Hal Newhouser had a unique distinction during the prime of his career in the 1940s—not only was he known as baseball’s best pitcher, he was also his sport's most unpopular player. An uncompromising perfectionist who was as hard on himself as his teammates, he was famous for his amazing left arm. Whether "Prince Hal" was mowing down enemy hitters or smashing a case of Coke bottles against the clubhouse wall, he was given a wide berth by opponents and teammates alike. Hal began his baseball journey as a gangly, wide-eyed teenager and finished as one of the smartest scouts in the game. In between he made a few friends, plenty of enemies and left a lifetime of memories for baseball fans in Detroit.

Harold Newhouser was born on May 20, 1921 in Detroit, Michigan. (Click here for today's sports birthdays.) Hal’s parents were first-generation immigrants. His father, Theodore, was a draftsman in the automotive industry. He had been a gymnast in his native Czechoslovakia. His mother was Austrian. Hal got his athleticism from his father and his earnest (some would say sour) disposition from his mother.

The Newhousers had moved to Detroit from Pittsburgh before Hal was born. Although there was good, steady work during the Great Depression, the family still struggled to make ends meet. Despite the fact that Hal and his older brother, Dick, were exceptional athletes, the Newhousers showed little interest in sports other than gymnastics. Even after Dick was signed to a contract by the Tigers and played a couple of seasons of minor-league ball as a catcher, his parents didn’t know much about baseball and cared even less about the sport. Dick left the game in his second year after he was beaned and suffered a fractured skull.

The scout that signed Dick was Wish Egan, a man who sought to corner the local market on baseball talent. Through the older Newhouser son, Egan got the inside track on Hal, a skinny lefthander who could whip a baseball with tremendous force. Even more impressive, he already seemed to have the grim, competitive makeup of a pro pitcher as he entered his teen years. Hal was deadly serious at all times. Teammates and sportswriters later noted that he had no sense of humor.

Hal was a true survivor. He took every manner of odd job, including selling papers, setting pins in a bowling alley and collecting empty bottles for the penny deposits. During the winter, he would wander over to the coal yard and collect discarded flakes in a gunny sack to take home. When the mercury plummeted, every little bit helped—especially if it was free.

As a boy, Hal also survived several grave injuries. He punctured his stomach when he fell off a woodpile onto a metal spike. He received a nasty head wound when another boy hit him with a brick. During a basketball game, he got a bad floor burn and then obsessively picked at the scab until he got blood poisoning. Hal received several nasty gashes playing football, too. A deep scar under his right eye became more noticeable as he grew older. By the time Hal reached the majors, he could look downright scary.

Hal Newhouser

When Hal was 14, he listened to the radio as Detroit’s Goose Goslin drove home Mickey Cochrane with the winning run in 1935 World Series. He decided that day that he wanted to pitch for the hometown Tigers. Hal was already playing softball in a fast-pitch league, serving as a pitcher and first baseman. Bob Ladie, who coached a top sandlot team in Detroit, suggested to Hal that try throwing a hardball. Hal took the mound for the first time at 15. Over the next three seasons, he won 42 games and lost only three times.

Hal developed an explosive but hard-to-control fastball and a good overhand curve. He also gained a reputation as a perfectionist with an explosive temper. He expected the best from himself as well as his teammates. When his fielders booted a ball, when his hitters failed to give him the runs he needed, Hal took it very personally. He was a difficult teammate to say the least; later, during his heyday with the Tigers, he was characterized as the most unpopular man in the Detroit locker room.

But ballplayers will put up with a lot if you win, and win Hal did. At Egan’s suggestion, he quit the baseball team at Wilbur Wright Trade School and pitched American Legion ball instead. His fellow students at Wright signed a petition asking him to reconsider, but he had his sights set on a bigger prize. Against a higher grade of competition Hal was simply fantastic. During one stretch, he won 19 games in a row and pitched 65 scoreless innings, striking out 20 or more hitters in a game five times. Also at Egan’s insistence, Hal quit the school basketball team—after being captain for two seasons—so he could focus on baseball.

The Tigers decided to sign 17-year-old Hal in the summer of 1938, right after he returned from the American Legion tournament. By then the secret was out and other teams—most notably the Cleveland Indians—were hovering. Egan had the inside track and closed the deal on the evening of August 6. He got Hal’s signature on a contract and paid him a $500 bonus in $100 bills. The teenager gave $400 to his parents and socked away $100 for himself in case he didn’t make it as a pro. Plan B was to go to an industrial school to study tool and die work.

Shortly after Hal signed the contract, he was walking down the street when Cleveland's head scout, Cy Slapnicka, pulled up in a shiny new car along with Roger Peckinpaugh. He offered Hal a $15,000 bonus and the car. Hal was crushed. Slapnicka had been late because he was picking up the car!

At virtually the same time, the Tigers were engineering the departure of manager Mickey Cochrane, replacing him with Del Baker. When Egan—who’d known "Iron Mike" since he arrived Detroit—heard the news he was unmoved. “A couple of years from now the Tigers will win pennants no matter who manages them,” he told his secretary. “Today I’ve just signed the greatest left-handed pitcher I ever saw.”

Hal reported for duty the following spring to the Tigers’ minor-league club in Alexandria, Louisiana. He dominated batters at two minor-league stops that summer, first in the Evangeline League with Alexandria and then with Beaumont of the Texas League. He logged a total of 230 innings on his teenage arm. Later Hal felt that had he been brought along more slowly, he would not have experienced the arm and shoulder problems that began plaguing him in his late 20s.

Hal won his first game as a pro, striking out 18 batters, and then notched seven more victories before earning a promotion to Beaumont. After winning his first four decisions with his new team, Texas League batters figured they could wait him out and force him to groove his pitches when he was behind in the count. Hal lost 13 in a row, and the Tigers began receiving alarming reports about the 18-year-old’s temper. Egan stepped in at this point and suggested that Hal make the jump to the big club, mostly so they could keep an eye on him.

Goose Goslin,
Kellogg’s pin

Hal joined a team led by pitchers Schoolboy Rowe, Tommy Bridges and Bob Newsom. He was part of a youth movement that included Dizzy Trout and fellow teenager Fred Hutchinson. It was manager Del Baker’s plan to work the youngsters into the rotation and phase out Roxie Lawson, Vern Kennedy and George Gill—all whom had been traded away by the time Hal reached the majors.

Hal appeared in one game in 1939, giving up three hits and four walks in five innings in the tail end of a doubleheader against the Indians. The game was called on account of darkness, and Hal took the loss. It was one of 73 suffered by the Tigers that year against 81 victories. Detroit obviously had superb pitching, but the offense was in flux. Hank Greenberg and Rudy York supplied ample power, while veteran Charlie Gehringer was a perennial .300 hitter. The rest of the lineup was not much better than average, however, peppered with the likes of Birdie Tebbetts, Barney McCoskey, Pinky Higgins, and Pete Fox.

Which made what happened in 1940 all the more remarkable. Baker knew that he needed York’s bat in the lineup every day. A catcher by trade, York did not offer the receiving skills of Tebbetts and thus had functioned primarily as a backup player and pinch-hitter. Baker moved Greenberg to left field and stationed York at first base. York exploded with a 34-homer, 134-RBI season, while Greenberg held his own in left and came within a dozen points of winning the Triple Crown.

The veterans on the Detroit pitching staff took full advantage of this firepower, with Newsom, Bridges and Rowe combining for a 49–17 record. Hal was in the rotation most of the year, making 20 starts and going 9–9 with a 4.87 ERA. Every outing was an adventure. When he threw the fastball for strikes and located his curve, he was tough to beat. When his control was off, it was painful to watch him. The swings in his performance were not always game to game. Sometimes they were inning to inning.

As a 19-year-old in thick of a pennant race, Hal was not always in control of his emotions. In his wilder moments, he would pace around the mound, trying to regain his composure, worried what the veterans were thinking. Often he would peer into the stands, searching for the large hat worn by his mother, who sat along the rightfield line when she attended games at Briggs Stadium. His father never saw him pitch at Tiger Stadium—he worked during the afternoons, and the Tigers were a noted holdout where night baseball was concerned. Later. Hal bought his folks a home in Asbury Park, New Jersey, where they opened a small pattern-making business.

After being pulled from a game by Baker, Hal was like a hurricane—his alternate nickname was "Hurricane Hal." He would throw tantrums in the clubhouse that reminded baseball people of another volatile southpaw, Lefty Grove. Once he destroyed an entire case of Coke, smashing each bottle against the locker room wall. Over the years, Hal would become so irate at times that he would demand that the Tigers trade him. After cooling off, he would always come to his senses.

Even in calmer times, Hal could be tough on his teammates. As tradition dictated, the Tigers had Hal room with Rowe, the veteran who had grown up in the Detroit system. All Hal wanted to talk about was the minutiae of pitching. He drove Rowe crazy.

As it turned out, every one of Hal’s nine wins in 1940 was precious. The Tigers and Indians battled all summer, while the juggernaut New York Yankees—a last-place team in May—came around and made a spirited dash for first place in September. The smart money was on Cleveland until a player revolt against manager Ozzie Vitt destabilized the clubhouse. In the end, Detroit survived to win the pennant by a game over the Tribe and two over the Yanks.

The Tigers faced the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series. It was a tight affair that went the full seven games. Hal did not see the light of day. He watched from the dugout as Detroit went up by a game before Cincinnati rallied to take the final two games by scores of 4–0 and 2–1.

Schoolboy Rowe photo

The law of gravity caught up with the Tigers in 1941, as Detroit tumbled to a sub-.500 record and a fourth-place tie with Cleveland. Missing from the lineup was Greenberg, one of the first ballplayers drafted in advance of the second World War. That left York as the club’s sole power source, and not surprisingly his numbers declined.

Once again, Hal was part of the Detroit rotation, this time going 9–11 with a 4.79 ERA. It was essentially a repeat of the previous season. He ran hot and cold, fanning hitters when he got ahead in the count, and getting knocked all over the park when he fell behind. On the upside, Hal, 20, married his girlfriend Beryl in 1941. They had met at a party a couple of years earlier.

On December 5, baseball fans got good news when the military announced it was discharging all men over the age of 28. The Detroit faithful had exactly two days to rejoice about the return of Greenberg before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor plunged America into war.

Hal’s wartime plans involved being sworn into the Army Air Force on the mound at Briggs Stadium. However, he failed his physical after doctors heard the swoosh of a heart condition known as a mitral valve prolapse. He was classified 4-F, unfit for duty. Hal tried on other occasions to slip through the medical screening as Greenberg had. (Originally he too was 4-F due to bad feet). But the stethoscope told doctors all they needed to know, and Hal was excused from service.

Hal made the best of his situation, pitching well enough against the league’s dwindling offensive talent in 1942 to make his first All-Star Game. No one suspected it at the time, by this would be the first of seven straight All-Star selections. Hal was not easy to score on, as witnessed by his 2.45 ERA. But the Tiger lineup had been decimated by the draft and struggled mightily to generate runs. The result for Hal was an 8–14 record. He completed 11 games and also functioned as the team’s closer at times, racking up five saves. The Tigers finished below .500 again, in fifth place.

Hal’s control continued to be the major issue affecting his success. More often than not it was horrible. In 1943, former catcher Steve O’Neill replaced Baker as Detroit’s manager and brought in backstop Paul Richards to handle the young staff. Richards, who was already establishing himself as a baseball guru, would be charged with squeezing the long-awaited potential out of Hal and his teammates.

The new manager and catcher were exasperated by the number of walks Hal issued—a league-high 111 in 196 innings. He worked his way in and out of trouble constantly, running up big pitch counts and getting pulled for pinch-hitters in the middle innings, which drove him crazy. Hal’s moodiness and frustration grew even worse. At season’s end, his record was a dismal 8–17. Had the war not been taking a heavy toll on major league rosters, Hal probably would have been farmed out, released or traded.

As Hal headed into the 1944 season, he had to make an important career decision. He was 34–52 at this point, and a source of great frustration to his teammates and Tiger management. His father had secured an off-season job for him as an apprentice draftsman at Chrysler headquarters, and he showed enough promise to be offered a full-time job with a very attractive salary. Hal agreed that it was a good opportunity, but he informed his parents that he would give baseball one more shot.

Trusting his instincts and his talent, Hal sensed that O’Neill and Richards had much to teach him. Trout and Virgil Trucks, another product of the Detroit farm system, had made the transition to effective big league starters. The Tigers, whose pitching was getting thinner and thinner, really needed Hal to “grow up” and join them atop the rotation.

When Hal arrived at the wartime camp in Indiana, Richards told him that he was a thrower. “I’m going to make you a pitcher,” he said. By this time Hal was a three-pitch pitcher, with a fastball, curveball and change-up. Richards taught him how to throw a slider. Back then, the pitch was known somewhat derogatorily as a nickel curve. But in Hal’s hand, it was a sharp-breaking delivery that looked enough like his fastball. Batters had no idea how to handle it.

Another part of Hal’s transformation involved harnessing his emotions. In this regard, Richards appeared to work miracles. Hal cut his free passes in half and became a completely different pitcher, on the mound and in the clubhouse. Meanwhile, Richards managed to turn Trout into a top pitcher, too.

Hal led the Tigers into battle in 1944, one of the weirdest seasons in American League history. Two second-division clubs, the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Browns, joined the Tigers and Yankees in a wild four-team race that lasted well into September. Boston faded after losing key players to the Army, but the Browns and Yankees kept pace. The only reason New York didn’t run away with the AL race was Hal. He beat them six times that season.

The Browns finished off the Yankees, schoking them in a late-season series to put them out of the running. With two days left in the campaign, Detroit and St. Louis sported identical 87–65 records. Hal won his start—victory number 29, which led the majors—but the Browns won, too. Trout, whose season was every bit as good as Hal’s, took the mound on the final day and lost to the Senators. In St. Louis, the Browns rallied for a comeback win over the Yankees to nail down the pennant.

Hank Greenberg, Premium

After the season, the MVP vote was a toss-up between Hal and Trout.Hal had gone 29-9 with a 2.22 ERA, but Trout’s numbers were equally impressive—27 victories in 40 starts, 352 innings and had an ERA of 2.12. Trout actually received more first-place votes, but Hal won the overall balloting by four points to cop the trophy by a narrow margin. The honor was well deserved. Hal had led the majors with 187 strikeouts, twirled six shutouts to Trout's seven, and also saved two wins for Detroit. In all, he had a hand in a total of 31 victories.

While Trout was never as good again, Hal continued his assault on AL batters. In 1945, he topped the AL with 313 innings, 29 complete games, 212 strikeouts, eight shutouts and a 1.81 ERA. He won 25 times and lost nine, with a couple saves on top. Rarely has a pitcher gone through a season with the total command Hal enjoyed. His strikeout total seems tame by modern standards, but the second-place finisher, Nels Potter of the Browns, had 83 fewer.

The Tigers welcomed back Greenberg at mid-season and also reacquired outfielder Roy Cullenbine in a trade with the Indians early in the year. Cullenbine established himself as the team’s table-setter, while Greenberg got into 78 games and regained his swing in time for another thrilling four-way pennant race.

Hal may have alienated his teammates at times, but they knew he was a gamer. Toward the end of 1945, his back began spasming, and the team decided that he should stay in Detroit while the Tigers made their final Eastern trip. When they arrived in New York, GM Jack Zeller revisited this decision and phoned Hal to ask him to fly in. The Detroit pitchers were exhausted, and the thinking was that Hal might be able to fool the Yankees for a couple of innings before they realized he wasn’t himself. Hal threw a curve to Charlie Keller and practically passed out from the pain, so he stuck with a fastball and change-up. Hal ended up blanking the Yanks on five hits that afternoon.

The Tigers rolled into Washington in late September with a half-game lead on the surprising Senators. Hal and his teammates had plenty of bumps and bruises. Eddie Mayo had a sore shoulder. Greenberg was limping on a sprained ankle, and Hal’s back was killing him. He lasted only one inning before leaving the first game of a crucial twinbill. The Tigers rallied to win 7–4 and took the nightcap 7–3 behind Trout, who won his fifth game in two weeks. The clubs split the next day’s doubleheader.

The Senators finished their schedule the following week with 87 wins, a game behind the Tigers. Detroit, however, was unable to clinch because of four consecutive rainouts. The weather finally cleared for a season-ending doubleheader with the Browns. The Tigers needed one win to clinch. If they lost both ends, they would have to face the Senators in a playoff.

Trucks, who missed the entire year in the Navy, was released in time to start the first game for Detroit. He allowed one run over five-plus innings but got into trouble in the sixth. Hal came in from the bullpen and wriggled out of a one-out bases-loaded jam to preserve a 2–1 lead. The pesky Browns scored single runs off Hal in the seventh and eighth to take a 3–2 lead. In the ninth inning, the Tigers loaded the bases for Greenberg, who hit his most famous home run, a shot into the leftfield stands that won the game for Hal and the pennant for Detroit. Hal ended up leading the majors in wins, strikeouts and ERA, becoming just the third AL pitcher after Walter Johnson and Lefty Grove to do so.

This time around int he World Series, Hal was a central character. The Tigers opened the series against the Chicago Cubs in Detroit with Hal on the mound. He got absolutely clobbered in a 9–0 rout, giving up seven runs before being yanked in the third inning. The Tigers had played terrible defense behind Hal, but he blamed himself for this one. He had not made good pitches when he needed to.

Hal Newhouser & Dizzy Trout,
Who's Who in Baseball

The series see-sawed and was tied after four games. Hal redeemed himself in Game 5 with an 8–4 complete-game victory. He was called upon three days later to start Game 7. The Tigers staked him to five runs in the top of the first inning—highlighted by a bases-clearing double by his catcher Richards—and Hal kept Chicago under control for nine innings, scattering 10 hits and striking out 10 for an easy 9–3 victory. With the exception of the Game 1 debacle, Hal blew the Cubs away in the series. In 20.3 innings, he fanned 22 batters to set a new World Series record and walked only four.

After the series, Hal was named the league MVP again. In doing so, he became the first—and still the only—hurler to win back-to-back Most Valuable Player awards. Hal later admitted that he tried hard to win the second award. He knew how tough it was for a pitcher to capture it and was determined to repeat the feat.

The winter of 1945–46 brought some interesting developments in the baseball world. Jorge Pasquel decided to take advantage of all the returning baseball talent and transform the Mexican League into a major league. The key was luring a few big names south of the border. There was no bigger name in baseball than Hal. Pasquel offered him $200,000 to pitch for three seasons, with a $300,000 signing bonus.

For a player who had missed a big payday once, this seemed too good to pass up. Hal felt a lot of loyalty to the Tigers and informed Briggs that he was being wooed by Pasquel. The Tigers gave him a $10,000 bonus to stay with the club, with a promise of much more after the season, when his new contract came due. Worried that he might be banned from baseball if the Mexican League imploded, Hal took the Detroit offer and never looked back. The Tigers did give him a big raise, to more than $60,000 a year.

The 1946 season belonged to the Red Sox, who celebrated the return from military duty of Ted Williams by winning 104 games and running away from the rest of the league. The Tigers finished second, 12 games out. Hal was again the top pitcher in the AL, winning a league-best 26 games and taking the ERA crown again with a 1.94 mark. Any doubts that the returning stars would expose him as an inferior pitcher were erased by his stellar season. Although Williams won the MVP award, Hal finished close on his heels in second.

The Tigers had a wonderful starting staff in 1946. Taking Hal out of the mix, Trout, Trucks and Hutchinson still combined to go 45–33 and rarely gave up more than three runs a game. Meanwhile, Greenberg was the top power hitter in the league, and the team had just acquired George Kell, a future batting champion, at the suggestion of Hal’s old mentor, Wish Egan. They also had Dick Wakefield, one of the brightest young stars in baseball. Detroit fans had plenty to look forward to.

After the ’46 season, the Tigers chatted to the Yankees about pitching. New York had failed to win a pennant for a fourth straight year, and the Tigers were loaded with good arms. Hal’s name came up in conversation, and so did Joe DiMaggio’s. Was a trade of these two stars specifically discussed? Rumors that it did have circulated ever since.

The 1947 Tigers finished in second place, 12 games back for the second year in a row. This time they were looking up at the Yankees. The missing piece to their puzzle was Greenberg, who had gotten into a fight with management over his salary and abruptly retired. The Tigers sold his contract to the Pittsbrugh Pirates, where he played one final season. Meanwhile, the Detroit offense became a black hole. No Tiger hit 25 homers or knocked in or scored 100 runs. Kell was the only regular who batted over .300.

With little offensive support, Hal’s record dropped to 17–17. He still had a tremendous season, completing 24 of his 36 starts, fanning 176 batters and turning in an ERA of 2.87. Though he had been a big leaguer for nearly a decade, he still had moments of teen-like frustration. During a game at Briggs Stadium in August, O’Neill attempted to remove Hal in the third inning after he gave up five runs to the Red Sox. Hal insisted he had his good stuff and simply refused to leave the mound. O’Neill later fined him $250 for his obstinacy—the first fine he had doled out as Tiger manager. It was also the first time Hal had actually ever been fined, despite having done untold damage to clubhouses around the league.

If anyone was qualified to judge his own stuff, it was Hal. Long before teams used videotape and analyzed pitching motions, Hal had film shot of his games through an expensive lens. He would run the movies at home between starts, looking for flaws in his motion and also in his grip. Toward the end of his frustrating ’47 campaign, Hal purchased a second projector and ran films side by side on two screens. One film showed him during his big years of the mid 1940s. The other had his most recent starts. After hours of study he noticed a slight difference in his follow-through. He corrected the flaw and won four of his final five decisions. Hal later discovered that he had been playing with a broken right foot.

The Tigers faded from the first division in 1948, finishing a respectable 78–76 but in fifth place. The offense was the problem again. This time, Detroit was without Kell for a long stretch of the summer, and rising stars Hoot Evers and Vic Wertz weren’t ready to carry the club. For his part, Hal had another stellar season. Hal led the AL with 21 wins and was top man on the Detroit staff in strikeouts with 143 (for the team that finished first in the league in that category). A decade’s worth of innings had taken the edge off Hal’s fastball, but he still got it to the plate in the 90s and had become quite adept at locating his big curve,

On June 15, the Tigers became the last AL team to illuminate their games. Walter Briggs was a staunch proponent of day baseball, and even after the game he told reporters he did not envision the club playing too many night games. Hal was on the mound to deliver the first pitch against the Philadelphia A’s at 9:30 p.m. He allowed two hits in a 4–1 victory. Hal later ranked this night among his top baseball thrills. More than 50,000 people were in the stands, and the team received a long, loud ovation after the final out. It was one of the few bright spots in a season that saw Detroit finish far out of first place.

Paul Richards, 1953 Bowman

Even with Detroit’s poor record, Hal managed to figure in the 1948 pennant race. On the season’s final day, he faced Bob Feller and the Indians. These were always exciting match-ups, and although Feller typically got the best of the Tigers when they faced each other, Hal did have one of his most memorable moments on this particular occasion. Hal’s shoulder was aching, and he was throwing on one day’s rest. But he pitched one of the best games of his life, winning 7–1 in front of a deflated crowd at Municipal Stadium. The victory prevented the Tribe from clinching the pennant and forced them into a one-game playoff with the Red Sox, which Cleveland won. Hal’s victory put him one win ahead of Bob Lemon, Rapid Robert’s teammate.

The ’48 season would be Hal’s last as a 20-game winner. The shoulder pain he felt that day against Feller never really went away. Over the years, doctors and trainers tried everything they could to diagnose and relieve the pain. By Hal’s own estimate he was x-rayed more than 100 times during his career. He had shots in his neck, a tooth pulled, and every type of chiropractic maneuver in the book.

Hal labored through the 1949 campaign, winning 18 times, often on sheer guile. Red Rolfe, the old Yankee star, was now the Detroit manager. He squeezed decent years out of veterans Trucks and Hutchinson and coaxed 25 wins from young starters Art Houtteman and Ted Gray. The Tigers got big years out of Wertz and Kell to finish 20 games over .500, in fourth place.

Detroit continued its winning ways in 1950. The Tigers battled the Yankees, Red Sox and Indians all year but finished three games behind the pennant-winning New Yorkers, in second place. Hal went 15–13 but could no longer count on his fastball to get him out of trouble. His ERA soared to 4.33.

From their fine showing in 1950, the Tigers tumbled into the second division the following year. Hal spent half the season unable to pitch because of shoulder woes. He wound up 6–6 in 14 starts. The smooth, rhythmic movement that had characterized his delivery was gone. For a player so concerned with form, it was sheer torture. Hal didn’t win a game after the All-Star break and was unable to make any starts after mid-July. During the year, Hal was offered a job with a Detroit company for $30,000 a year but turned it down without revealing the firm’s name. He wanted to keep pitching.

Hal also wanted to keep working with kids. He was a fountain of information on his craft and actually wrote a book entitled Pitching to Win. He had also established a kids club in Detroit and a few other cities called "Hal’s Pals." He met with members on off-days and before games when he wasn’t pitching. Hal also collected used equipment and sent it to the different clubs after the season. Through these interactions, he developed a taste for scouting, no doubt spurred by the memory of Egan. Hal had been a pallbearer at Egan’s funeral in April of 1951.

The Tigers cut Hal’s salary by the maximum 25 percent for 1952, but he refused to sign the contract GM Charlie Gehringer sent him until he was sure he could pitch without pain. He went down to Lakeland at his own expense a month early and began working out. While some ballplayers would have cringed at the thought of extra work in spring, Hal was a great believer in intense training. Forty laps around the park was just a warm-up for him.

When Hal was confident he could make it through the season, he made a fascinating proposal to the team. Hal was due $31,000 for 1952. Instead he asked for a five-year deal for $100,000. If for some reason he could not pitch, the salary would cover him as a minor league pitching instructor or major league coach. The Tigers had a long-standing rule against multiyear contracts. After careful consideration, they turned Hal down.

Hal made 19 starts in 1952 but was only marginally effective. He went 9–9  with a 3.74 ERA. Toward the end of the year, he lost his spot in the rotation to young Billy Hoeft. Hal’s final victory of the season was also his 200th. It turned out to be his last as a Tiger. The following season, he appeared in only seven games. He was 0–1 with a 7.04 ERA for Detroit.

Hal was released by the Tigers before the 1954 season and decided it might be time to retire. His old teammate, Greenberg, was now GM and part owner of the Indians. He offered Hal a chance to un-retire and make the club as a reliever. He took it. The move to the bullpen could not have been an easy one for Hal. He had always been pragmatic. He was also was famous for not wanting to leave the mound. At times, the ball had to be pried from his hand while he pleaded his case.

Greenberg’s signing of Hal turned out to be brilliant. Everything went right for Cleveland during the regular season. Hal pitched primarily in long relief, winning seven games and saving seven others against just two losses. His era was a neat 2.54. Hal was part of a lights-out bullpen that featured a pair of 25-year-old call-ups, Don Mossi and Ray Narleski. Between this threesome, they accounted for 16 wins and saved 27 of the Tribe’s record 114 victories that season. The World Series, however, was a major disappointment. The New York Giants shocked the Indians, scoring a four-game sweep. Hal saw action in Game 4. He relieved Lemon in the fifth inning but failed to retired to two batters he faced.

Bob Feller, 1952 Red Man

With his final seven victories Hal moved ahead of two Rubes—Marquard and Waddell—into eighth place all-time on the list of victories by lefthanders. The following year, Hal made just two appearances before he was released. His final numbers were 207 wins, 150 losses with a career ERA of 3.06. Hal led the AL in victories four times in five seasons and in strikeouts and complete games twice. He was the top man in winning percentage, shutouts and ERA once each.

Hal stayed in baseball, scouting for many years in Michigan—not a job for the faint-hearted given the state’s April temperatures. He also worked for the Baltimore Orioles, Indians, Tigers, and Houston Astros in the four decades after his retirement. His first discovery was Milt Pappas in 1957. Hal spotted the righthander at Cooley High School and connected him with the Orioles. Pappas would make the big club after just a handful of minor-league starts and star as one of the Baby Birds for Hal’s old catcher, Richards. A couple of years later, Hal signed Dean Chance for the O’s. He later won a Cy Young Award with the California Angels.

Hal’s last employer was the Astros. He quit after Houston overrode his suggestion to make Derek Jeter the first pick in the 1992 draft. The Astros took Phil Nevin instead. Hal had watched Jeter play many times and got to know his family—the kid was a lock, he told the club, even at the $1 million bonus many thought it would take to lure the shortstop away from the University of Michigan. “No one is worth a million dollars,” Hal told his boss, Dan O’Brien, “but if one kid is worth that, it's this kid.”

Over the years, Hal suffered the indignity of being passed over by Hall of Fame voters—not for a lack of talent, but for the talent drain in baseball during the years he excelled. Hal was what baseball people disdainfully referred to as a Wartime Pitcher. They conveniently ignored the fact that in the postwar years 1946 to 1950, he averaged just under 20 wins a season. In his last year of eligibility, Hal received 155 votes, his best showing by far but still far short of what he needed.

As the years passed, Hal became more philosophical about this slight. He half-understood what the voters were going through—even those on the Veterans Committee who had tried to hit against him. For several years, he listened to the radio on the day the Hall of Fame enshrinees were announced, but after too many years of not hearing his name, Hal stopped listening.

After more than three decades of eligibility, Hal finally got the call from Cooperstown in 1992. He cried when he heard the news—not because he had made  it, but because his mother, 92, was still alive to see her son receive his just rewards.

Hal was the first Detroit-born Tiger to reach Cooperstown. He went into the Hall of Fame with Tom Seaver and Rollie Fingers, as well as the late umpire Bill McGowan. Among those passed over by the Veterans Committee that year were Phil Rizzuto, Nellie Fox, Earl Weaver, Joe Gordon, Leo Durocher and Vic Willis—all of whom would later make it—and Gil Hodges, who is still waiting.

A few years later, Hal began suffering from emphysema and heart problems. He lived to see his number 16 retired by the Tigers. Hal passed away on November 10, 1998 at Providence Hospital in Southfield, near his home in Bloomfield Hills. He was survived by Beryl and his daughters Charlene and Cherrill, as well as his brother Richard.

Hal Newhouser, 1955 Topps

The story around baseball during Hal’s MVP years was that he learned to control his temper the day he learned to control his fastball. Sometimes it was the other way around. Soon it became baseball lore. Hal was nothing if not honest, and always made a point of refuting this theory.

“That’s nonsense,” he liked to say. “I’ll be hot-headed all my life. That’s just the kind of guy I am.”

“I didn’t win because I controlled my temper,” he was quick to add. “I controlled my temper because I began to win ... there’s no use getting mad when you’re winning!”

Birdie Tebbetts, one of Hal’s catchers with the Tigers, confirmed this assessment. “I guess you could call him pretty mean out there,” Tebbetts said. “But that’s all right with me. I like to catch mean guys who don’t like to lose.”.

“The woods are full of wonderful guys who can’t win.” Hal wasn’t one of them.


Hal Newhouser, 1961 Fleer


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