Four men gathered last month in Gussie Busch's plush office beneath the bright, clean, richly decorated grandstand of Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals. Three of the men were looking intently at the rock-hard face of Fred Hutchinson, a face that might have been hacked out by an angry sculptor with a dull chisel. Hutchinson, manager of the Cardinals, had called the three together. He spoke softly, so low that at times his words were almost inaudible.
The men who listened were August Anheuser Busch Jr., the baronial-born president of the Cardinals; Richard A. Meyer, the team's executive vice-president and a ranking lieutenant in Busch's beer and baseball combine. Finally, there was General Manager Frank Lane, the stormy extrovert, a man of constant opinions, who seldom lowers his voice below a shout. These men are not accustomed to listening, but now they heard the manager out.
Hutchinson was quietly calling his bosses down on Gussie Busch's thick carpet. This was a month before the National League pennant race fell apart under the sudden weight of the Milwaukee Braves' ten-game winning streak, and the Cardinals were still eagerly fighting for the league lead. "You all want a pennant, and we can have it," he was saying. "We've got an outside chance. But I've got to be left alone to do my job. It's hard enough to fight the opposition on the field every day without answering to my own front office in the newspapers. Criticize me all you want. Second-guess me in private. I get paid to take that. But when your criticism hits every newspaper in the country, it can wreck the morale of this ball club. That's one thing we can't stand."
The meeting in Busch's office was the breaking point in a curious, panicky sort of pennant fever that gripped St. Louis in mid-July. Off to a slow start, the Cardinals abruptly burst three games in front of the five-team National League dogfight for first place. But, just as quickly, the lead disappeared. Four straight losses on an eastern road trip dropped the Cards into second place. Then the blowup came. In a final series game at Brooklyn on July 18, the Cardinals rallied for seven runs in the ninth inning to take a 9-4 lead. With one run across and the bases full of Dodgers, Hutchinson grimly ignored accepted baseball practice when he left Wilmer (Vinegar Bend) Mizell, a lefthander, in the game against Gil Hodges, Brooklyn's right-handed power hitter. Hodges slammed a bases-loaded home run to tie up the game 9-9, and Brooklyn went on to win 10-9 in 11 innings.
August 25, 1957
St. Louis fans exploded with outrage. Irate calls flooded newspapers, radio stations and the Cardinal office. Many demanded a change "while there's still time." Hutchinson made his own plight worse by barring the clubhouse door to St. Louis writers. Frank Lane, a volatile critic and enthusiastic second-guesser, openly raged at his manager's judgment. Meyer, the vice-president, publicly called the game "pitiful, tragic and disastrous." He also scorched Hutchinson for resting Alvin Dark in the ninth inning "when you know that Dark is the glue that holds the infield together and keeps the pitchers on their toes." Wire services carried stories quoting Lane and Meyer, hinting club dissension, a Cardinal collapse and the finish of Hutchinson.
None of this bothered Hutch except the public blasting he took from Meyer and Lane. A column by Al Abrams of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which discussed the executive criticism of the Cardinal manager, triggered one of baseball's most violent tempers. Hutchinson searched out Al Fleishman, of the Fleishman-Hillard public relations firm, which handles the Anheuser-Busch account. "How much of this can a man stand!" roared Hutchinson, hands raised and fists clenched in controlled fury. "Get 'em all together before they wreck us!" Fleishman paled, then helped arrange the meeting in St. Louis. It lasted only 20 minutes. And Hutchinson, a man whose tantrums have shattered the furniture in a dozen clubhouses, was calm and forceful in the way he made his point: "Let me alone to do my job." Then he walked out of Gussie Busch's office and continued doing his job, which, despite an inexplicable midseason hitting slump that plunged his team into a nine-game losing streak, had kept the Cardinals 10-1 outsiders in spring handicaps, a persistent second in the wildest National League pennant race in decades.
Of all the 16 major league baseball managers, Hutchinson is perhaps the least known, the least understood. American Leaguers remember him as a plate-shaving control pitcher, a murderously grim and intelligent competitor; or they remember him as a firm, diplomatic player representative, who helped gain or preserve such benefits as minimum salaries, training-camp expenses and pension funds. And in Detroit they remember him as a young and successful manager, who turned his back on a $40,000 contract to go back and manage in his home town of Seattle.
But St. Louis doesn't know him well. For two years Hutchinson has worked quietly under the publicized, player-swapping Frank Lane and wealthy, flamboyant Gussie Busch. Unlike either Lane or Busch, Hutchinson rarely indulges the private luxury of merely listening to his own voice. Off the field, he is gentle, affable, even courtly. But on his own professional grounds, where success is determined by an uncompromising scoreboard, he shows little except a monumental rage to win.
Hutchinson looks at the world through an angry scowl, but this is partly a facade. "He's really kind of a happy guy inside," says Joe Garagiola, former Cardinal catcher, now a St. Louis television commentator, "only his face doesn't know it." Some of baseball's best quips have bounced off the stony Hutchinson exterior. He can't find it in himself to laugh when he doesn't feel the joke. Nor can his thin, compressed lips form the safe, comfortable "yes" if what he really thinks is "no." Some time ago, Owner Busch developed a fondness for a certain player on the Cardinal roster. His fondness bordered on an outright order to play him in the Cardinal lineup.
Hutchinson studied his boss, who rarely hears a "no" from a subordinate. "Mr. Busch," he said, "do you want me to say what I really think, or what you want to hear? If I wanted to play a clown, I'd go hire Emmett Kelly." With that, he stalked out of the room.
After a moment of silence, Frank Lane turned to the Cardinal owner. "Mr. Busch," he said, "that man is worth a million dollars to you, because he always tells you the truth."
Such nicknames as "Sphinx-Face," "The Moose" and "The Bear" have been applied to Hutchinson, but none have quite stuck. "The Bear" is currently popular in St. Louis, and curiously fitting. During games, Hutchinson, a square-set man of 6 feet 2, weighing 200 pounds, paces restlessly in the pine-green dugout of Busch Stadium, hunched slightly forward, his huge hands nervously rattling a few white pebbles that line the outer rim of the field.
Frequently, the frustration of losing a close game touches off wild, demonstrative rages. He has broken water coolers, stools, light bulbs, and once-last year in Cincinnati—he hammered his own fists against a board-covered concrete wall until his knuckles were bloody and swollen. But his rages are rarely directed at an individual player; knowing his own temper, Hutchinson makes it a private rule to wait until the next day to chew out a player for his mistake. Sarcasm, the goading tool of many baseball managers, is no part of Hutchinson's nature. His bluntness is deceptively simple.
"When I first came here," he once said, "I kept hearing about how this pitcher couldn't pitch in Brooklyn, that pitcher couldn't pitch in Philadelphia and how somebody else was effective at home. One guy couldn't hit against a certain background and somebody else got a bellyache in Chicago. The hell with that. I want men. I want big leaguers, guys who grind and fight until somebody gives in, guys who can play every day under all kinds of conditions."
One of the arts in managing a modern major league baseball team over a long, crisis-ridden season is the art of patience—and patience is Hutchinson's paradox. The man of a short-fused temper has an amazing reservoir of restraint with young players and a deep compassion for ballplayers as a group. The answer may be that Hutchinson, who brought to baseball pitching no blazing natural equipment, understands the degree of difficulty baseball presents. Of the loud-talking grandstand critics, he has only contempt. "They've never been there," he says. "Never crossed those white lines. What do they know? Do they know what it's like to hit against Newcombe, or bunt against him with Hodges coming down your throat? Hell, anybody can play ball in a saloon!"
If you will examine the esprit de corps of the Cardinals, it must be done among the men who play for Hutchinson. They dress a few yards away from the Busch Stadium executive offices, in a long, immaculate, blue-tiled dressing room, complete with a hi-fi record player. Musial sits in front of locker No. 6, sorting his usually large stack of mail. Dressing next to Musial is Del Ennis, a broad, heavy man who is built for all the world like one of Anheuser-Busch's famed Clydesdales. At one end of the narrow room a group of the younger players listen to some hillbilly songs (the words composed by Catcher Hal Smith). At the other end is Doc Bauman's glistening white training room, where Sam Jones, the resurrected curve-ball artist, is getting a shoulder rub.
Musial, holding his box of mail across his bare legs, talks slowly, choosing his words carefully. "Essentially," he says, "this team will stand or fall on its young players. Hutchinson is patient with them, knows how to use them. You'll never hear him taking credit. He never does that. But he brings out the best in us, because everything's out on the table with him."
Musial paused, shuffled through his stack of mail for perhaps 30 seconds, then added: "Let's put it this way: If I ever hear a player say he can't play for Hutch, then I'll know he can't play for anybody."
Doc Bauman, who has trained both the Browns and the Cardinals, working under all types of managers, sat on the black-surfaced rubbing table. A sensitive, intelligent man, Bauman spoke with emotion.
"I'd have to go far back in my memory to recall a finer man. I've seen him leave the clubhouse for a few minutes and stop to ask the clubhouse boy if he could bring back a sandwich. He's got real humility.
"Some of these guys—and I've seen them—they get to be a manager and right away they have to prove they're big men. They're quick to take credit for anything good a ballplayer does. But Hutch never does that, and these players respect him for it. He goes right on being himself, same to everybody, because he is a big man. I don't know how to say it"—Bauman shook his head—"he's humble, he's kind, he's strict and he's tough. He's all these things in one man."
Out on the bench Alvin Dark, 34 years old, sat slouched, staring out across the diamond at the socko-red-and-green grandstand of Busch Stadium and spoke with his soft Louisiana drawl.
"I saw where the front office blasted him for taking me out of that game in Brooklyn," Dark said. He held up the forefinger of his throwing hand, which had a piece of tape glued over the nail. "I had this bad finger. It was the only time I ever asked to be taken out of a game in my life. So he got blasted for taking me out. But he never once opened his mouth to explain. That's the kind of a man he is."
Hutch looks deep into a player to decide those who deserve his patience. "There's no secret to it," he once said. "A man is what he is, way back. I don't mean when he's 18 or 19, but long before that. It's deep in his makeup and nobody is going to do much about changing it."
Fred Hutchinson, 38, is his own best example. His high school coach, Ralph (Pop) Reed, remembers the way he stood on the Emerson grade school playfield, in Seattle, his catcher's mask pushed back over a shock of curly red hair, his face twisted in thin-lipped anger, eyes narrowed, arguing with an umpire. He was only 10 years old. "When I saw him stand up and have it out with an adult umpire," says Pop Reed, "I knew that here was a real competitor. The thing that impressed me was that he wasn't just shooting off his mouth. He was right and he knew it, and he had courage enough to say what he thought. He was already a tough, thinking ballplayer."
Hutchinson is the youngest son of a prominent Seattle family which settled in the Rainier Beach district near Lake Washington. His father, Dr. J. L. Hutchinson, who died a few years ago, was a prominent physician and surgeon. His oldest brother, Dr. William B. Hutchinson, is one of Seattle's leading chest and abdominal surgeons. Middle brother John is a full professor of physical education at Columbia University. Both of Fred's older brothers had a brief fling at professional baseball and they decided, even when Fred was tiny, that he would be the best athlete in the Hutchinson family.
Together they would stand Fred up against a garage door and fire tennis balls at him, taught him how to hit left-handed with a broomstick. They worked on him by the hour, coached him incessantly and, by his freshman year at Franklin High School, when he first reported to Pop Reed, he had the poise of a veteran. In his sophomore year, Hutch turned to pitching. Immensely strong as a youngster, Fred could almost lose a baseball in his huge hand, yet he never became an overpowering pitcher. His chief weapons were amazing control, a natural sinker, a short, choppy curve and a thoroughly domesticated change-of-pace. Those were his weapons, plus fine baseball instinct and a consuming desire to win.
Pop Reed, an acutely perceptive man, who now lives in semiretirement in Long Beach, Calif., still keeps in close touch with professional baseball. Says Reed: "If baseball wasn't a competitive sport—if it was just something you did for exercise—I don't think Fred would be interested in it. Looking back on it, I think he may very well be the greatest competitor baseball has ever produced."
In three years as a schoolboy pitcher, Hutchinson won 60 games, lost only two, yet major league scouts, almost to a man, shied away from his mediocre fast ball and wrinkly curve. The Seattle Rainiers, newly renovated under wealthy brewer Emil Sick, signed Hutchinson for $2,500 and 20% of any sales price that might result with a big league club.
It developed into one of baseball's most celebrated deals. As an 18-year-old in 1938, Hutch won 25 games for Seattle. Ball parks were jammed with fans, curious to watch this calm, dead-faced youngster deftly handle the league's best hitters with his uncanny control. The inevitable clubhouse lawyers, attuned to the big crowds, urged Hutch to demand an increase over his $250-a-month salary. But Fred's father, the distinguished, goateed Dr. Hutchinson, got wind of the move. "By the Lord, you're a Hutchinson!" he thundered. "You made a bargain and you'll stick to it—or you can pack up and move out right now." Hutch stuck with the bargain, and when the season was over he was named the league's Most Valuable Player by the St. Louis Sporting News.
That winter Hutch was sold to Detroit in a deal worth $100,000 to the Rainiers ($20,000 to Hutch). Hutch's entry into the major leagues was no instant success.
Big league hitters gleefully hammered his limited pitching stuff. Almost instantly, he was branded a "$100,000 lemon." Indeed, Hutch spent two more seasons in the minors, at Toledo, then Buffalo (where he won 26 games in 1941), with only brief periods at Detroit before entering the Navy for a four-year term in 1941. It was only in the postwar baseball years that he became established as a big league pitcher. He became a steady winner, but worked in the elegant shadow of such Detroit greats as Hal Newhouser and Dizzy Trout. But Hutch's intense combativeness and accomplished pinch hitting made him a favorite among Detroit fans. His displays of temper became legendary in the American League. "I always know how Hutch did when we follow Detroit into a town," cracked Yankee Catcher Yogi Berra. "If we got stools in the dressing room, I know he won. If we got kindling, he lost."
His clashes with umpires were frequent. Once, after he was tossed out of a game by Umpire Bill McKinley, reporters sought him out in the Briggs Stadium dressing room. "You can say for me," Hutch growled, "that they shot the wrong McKinley." His manager for several years was Steve O'Neill, a man he still worships, and from whom, one gathers, he learned the virtue of patience with young players. "If I needed one game on which my whole season was based," O'Neill used to say, "if my career depended on that single victory, I'd pick Hutch to pitch it for me."
Detroit players elected Hutchinson player representative in 1947; a year later he became the American League representative, a post he held until midseason of 1952, when Walter O. (Spike) Briggs, the Detroit president, picked him out of the ranks to succeed Red Rolfe as manager. In 2½ years as boss of the Tigers he moved the club from last to sixth to a single game out of first division. Then, in a typically stubborn Hutchinson gesture, he quit his $40,000-a-year job. Long aware that he wasn't being consulted on player deals or inner council planning, Hutchinson demanded a two-year contract.
A few days later, after a meeting of the Detroit board of directors, Briggs telephoned Hutchinson at his home. "It's a club policy," he said. "One year is all we can do."
"Then I'm turning it down," Hutch replied.
At less than half his Detroit salary, Hutchinson went back to Seattle, where he signed a three-year contract to manage Emil Sick's Rainiers. His old high school teammate and close friend, Dewey Soriano, by now was general manager of the Rainiers. Together they ripped apart a fifth-place roster, made 67 separate player deals and turned out a winner. Without a regular .300 hitter or a 20-game winning pitcher, Hutchinson juggled his lineup almost daily (he used eight second basemen during the season) and finished in front of second-place San Diego by three games. Pacific Coast League baseball writers elected him Manager of the Year.
One of Hutch's spot-winners on the Rainiers, Old Pro Larry Jansen, paid his manager a pitcher's definitive baseball tribute: "I never saw a better man with pitchers. Hutch saved half a dozen games by moving his pitchers at the right time. He was almost psychic."
Frank Lane, meanwhile, had taken over as general manager of the Cardinals, who had steadily declined from third to sixth to seventh in three years of Gussie Busch's ownership. "I knew we were going to have to build with young players," Lane says now, "and I needed a manager who could handle them." When Lane proposed Fred Hutchinson as manager of the Cardinals, Gussie Busch's reaction was typical of a relative newcomer in baseball. "Who's Hutchinson?" he wanted to know.
Even today, Gussie Busch sounds vaguely bewildered when he discusses his manager. "He doesn't say much," says Busch, "and he's the kind of man who won't say anything he doesn't believe. I've found that out. Sometimes I think he's made mistakes in strategy, and I think the press rode him kind of hard about that Mizell incident in Brooklyn. Certainly, I disagreed with him. But Hutch has the courage of his convictions. We all admire that."
To Frank Lane, the selection of Hutchinson to boss the Cardinals was obvious. "Did you notice his conduct at Detroit?" Lane asks. "He left because he wouldn't be a puppet. But even when they treated him like one, he was never disloyal. Never tried to justify himself, and he didn't sound off about his troubles. And even when they wanted him back, he walked out. He never carped or complained or criticized. He's all man."
Lane thought a moment and continued: "Hutch has a rough, tough demeanor, but he has that damnable patience. I've even accused him of being a character-builder. I cuss him out from the stands because I'm that way—when I've got anything to say, I tell the world about it. I don't think Hutch has ever experienced fear in his life. In a way, that's a minus factor in his makeup. He applies it as a yardstick to his players.
"As a strategist," concluded Lane, "I think he's unimaginative, but he goes right on getting results. Hutch just won't 'yes' anybody."
Bob Broeg, veteran St. Louis Post-Dispatch baseball writer, summed up Hutchinson in part when he wrote that he is "a man who has a way with men...who makes no pretense of maneuvering or manipulating with the winking wisdom of a Casey Stengel, the mysticism of a Paul Richards, the daring of a Leo Durocher or the bravado of a Charley Dressen.
"If, as a tactician, Hutchinson is uninspired, he has the rich quality of holding the confidence and loyalty of his players, a combination that has produced a team spirit the club knew under neither of his immediate predecessors, Harry Walker and Eddie Stanky. The Cardinals like their rugged manager...he has the players believing they can win."
To all of it—the bombast, the criticism, the tributes and the vague half-truths he hears and reads about himself—Hutchinson is stoically realistic. He knows that each day, as the National League battle for supremacy approaches its September climax, that each day will bring the pleasant, temporary pleasure in winning, or the boiling, inner sickness of defeat. "You have to love misery to do this," he once said. In the few hours of respite between games, Hutchinson is relaxed and sometimes warmly communicative. Now he was sitting in a cool, near-empty St. Louis café, late after a night game the Cardinals had won.
He was scowling, and the four heavy lines across his forehead deepened. He cracked ice hard with his teeth, a faintly disturbing habit, and his long jaw muscles bulged. His once-red hair is now a dark brown, peppered with gray, and the sharp lines down each side of his face, the strong, prominent chin and the thin, pulled-down mouth give him a look of perpetual, sad toughness. Then he began to talk, in the heavy deep voice that makes a listener strain to hear.
"The important thing is not to panic" he said, staring into his half-empty glass. "You have to grind, day after day, and forget about yesterday. The easiest thing to do is second-guess, but the worst thing to do is to second-guess yourself. Then you panic.
"Lane gets excited. They all get excited. I don't mind it from Lane, because he's always been that way. He dies on every pitch. Funny thing about Lane, the way he cusses the ballplayers out and jumps on me from the stands. If anybody else did that to us, I think he'd fight."
Hutchinson turned his glass, spilled another piece of ice in his mouth and cracked down hard with his teeth. Then he talked again: "The big guy with us is Dark. He's making a winner out of Blasingame. You don't see those things from the stands, but every day I see Blasingame get better because Dark is showing him how to win. Musial you don't have to manage. What can a manager do for him?
"The pitching—maybe I could take credit for that. That thing with Mizell in Brooklyn, I just wanted to get him over a hump. Sometimes that's all it takes—a man gets over a rough time and he goes on from there." Hutchinson gave a short laugh. "Guys ask me about Von McDaniel. What did I do for him? I just put him in there and he came through. Could I take credit for that?
"I try to make a ballplayer believe in himself, and the only way you can do that is to give him a chance. If he plays his way out of the lineup, then you try somebody else. And if you haven't got 'em, you're dead. I seldom read the newspapers. If we won, I know how. If we lost, reading about it won't get the game back."
A man and woman stopped by the table and spoke to Hutchinson about the Cardinals. They wished him luck and went away. "People like that are the ones I like," he said. "They didn't ask for anything, or tell me how to run things. There are thousands like that." There was one piece of ice left in the glass and Hutchinson put it in his mouth. He cracked it, then spoke again.
"You know, I didn't always agree with Harry Truman," he said. "But when they were firing at him, you never saw him pull back. The little man from Missouri never pulled his foot in the bucket. They wrote him off in 1948, and he was the only one who believed in himself. He went out among the people and scratched for it. He didn't flinch or run to hide. He knew how to win."
There was a long period of silence. Hutchinson scowled into his empty glass. The light strains of the French melody, La Seine, came through on the piped-in music, disturbed slightly by a rattle of glasses, making the scene of the realistic, intense man, speaking out his thoughts, seem incongruous.
"We haven't got the best club," he was saying, "but they believe in themselves. They go out every day and grind. Baseball doesn't have many naturals, a lot less than you might imagine.
"The ones who work hardest are the ones who make it, the ones who win. Sometimes that's the only difference. If you don't work hard at this game, you might as well hang them up. Sweat is your only salvation."
HUTCH STARTS AS 5-YEAR-OLD CATCHER, PITCHES AT 6, STARS IN HIGH SCHOOL AT 14 AND THEN AMERICAN LEGION BALL A FEW YEARS LATER. HE JOINS SEATTLE AT 18 AND NEARS END OF ACTIVE CAREER WITH TIGERS AT 32