SABR

Glen Hobbie

This article was written by Jim Leefers.

Signed to a Triple-A contract at the age of 19, Illinois-born Glen Hobbie quickly discovered that he was overmatched at that level. He fared little better in Class C, then was sidelined by a muscle spasm in his back, which he cured by swimming in the Mississippi River. Two seasons later, he was in the major leagues. The swan song to his eight-year big-league career was about two months with the 1964 world champion Cardinals.

Glen Frederick Hobbie was born on April 24, 1936, in Witt, a farming town of less than 1,000 population in south-central Illinois. He was the ninth of ten children (seven boys, three girls) born to Herman Hobbie, a salesman of home and farm goods, and his wife, Anna.1

After graduating from high school in 1955, Hobbie pitched in a local amateur league. A part-time scout, Leonard Scheibal, saw him pitch and signed him for general manager Danny Menendez of the Charleston Senators in the Triple-A American Association. But after he quickly went 0-4, Menendez shipped him to Superior of the Class C Northern League, where he fared a little better with a 2-4 record, then developed the muscle spasm and was sidelined. Hobbie’s self-prescribed rehab program was to swim in the Mississippi River for almost two months, and the injury never recurred. In 1956, still the property of Charleston, Hobbie was 8-2 with Class D Dubuque (Midwest League) and 0-2 with Duluth/Superior.

Charleston went bankrupt and Menendez resurfaced in 1957 as the general manager of Memphis in the Southern Association, taking Hobbie along with him. On August 14 Hobbie was 14-11 and the Chicago Cubs purchased his contract from Menendez for $50,000. Hobbie finished the season with Memphis, winding up with a 15-15 record in 19 starts and 34 relief appearances. His manager, Lou Klein, said, “He’s a throwback to the days when a pitcher wanted to pitch every chance he could get.”2

Hobbie finished the season with the Cubs. His first major-league appearance came at Wrigley Field against first-place Milwaukee on September 20, and he gave up two runs in two innings as the Braves won, 9-3. Four days later, against the Cincinnati Reds, he gave up three runs in 2⅓ innings on two hits and five walks.

In 1958 spring training Cubs manager Bob Scheffing called Hobbie one of his top candidates for the No. 5 starting position. Hobbie made his first major-league start on April 17 at Busch Stadium against his childhood favorites, the St. Louis Cardinals. He left in the sixth inning with a 3-2 lead, and the Cubs won, 4-3, giving him his first major-league victory. On May 6 he shut out Cincinnati, 4-0, on four hits. A controversial decision by first-base umpire Frank Secory helped preserve the shutout. With runners on first and second and one out in the eighth inning, the Reds’ Steve Bilko drove a ball to deep right field. Secory had called time, however, when a ball rolled onto the playing field from the Cubs bullpen, and the at-bat was negated. Hobbie walked Bilko to load the bases, but retired the side without a run.

After making 12 starts (3-5, 4.71 ERA) Hobbie was moved to the bullpen on June 5. He relieved in 39 games and made four starts the rest of the year. He had a 6-1 record with two saves working out of the bullpen and picked up one more victory as a starter. For the season he was 10-6 with a 3.74 ERA as the Cubs finished in fifth place.

After the season Hobbie and fellow Cubs pitcher Dick Drott did six-month Army hitches. Back with the Cubs, he pitched the finest game of his major-league career on April 21, shutting out the Cardinals on one hit. Hobbie had a perfect game until Stan Musial lined a double to left with two outs in the seventh inning. He ended the 1-0 game by getting Musial on a comebacker. Hobbie told reporters, “The first thing I said to myself when Stan got the hit was, ‘I’m glad he didn’t hit a lollipop; he hit my best pitch.’ ”3

After being sidelined for eight days with tonsilitis, Hobbie defeated Milwaukee 5-4 on July 28 to put the Cubs only 4½ games back of the Giants. But Chicago went into a seven-game tailspin and never recovered, and sank to fifth. (Manager Bob Scheffing was succeeded after the season by Charlie Grimm.) Hobbie was again the workhorse of the young staff, starting 33 games and making 13 relief appearances. On September 13 he pitched another gem against the Cardinals, shutting them out on three hits. Hobbie recorded a 4-1 mark against the second-place Braves during the year, making his career record against Milwaukee 7-1 in his first two seasons. Seventeen of his 26 victories in his first two seasons came against first-division clubs.

After the season Hobbie married a high-school classmate, Sharon Lee. Then he began the 1960 season on a bright note by shutting out the world champion Dodgers on five hits.

But on May 4 the Cubs were 6-11 and Grimm was replaced as manager by Lou Boudreau, whom the Cubs grabbed from behind the microphone at WGN radio and placed him in the dugout. Hobbie was 6-10 through June, though one of his victories was a two-hit victory over Milwaukee. On July 20 he improved his record to 9-11 by pitching a two-hit shutout over Cincinnati.

The most memorable game in Hobbie’s career came against the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 30. Glen’s wife, Sharon, was about 7½ months pregnant and woke up that morning with some discomfort. She requested that Glen take her to the hospital prior to the game. Since the baby wasn’t due until early September, Glen just assumed he would go back to the hospital after the game and take her back home. Glen left for the game around noon.

The Pirates were enjoying a three-game lead in the National League while the Cubs had lost eight in a row and were 23½ games out of first and wallowing in the cellar. As the Pirates were taking a 1-0 lead against Glen in the first inning, Sharon was giving birth to a boy, Glen, Jr. The news reached Wrigley Field during the third inning, but the Cubs officials were reluctant to tell Glen, thinking he might lose his concentration. Manager Boudreau finally decided to tell him when he came in the dugout after the top of the fifth. After a lot of handshakes and congratulations, the Cubs went out and put six runs on the board in the sixth and seventh innings. Earlier, the Wrigley Field Public Address announcer, Pat Pieper, barked to the crowd of 13,365 that Glen had become a father for the first time.4 Meanwhile Glen maintained his focus, went the distance in the 6-1 win, and scattered seven hits to pick up his tenth victory of the season. (Dick Ellsworth’s wife also gave birth to a boy on the same day.)

On August 25 Hobbie faced the Pirates again and won it, 2-1, with a walkoff home run, his first homer in the major leagues. The Cubs finished the season in seventh place, and for the third year in a row Hobbie led the team in victories, with 16, but suffered 20 losses.

Boudreau was fired after the season and the Cubs’ “College of Coaches” was formed. It was an eight-man brain trust with each coach taking a turn as “head coach.” Hobbie was not an admirer of the plan. He remembered, “They hired some Olympic track coach to be our trainer. What they didn’t understand was that a track coach trains you for one event. But you don’t train that way for 154 events. Before the end of spring training, we were all worn out.”5 The real downside was that he injured his lower right back. The pain caused him to alter his follow-through, which in turn injured his shoulder. “I lost quite a bit off my fastball, and everything went downhill from there,” he said.6

At the start of spring training in 1961, Hobbie had the most career victories, 42, of the 15 pitchers in camp. Chicago would again have one of the youngest pitching staffs in the majors. Only Hobbie was certain of a starting berth. He got his first Opening Day assignment, at Cincinnati, and lost, 7-1, allowing all of the Reds’ runs in 4⅓. A 7-18 May put the Cubs in seventh place. On May 23 the Cubs were 12-22 and Hobbie was 2-5, both of his victories were shutouts. Hobbie provided some muscle at the plate on July 2 against the Cardinals at Wrigley Field, hitting two home runs off Al Cicotte. The Cubs won but Hobbie did not get the decision. He went 5-8 for the remainder of the season, and finished with a 7-13 record as the Cubs finished in seventh place in the final year of an eight-team National League.

The Cubs started the 1962 season dropping their first seven games and went 4-16 in April. The first-year Mets were the only reason Chicago stayed out of the National League cellar, though they fell into tenth place on 19 different dates in May. Hobbie started out poorly, losing six games before he got his first victory, a 2-1 victory over the Braves (Warren Spahn’s 200th loss). After that Hobbie lost his next three decisions, to fall to 1-9. He made five brief appearances over the next three weeks out of the bullpen, then defeated the Reds, 6-3, on July 14, and topped the Philadelphia Phillies, 5-3, on the 24th. Hobbie finished the season 5-14, and the Cubs, with 103 losses, finished ninth, 18 games ahead of the first-year Mets. The Cubs had finished in the lower division of the National League for 16 straight years.

After several years of having some of the younger mound staffs in the league, Chicago entered 1963 with a comparatively veteran mound corps with the addition of Larry Jackson and Bob Buhl via trades. After two years of leading the majors in coaches, Chicago named Bob Kennedy as head coach for the entire season. Early in spring training Hobbie looked very sharp. Pitching coach Fred Martin had very good success early in the season with the pitching staff. After five weeks of play, Chicago had an earned-run average of just over 2.00. Martin worked with Hobbie to fix his awkward delivery, not quite side-arm and not quite three-quarters. Martin’s fixes helped Hobbie compile a 0.95 ERA after three starts. Unfortunately for the Cubs’ pitchers, the team lacked a sustained offense. In the first 16 games of the season, Chicago lost seven games in which their opponents were held to three runs or less. Despite Hobbie’s 2-5 record in mid-June, he had been looking very sharp. He developed a slider that made him considerably tougher. Still, after a loss to the Cardinals on July 14 that dropped his record to 4-8, he was removed from the starting rotation. He returned to the rotation in September and shut out the Giants on two hits on the 2nd, and got the victory in a shutout of the Houston Colt 45s on the 6th. Kennedy and Martin had done some tinkering with Hobbie’s delivery and it seemed to turn him back into a winner.

Hobbie had been using almost a no-windup type of delivery. He would bring his hands just up around the belt and then, as he pivoted, he would swing the arms straight back away from his body. The Cubs coaches converted his motion into the orthodox windup of bringing his arms over his head. “The batters seemed to time him too easily with that waist-high pivot motion,” said Kennedy. “The overhead windup tends to make you follow through better. Glen’s follow-through wasn’t good at all, probably because the back pain had got him into a straight-up style of delivery. We don’t know whether this is going to be the full solution, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed.”7

Hobbie’s good run ended on September 10 at St. Louis when he lasted only 1⅔ innings in an 8-0 loss to the red-hot Cardinals. Hobbie himself seemed baffled about the success of his new pitching style, but happy about it. “After all, I did pretty well with my original delivery when I came up with the Cubs,” he said. “I believe the real reason that I slumped so badly in 1961 and 1962 was that I subconsciously was protecting my back. I didn’t follow through because I’d get a terrific pain just as I released the ball. The doctors diagnosed it as a pinched nerve in the back. They prescribed certain exercises and finally it slowly corrected itself. When it starts to recur on me, I do those exercises and in three or four days it goes away.”8

Hobbie ended the year with a 7-10 record. Chicago finished in seventh place with an 82-80 mark, the first time they had finished over .500 since 1946, even though the pitching staff had an ERA of 3.08, second only to that of the world champion Dodgers.

Chicago’s quest to build on 1963’s improvement was dealt a severe blow on February 13, 1964, when the Cubs’ promising young second baseman, Ken Hubbs, died in the crash of his plane during a snowstorm. At his funeral Hobbie served as a pallbearer along with head coach Bob Kennedy, Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, Dick Ellsworth, and Don Elston.

The Cubs were counting heavily on Hobbie being the number four starter in 1964. The improvement he showed late in 1963 and an excellent spring training gave them reasons to be upbeat. In his first three spring appearances, Hobbie didn’t permit a run in eight innings of work. His new delivery got the credit. Hobbie said, “What got me off the full windup were those hot, humid days in the Southern Association with Memphis in 1957. In order to keep from perspiring so badly, I tried to cut down on the effort involved in pitching. The only thing I could think of was cutting out the windup. However it was harder on the arm and probably was the cause of the back injury that bothered me back in 1961 and 1962.”9 In an effort to protect his back, he pitched without bending it. “He couldn’t possibly get as much on the ball because he was just slinging it,” said pitching coach Martin. “In other words, he was merely throwing with his arm. Now he’s getting his entire body in the throw. It not only protects his arm, but gives him more stuff.”10

Unfortunately for Hobbie, the optimism of spring did not transfer into the regular season. At the end of May he had an 0-3 record and a 7.90 ERA. On June 2 Chicago, in an attempt to find a reliable fourth starter, traded the 28-year-old Hobbie to the Cardinals for 37-year-old Lew Burdette. Cardinals manager Johnny Keane said he figured on using Hobbie in long relief at first. “When he starts will depend on the progress of [Ray] Washburn,” Keane said.11 Hobbie could not have had a much better debut than he had on June 5 against Cincinnati. In his first at-bat he homered off Bob Purkey. He was in front 4-1 when he was relieved in the eighth with one out. The bullpen failed to hold the lead and cost him the Cardinal victory. “I tired fast, but my arm never felt better,” said Hobbie. St. Louis pitching coach Howie Pollet said, “Hobbie could turn out to be the steal of the year.”12 Hobbie said, “The Cubs always treated me fine, but after three bad seasons on top of three good ones, it seemed that every time I went out to pitch, I was thinking it was do-or-die” He and Sharon were also pleased with the switch because their new home, in Hillsboro, Illinois, was not far from St. Louis.13

His next start, on the 10th, was a two-hit victory over the hard-hitting Giants, 2-1. It turned out to be his final major-league victory. He struggled in his next two starts and found himself relegated to the bullpen. Five appearances out of the bullpen totaling ten innings resulted in only two earned runs and earned Hobbie another start, in which he struggled again. He made three more appearances out of the bullpen, then the Cardinals sent him down to Triple-A Jacksonville and brought up Barney Schultz. For the season he was 1-5 in 21 appearances with Chicago and St. Louis.

The Jacksonville Suns were in a battle with Syracuse for the International League crown. Hobbie made his mark on the pennant race early when he one-hit Buffalo. In eight starts for Jacksonville, he went 5-1 to help the Suns win the league championship. The Cardinals were also busy winning a championship, overcoming the Phillies and the Reds in the last week for the National League pennant, and defeating the New York Yankees in seven games in the World Series. The Cardinals players voted Hobbie a half-share of the winners’ pot, $4,311.09, but he was disappointed that he never received a ring.

An offseason minor-league deal sent Hobbie to the Detroit Tigers affiliate at Syracuse. He accepted an invitation from the Tigers to spring training in 1965 and general manager Jim Campbell said he felt Hobbie “could be a sleeper. … I like his attitude.”14 Jacksonville owner Bobby Maduro told Campbell, “Hobbie has a chance with Detroit because he is a terrific competitor.”15 But Hobbie did not make the Tigers in spring training and was assigned to Syracuse. He made a determined bid to return to the majors, with a 7-3 record halfway through June, but never received the call. He finished the year with an 8-8 record. Syracuse released Hobbie in April 1966.

Hobbie finished his major-league career with 62 wins, 81 losses and 6 saves in 284 appearances. He had 45 complete games in his 170 starts, including 11 shutouts.

After leaving baseball, Hobbie worked 25 years for the Roller Derby Skate Corporation in Litchfield, Illinois, a maker of roller skates, ice skates, and baseball spikes. He worked his way up to plant manager. His wife, Sharon, was a fourth-grade teacher for many years. Glen Jr. was a standout athlete at Hillsboro High School, pitched for Greenville (Illinois) College, and was drafted by the Tigers in the 24th round of the 1982 amateur draft. He played one season for the Bristol Tigers of the Appalachian League. Glen and Sharon also had a daughter, Linda, two years younger than Glen Jr.

Retired at the time this biography was written in 2011, Hobbie lived on a small farm near Ramsey, Illinois, about 20 miles from his hometown of Witt. He still liked to hunt and fish, but his knee problems curtailed some of his outdoor activities. Attending sporting events involving his grandchildren also occupied some of his time. Grandson Bryan played baseball for Greenville College for three years; Eric played basketball for McKendree College in Lebanon, Illinois; and granddaughter Laura played basketball for Greenville College.

Hobbie said he followed baseball just enough to argue with the local guys over coffee, but kept hoping the Cubs could finally put it all together and win a World Series.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted, the author also consulted Retrosheet, Baseball-Reference.com, and http://ontheoutsidecorner.wordpress.com/2011/05/13/glen-hobbie

 

Notes

1 Interview with Glen Hobbie, December 7, 2011

2 The Sporting News, December 10, 1958

3 The Sporting News, April 29, 1959

5 Lew Freedman. Chicago Cubs: Memorable Stories of Cubs Baseball (Game of My Life). (Champaign, Illinois: Sports Publishing, 2007)

6 Ibid.

7 The Sporting News, September 21, 1963

8 Ibid.

9 The Sporting News, March 28, 1964

10 Ibid.

11 The Sporting News, June 13, 1964

12 The Sporting News, June 20, 1964

13 Ibid.

14 The Sporting News, January 16, 1965

15 The Sporting News, February 13, 1965

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