SABR

Tom Hurd

This article was written by James Elfers.

Originally signed by the White Sox as a shortstop, Tom Hurd finally made the majors as a Red Sox right-handed relief specialist some nine years later. He played for Boston for three years in the mid-1950s, appearing in 99 games, all in relief. His lifetime record was 13-10 with 11 saves. In 1955, he led the American League in wins by a relief pitcher with eight. At the plate, he batted .276 in 29 at-bats, but only drove in one run – though that one RBI helped win the game for him on May 9, 1956 – against the White Sox.

Thomas “Whitey” Carr Hurd, Jr. was the youngest of 10 children in his family, born in Danville, Virginia on May 27, 1924. His father died at age 51 and Tom’s mother remarried, to a jockey. When Tom was nine years old, the family moved to Cincinnati, and Tom quickly became a lifelong Reds fan, overjoyed as a teenager with their championships in 1939 and 1940.

At 5’ 7” and 127 pounds, his size in school appeared to limit his baseball prospects to shortstop. Determined to excel, he spent every moment he could spare on the city’s sandlots honing his skills, and every evening would bounce a ball against his garage door some 500 times. His persistence paid off as he was the starting shortstop for Withrow High School and helped lead his team to the Ohio state championship in 1941.

With the Second World War underway, he volunteered for service in the U.S. Army at age 19 and was assigned to the Ninth Army’s 435th troop carrier group, working in support of Army paratroopers. Hurd saw his war service as a bit of a cakewalk. “Some of those V2 rockets flying around were our only danger,” he said. 1 When not on duty, Tom kept himself in shape and played ball whenever the opportunity presented itself.

In fact Tom owed his professional career to his wartime ball playing. Hurd played for the First Air Cargo Re-supply Squadron. A friend of White Sox manager Jimmy Dykes was on the team and recommended Tom. The youngster had added two inches and gained more than 30 pounds to tip the scales at 160 pounds.

The White Sox signed him in 1946 and assigned him to their Class D team at Cordele, Georgia, in the Georgia-Florida League. His first season of professional ball saw him hit .233 with 50 RBIs. Despite committing 88 errors in the field, he was elevated to Fall River of the Class B New England League the following season. Those errors started Tom thinking about the mound.

Midway through the 1947 season, Tom was moved laterally to Waterloo, Iowa, of the Three I League. He ended up in Iowa due to a simple matter of team chemistry, explained a Waterloo sportswriter. “Newly installed Mgr. Jack Onslow and his shortstop Frank Whitman weren’t seeing eye to eye on things. Onslow made a phone call to Fall River and offered to trade Whitman then hitting .280 and driving in runs with extra base knocks, for this 5’9” sophomore. Fall River jumped at the chance and Onslow wasn’t slow in handing Whitman a one way ticket east.” 2 At the time, Hurd was hitting just .214 with 21 runs batted in. In a rare show of power, Tom hit two home runs - his professional best. At first it looked like a lopsided deal for Fall River as Tom began his days as a White Hawk with a horrendous 0-for-26 slump. His fielding was nothing to get excited about either but when he threw the ball to first everyone in the stadium noticed the pop he had on the ball. The end of the 1947 season saw Tom with virtually the same stats he’d had in Fall River: a .213 batting average, one home run, and 17 RBIs.

The assignment to Waterloo proved to be good for Tom’s career, and for his personal life as well. The 1948 season was a watershed year for Hurd. Realizing that his .222 average and 32 RBIs, two home run punch, and mediocre defense were not likely to see him promoted much further up baseball’s ladder, he talked new White Hawks manager Pete Fox into letting him try his hand at pitching. The deal he had presented Fox was simple: if his hitting did not improve, the manager was to give him a shot at pitching. Fox worked him in gently and he appeared in, he said, “about nine” late season games.3 His record was 1-2 with an 8.30 ERA. Considering that he had never pitched before, it could have been far worse.

1948 was a big year for Tom off the field as well, married on February 24 in Waterloo to Peggy Wilson, an Iowa farm girl he’d met in 1947. The two would be married for 34 years and Peggy blessed Tom with five children. During the winter of 1948 worked at Hawkeye Steel to supplement his income, but also worked to better prepare himself as a pitcher.

Hurd pitched almost exclusively in 1949. He turned in a brilliant season for Waterloo, with 18 wins and 11 losses and a 2.10 ERA. For someone new to the art of pitching, Tom certainly picked up a tidy assortment of pitches. The right-hander’s repertoire included a strong outside fastball, a good forkball, an impressive slider, and an effective screwball. 4

The young pitcher was enormously popular with the fans in Waterloo, and the White Hawks set aside Saturday August 20, 1949 as “Tom Hurd Night.” The night came off as though scripted. Nearly 4,000 turned out to cheer Tom on and he went the distance, throwing a four-hitter to beat Terra Haute, 4-2. He and Peggy had just had their first child, a daughter, and before the game, he was presented with $650 in cash, a vacuum sweeper, a camera, baby shoes, baby food, three cartons of cigarettes, a baby’s dress, and a stroller.5

His success on the mound won him a promotion to the Double A, with the Southern Association’s Memphis Chicks. But Tom’s career was about to take another odd turn.

Unable to come to terms with the Chicks at the start of the 1950 season, Tom decided he would leave organized baseball rather than sign for less money than he felt he was worth. He turned instead to playing semipro ball in Nebraska for the entire 1950 season. Tom was philosophical about the year: “That wasn’t a wasted season either,” Tom said, “It was a pretty good league and produced several good players.” 6 Tom played for the Superior, Nebraska, of the Nebraska State League while working in a furniture store to earn his living and financial support for his wife and two daughters.

Hurd came to terms with the Chicks in 1951 and returned to the folds of organized ball in 1951. He posted a respectable 10-13 won-loss record and a 3.98 ERA. Tom spent the next two seasons with Memphis as well. He had a .500 record in 1952, going 12-12 with a 3.80 ERA, but really caught fire in 1953, going 17-11 with a 3.20 earned run average. His 1953 season earned him another step up the ladder, to the Charleston, West Virginia, Senators of the AAA American Association in 1954. At age 29, Tom had worked his way to only one rung below the majors.

He began the year at spring training trial with the big league White Sox, and was impressive but when camp broke, it was decided that he should get a little more seasoning in Charleston. Things might have turned out differently, however, had Tom not been one of a dozen players who caught the flu. Influenza kept Tom from making his final start for the White Sox, perhaps costing him a spot on the opening day roster.

With the Senators, he compiled a 7-8 record with 3.81 ERA and a season full of highlights - none higher than the May 28 game against Toledo. He and Bert Thiel of the Mud Hens turned in a barnburner of a game, locking up for a 1-1 tie through 14 innings. At that point, Tom told his manager that he just could not go any further and the sapped hurler was pinch-hit for in the bottom of the 14th. Thiel went on to win the game, 2-1, after 15 innings. In his 14 innings of work, Hurd did not walk a batter and allowed only five hits, just three after the first inning when Toledo scored its first run. Tom pitched 13 innings of shutout baseball.7

While impressive, the outing really strained Tom’s arm. For the rest of the season he was used only in short relief, which became his role with the team. No sooner had Tom’s arm recovered than he was injured again. On June 18, in Kansas City, he was nailed on the right side of his chest by a liner off of Kal Segrist. The resulting soreness so handicapped him that he was only used in 1 2/3 innings over the next three weeks. When the soreness finally were away, Hurd returned to form and threw a six-hit shutout against Louisville on July 15.8

A number of other teams had their eyes on Hurd. He was being used both as a starter and reliever and Ted McGrew and Donie Bush of the Red Sox liked what they saw. Boston bought Tom’s contract from Charleston for an undisclosed price on July 25; at the time his record was 7-8 in 34 games and he was leading the club in strikeouts with 75. He surrendered 36 walks in 126 innings.

Hurd replaced southpaw Bill Henry on the Red Sox roster. As part of the deal Henry was sent south to replace him. The specifics of the exchange was described this way: “Actually the deal simmers down to this: Charleston is getting cash and giving up Hurd for a player it won’t get until 1955. Henry will still be Red Sox property at the end of the season. However since Hurd is ‘draft bait’ having been sent out on option the maximum number of three times by the White Sox, the Senators would have had a great chance of losing him in the baseball draft next December in Houston at the minor league meeting. So any cash the Senators get above the sale price will be gravy. And in addition to this they will get a new player outright from the Red Sox next spring.” 9

Hurd made his major league debut on July 30, 1954 in Detroit. The Tigers had a 1-0 lead when he entered in the eighth inning. It was a very inauspicious debut, and Detroit scored four runs turning a tight game into a rout. In Tom’s defense, there was some very poor defense behind him. He was not charged with the loss.

He earned his first major league win on September 1, allowing only two men to reach base in a lengthy 4 1/3 inning relief appearance during the first game of a doubleheader against the White Sox, the team that had first signed Tom, making the victory all the sweeter.

Tom finished the 1954 season with a 2-0 record and a 3.03 ERA. He also earned himself a permanent spot on the roster. Used exclusively in relief, Tom fit Boston’s needs and he was with the team for the next two years as well. The high point of his major league career came in 1955 when Tom compiled an 8-6 record, to lead the American League in wins by a relief pitcher.

The family had continued to live in Waterloo during the offseasons, and during the winter of 1956, the Hurd family made things permanent by buying a house in nearby Cedar Falls. The house at 3710 Veralta Drive became his home for the rest of his life. By now his family had grown to include three daughters. He continued to work winters as a supervisor at the Hawkeye Steel plant. During the next few years the family expanded by two - a daughter and his youngest, a son Tom III.

Although he had made the majors, Tom was dissatisfied with his 1956 season. On the one hand, he had the highest batting average in the majors at .500 (six hits in 12 at-bats), but on the other, he felt that he was not used as effectively as he could have been by manager Pinky Higgins. “A relief pitcher isn’t near as sharp if he only pitches every 7 or 10 days.” 10 Though he pitched nearly as many innings, it was on a more erratic schedule, which he felt was his manager trying to develop a stronger bullpen, but doing a lot of experimenting. No one was happy with the fourth-place finish of the Red Sox that year. As for his pitching it was an off year for Tom at 3-4 with a 5.33 ERA

While with the Red Sox, Hurd impressed his teammates with his intensity and ability. Shortstop Billy Klaus credited his major league career to Tommy Hurd. Klaus was a benchwarmer for the Sox, but had a conversation with Hurd that he said changed his life. “Tommy Hurd our pitcher has helped me a lot with my hitting,” he explained. “He used to pitch against me in the minors and he pointed out to me to me what he thought I was doing wrong.” 11 In almost no time Klaus became a fixture with the Sox, and went on to a long career with several teams, finishing in the majors with the ’63 Phillies.

Despite having the off year in 1956, Hurd fully expected to be on the Red Sox roster in 1957, but instead ended up with their top farm team, the San Francisco Seals (Pacific Coast League.)

Tom recorded his first win for the Seals on May 8, 1957. It was an exciting season as the local and national papers became peppered with headlines of rumored franchise moves by the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants. The Seals won the PCL pennant in what turned out to be their final year of existence. Tom compiled an 8-6 record with a 3.36 ERA and was a key component in the Seals bullpen. This victory started a trend for Tom of playing for minor league champions.

Tom enjoyed his time in San Francisco. As teammate Bert Thiel remembers, “Harry Dorish, and Tommy Hurd and I, we stayed at a little hotel. I think it was the Spalding. The Spalding Hotel. We rode the [cable] cars down to the park and all over.” 12 This was the same Bert Thiel who had once been a challenging adversary only three years earlier. Such was the ever changing world of professional baseball.

With the arrival of the Giants and Dodgers in California for the 1958 season, the minor leagues were adjusted. The Seals were forced to relocate. The Seals were moved to Phoenix, but the Red Sox transferred their affiliation to the Minneapolis Millers. Most of the Seals personnel was transferred to Minneapolis, and in both 1958 and 1959 the Millers went to the Junior World Series, the “other” October classic, which pitted the American Association against the International League. Hurd had a great year in 1958 going 10-8 with a spectacular ERA of 1.65 - his professional best.

Not only did Tom have his best year during the regular season, he excelled in the postseason, winning both the first and third games of the Championship Series as the Millers defeated the Montreal Royals four games to none.

Tom began 1959 with the Millers and compiled a 2-4 record with a 3.94 ERA before he was traded to the Rochester Red Wings (International League) in midseason. With Rochester he finished with a 2-2 record and a 3.56 ERA. Tommy had some exciting times with the Red Wings playing in Cuba against the Havana Sugar Kings, which was contending for the IL league championship amidst the political turmoil of Fidel Castro’s revolution.

With Rochester in 1960, Tom went 2-2 and saw his ERA balloon up to 5.25. With the end of the season, Tom’s professional baseball career was over. For the man who would send his family poems while on the road, it was bittersweet indeed. He would be able to spend time with his family, something he coveted, but he would never get another shot at major league glory.

Tom worked as a supervisor at Hawkeye Steel long enough to get a pension. Given the era, it’s perhaps not surprising that he earned a better living at the steel plant than he ever earned as a professional baseball player.

In retirement, Tom avidly followed the Cincinnati Reds from the comfort of his living room. Showing the same intensity he had as a player, Tom was nothing if not a compulsive baseball fan. Turning the volume off, Tom would watch the game in total silence rather than be distracted by the announcers or crowd noise. He showed the same intensity when he watched his son play Little League baseball. Tom would sit off by himself in the stands studying everything without ever uttering a word. At home he would discuss the game with his son in a gentle and understanding manner. When Tom III showed promise as a pitcher, his father built a pitching mound for him in the backyard with a home plate exactly 60 feet 6 inches away so that his son could hone his pitching skills. Tom III was a standout pitcher at Cedar Falls High and went on to a fine college career.

Late in 1981 Tom was diagnosed with a double whammy of both colon and lung cancers. The end came relatively quickly. He died on Sunday September 5, 1982 at 3:30 in the afternoon, surrounded by his family. In accordance with his wishes his body was cremated. The ashes were later interred at a local cemetery.

 

Sources

Suzette Anderson (daughter of Tom Hurd), telephone interview, December 30. 2007.

Tom Hurd, personal scrapbook.

Lynn Matchett (daughter of Tom Hurd), telephone interview, February 17, 2008.

 

Notes

1 “Hurd Clicks as Pitcher after 3 years on infield,” Charleston (VA) Daily Mail, July 23, 1951: 14.

2 Al Ney, “The Sports Alley” Waterloo Daily Courier, July 14, 1948: 14.

3 Charleston (VA) Daily Mail.

4 Ibid.

5 “Hurd Night : Tom Wins on Four Hitter 4-2,” Waterloo Sunday Courier, August 21, 1949: 37

6 “Hurd Clicks.”

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid.

9 “Tommy Hurd Sold, Senators Get Henry” clipping from and unidentified newspaper in Tommy Hurd’s personal scrap book.

10 Chuck Burdick, “Red Sox Pitcher Tommy Hurd Makes Waterloo His Permanent Home,” Sunday Courier, Waterloo, Iowa October 14, 1956: 36

11 Lin Paymond, “Klaus Credits Hurd For Success,” Boston Patriot Ledger undated clipping from Tommy Hurd’s personal scrap book

12 Brent P. Kelley, The San Francisco Seals, 1946-1957 (Jefferson, NC, McFarland & Company, 2002), 263.

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