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Hubbell shuts down AL's best


© St. Petersburg Times, published October 15, 1999

Carl Hubbell struck out 1,678 batters in his 16-year career with the New York Giants. Here are five who didn't count toward that total:

Babe Ruth.

Lou Gehrig.

Jimmy Foxx.

Al Simmons.

Joe Cronin.

In succession.

In an All-Star Game.

Five of the greatest hitters in the history of the game -- Hall of Famers as well as All-Stars.

"They talk about those All-Star Games being exhibition affairs, and maybe they are," Hubbell, likewise a Hall of Famer, was quoted as saying in John P. Carmichael's My Greatest Day in Baseball. "But I've seen very few players in my life who didn't want to win, no matter whom they were playing. ... Besides, there were 50,000 fans there, and they wanted to see the best you've got."

It was major-league baseball's second All-Star Game and it was in Hubbell's home park, the Polo Grounds, with its notoriously short foul lines -- 279 feet to leftfield, 257 to right. Cubs All-Star catcher Gabby Hartnett told the left-handed Hubbell before the game to throw screwballs for strikes, to keep the fastball and curve away from the hitters and to keep everything low. "We can't let 'em hit it in the air," he said.

Then, when Hubbell took the mound on July10, 1934, Hartnett made another suggestion. "Forget about being careful," he said. "Just throw your screwball over. Hell, I can't hit it, and neither will they."

Things started badly for Hubbell. Charlie Gehringer of the Tigers singled and Heinie Manush of the Senators walked. Ruth was next.

The National League infielders -- first baseman Bill Terry and shortstop Travis Jackson, both Giants, and second baseman Frankie Frisch of the Cardinals -- assembled at the mound to see if there was a problem.

No problem, Hubbell told them.

He threw a fastball for ball one, then three knee-high screwballs for strikes, hoping Ruth would hit into a double play. Ruth never swung. "The Babe must have been waiting for me to get the ball up a little so he could get his bat under it. He was always trying for that one big shot at the stands." When he was called out, "It was funny how he looked," Hubbell said. "He wasn't mad; he just didn't believe it."

Gehrig was next. He struck out on four pitches, whiffing on a low screwball. As he walked past Foxx, Gehrig said, "You might as well cut; it won't get any higher." Hubbell threw four pitches. Foxx fouled one off and swung and missed for the third strike.

In the second inning, Simmons and Cronin struck out, then Yankees catcher Bill Dickey broke the string with a single. "I was happy to see that," Gehringer said. "It was starting to get embarrassing." Hubbell then struck out Yankees pitcher Lefty Gomez to end the inning.

For years thereafter, Gomez complained good-naturedly that he'd have been a part of a list of seven great players struck out by Hubbell if only Dickey had struck out, too.

-- Information from The Pitcher by John Thorn and John Holway was used in this report.

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