In one of the most remarkable pitching performances in all-star game history, screwballer Carl Hubbell struck out five future Hall of Famers in a row on July 10, 1934 at the Polo Grounds. Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin were the immortals that Hubbell whiffed. Born in Carthage, Mo., but raised in Meeker, Okla., the crafty left-hander won 253 games for the New York Giants in his 16-season big league career. The two-time National League MVP tossed a no-hitter on May 8, 1929, had five consecutive 20-win seasons (1933 to 1937) and was the ace of the Giants World Champion 1933 squad.
But success didn’t come easy for the lanky southpaw. Originally signed by the Detroit Tigers, Hubbell reported to his first big league training camp in 1926 and showcased his trademark screwball. Ty Cobb, the Tigers manager, felt the pitch would ruin the young left-hander’s arm and ordered him to stop throwing it. In an interview for Richard Bak’s book “Cobb Would Have Caught It” prior to his death in 1984, Bill Moore, a longtime Tigers farmhand, recalled Cobb approaching Hubbell at camp.
“Carl Hubbell was in the Tigers’ farm system the same time I was,” recounted Moore. “Carl and I knew each other. We pitched against each other in the International League. Later, of course, he had all those great years with the Giants. Threw that screwball, you know. That was his bread-and-butter pitch. You know what Cobb told him to do with it? ‘Get rid of that damn pitch.’ Cobb didn’t like him and Detroit released him outright. He wound up with some team in the Texas League, won 10 or 11 straight, and John McGraw (Giants manager) signed him. I was with Newark at the time. One day we had a day off, so I went up to the Polo Grounds to talk to Hubbell. He told me, ‘The best thing that ever happened to me was when the son of a bitch released me.’”
Hubbell was assigned to Detroit’s International League affiliate Toronto Maple Leafs in 1926. Without his trademark pitch and most likely his confidence, Hubbell was a middling, .500 pitcher who recorded an unremarkable 3.77 ERA in 93 innings with the Leafs. The 1926 Leafs won 109 regular season games and are widely considered one of the best minor league clubs in baseball history. Unfortunately, without his screwball, Hubbell inspired little confidence in manager Dan Howley. In fact, Hubbell wasn’t used at all in Toronto’s sweep of the Louisville Colonels in the Junior World Series that season.
Things would get worse for Hubbell the following season. Still under orders not to throw his screwball, Hubbell was demoted by the Tigers. He would pitch primarily for a Class B club in Decatur, Ill., in 1927, before the Tigers sold him to Beaumont of the Texas League in April 1928. Fortunately, his Beaumont manager, Claude Robertson, permitted him to throw his screwball and Hubbell would win 12 games by mid-season, catching the eye of the New York Giants who would purchase him for $30,000.
Though the Tigers selling Hubbell ranks as one of the biggest blunders in their franchise history, Cobb’s concerns about the screwball ruining Hubbell’s arm proved to be well-founded. By 1934, Hubbell started to feel elbow pain and by 1938, the pain was almost unbearable. In his last five big league seasons, elbow pain would severely limit his effectiveness. The unnatural throwing motion and unorthodox grip the screwball required would eventually deform Hubbell’s left hand. Later in life, the palm of Hubbell’s left hand faced out from his body instead of against it.
The Hall of Fame hurler remained with the Giants organization for several decades after his playing career, holding various posts in player development and scouting. Sadly, he was killed in a car accident on November 21, 1988 at the age of 85.