an intense competitive spirit that led to major league success.

University of Washington standout Fred “Hutch” Hutchinson entered professional baseball with the Seattle Rainiers in 1938. The Detroit Tigers took note of the promising young pitcher and purchased his contract that December. Major league hitters proved more difficult to tame than minor leaguers. Hutch went 6-13 with a 5.43 ERA in 30 games over two seasons. However, he was only 20 in 1940 and it appeared time was on his side. Detroit shipped Hutchinson to Buffalo for the 1941 season and the pitcher led the league with 26 victories. Then, World War II intervened costing Hutchinson his youth and four full seasons.

Lieutenant Commander Hutchinson returned to the Tigers as a 26-year-old and went 14-11 with a 3.09 ERA. He quickly became a reliable winner. Hutchinson won 14, 18, 13, 15, 17, and 10 games from 1946-51 and never suffered a sub-.500 campaign in that stretch. Additionally, Hutch pitched at least 188 innings each of those seasons and topped 200 on four occasions. In 1947, the pitcher went 18-10 and finished 22nd in the MVP vote. His finest work came in 1949 when he led the league in WHIP (1.161), went 15-7 with a 2.96 ERA. He made the All Star team in 1951. By 1952, he showed signs of aging and was finished the following year.

Hutchinson went 95-71 with a 3.73 ERA in 10 seasons with Detroit. He also lost four years to World War II. If he matched his career averages on Baseballreference.com, then Hutchinson would have finished around 150 victories. Overall, he had an impressive career considering the interruption. His success was predicated in part to his attitude. Hutchinson was a fierce competitor that smashed anything in sight when he lost. The pitcher could also hit with four .300 seasons and a career .263 average, four home runs, and 83 RBI.

The Tigers collapsed as Hutchinson’s career waned. The team had enjoyed amazing success between 1934 and 1950. They won four pennants and two World Series in that stretch. Hutchinson pitched for the 1940 AL Champs in the World Series, but the Tigers fell to the Reds in seven. The Tigers continued to contend until 1951 when they experienced a losing season. The bottom fell out in 1952, the team fired manager Red Rolfe, and hired 32-year-old Hutchinson to manage. The team struggled in those years. Hutchinson finished 27-55 in 1952, 60-94 in 1953, and 68-86 in 1954. He asked for a long term deal with the Tigers and the team let him walk. Hutchinson went 155-235 as Tiger manager.

Hutchinson moved to the Cardinals and Reds over the next decade. St Louis finished 12 games over .500 in Hutchinson’s three seasons, he won manager of the year, but the disappointing 1958 campaign led to his dismissal. He found a home in Cincinnati where he led the Reds to the pennant in 1961 and two 90 win campaigns in six seasons. Hutch was diagnosed with cancer in 1964, but continued to manage when his health allowed. The Reds finished second, but lost their skipper that October. The Reds inducted him into their Hall of Fame immediately thereafter. Major League Baseball began awarding the Hutch Award to the player that “best exemplifies” Hutchinson’s “fighting spirit and desire.” His brother, Dr. William Hutchinson, established the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in 1965. In 2008, Boston Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester won the Hutch Award after undergoing treatment for lymphoma in 2006 at the Hutchinson Center.

Fred Hutchinson was a career Tiger until front office turmoil turned him out into the proverbial street. He pitched and managed for the franchise for 16 years before his departure. He won 95 games as a starter despite a late start. Then, he managed a poor ball club for three seasons. Afterward, Hutch experienced success in Cincinnati before cancer shortened his life. However, his greatest legacy is not his managerial career, his pitching record, or the award named after him. Instead, it is the cancer center in the Pacific Northwest that bears his name.

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