SABR

Ed Hobaugh

This article was written by David E. Skelton.

More than three decades along on a career that was still not half over, Washington Senators pitching coach Sid Hudson had seen his share of hurlers come and go. A mere month into the American League expansion entry’s existence, Hudson’s attention was captured by a 27-year-old Pennsylvania native who, he claimed, “has one of the best curveballs I’ve ever seen.”1 Power pitchers with superb breaking balls tend to go a long way in the professional ranks. Yet Ed Hobaugh, the subject of Hudson’s praise, managed only slightly more than 200 innings in a three-year major-league career. Hints later emerged that he might have been handled improperly, a once-promising future derailed. But a course slowed by a two-year US Army stint was still expected to blossom into greatness in the early 1960s.

Edward Russell Hobaugh emerged on the national stage in East Lansing, Michigan, nearly 400 miles from his native Kittanning, Pennsylvania (a borough northeast of Pittsburgh). The second of four children born to Russell and Sarah A. (Schrecengost) Hobaugh, then a sophomore at Michigan State College (changed to university the next year), was helping the Spartans in their attempt to win the 1954 College World Series. A 4-0 record had earned him placement on the Big Ten All-Conference squad. In the runup to the national tournament, Hobaugh had an unintentionally humorous interaction with Spartans coach John Kobs during a crucial Big Ten Championship game against the University of Michigan:

When a two-out error in the fifth inning opened the door to three unearned Michigan runs, Kobs went out to the mound to calm the 6-foot-tall right-hander with this advice: “Ed, get them out.” This sage input notwithstanding, Hobaugh prevailed in a 6-4 victory over the Wolverines.

The Spartans finished third in the College World Series. By the end of his senior year, Hobaugh had compiled a 15-8 career record. The self-described power pitcher struck out 155 batters for a then-Spartans record. His strong leadership skills were acknowledged when he was made captain of the 1956 squad (a lineup that included fellow major leaguer Ron Perranoski and professional football legend Earl Morrall). Hobaugh’s achievement had, since his sophomore year, attracted considerable major-league attention.

After graduating, Hobaugh signed with the Chicago White Sox, receiving a $4,000 bonus. One of three collegians inked by the White Sox in 1956, he was the only one to later emerge on the major-league stage. Reporting to the Waterloo (Iowa) White Hawks of the Class B Three-I League on June 21, he made a remarkable imprint 22 days later, in his fourth professional start, hurling a no-hitter (three walks and eight strikeouts) in an 11-0 victory over the Burlington Bees. The win lowered his earned-run average to a minuscule 0.75. Hobaugh’s no-hit gem was the first of three thrown by Michigan State graduates within a 26-day span. The others were by Phillies prospect Mike Wallace (also Class of ’56) and White Sox lefty Jack Kralick (Class of ’54 – Kralick would join Hobaugh on the Waterloo team before the season’s end). Hobaugh’s first professional campaign ended with an 11-4, 2.95 record that placed him among the league leaders in wins and ERA.

Before he had a chance to build upon this initial success, the newlywed – he married his hometown sweetheart Mary Katherine “Cassie” Bower on January 19, 1957 – found himself in Army fatigues. Drafted and assigned to Fort Knox, Kentucky, Hobaugh again made an impression, this time in the September 1957 All-Army Tournament. Baseball teams sprinkled with professionals such as Bob Bruce, Bill White, and Jackie Brandt were little competition to Hobaugh as he led the Fort Knox team to two consecutive wins (15- and 14-strikeout performances) that earned him the outstanding player award in the five-day tourney. When his two-year military obligation was fulfilled, he was invited to the White Sox spring-training camp in 1959 with the challenge of jumping from Class B to the major leagues. Eventually he was sent to Triple-A Indianapolis.

Anchored by 39-year-old future Hall of Famer Early Wynn, the White Sox’ pitching staff paced the American League with a 3.29 ERA that propelled the team into the 1959 World Series. Holding a stake in first place through more than half the season, the White Sox seemingly needed little help from their Indianapolis pitching prospects, regardless of how well they were pitching. Hobaugh, despite a team-leading 13 wins (mostly in a relief role), appears to have never been given consideration for advancement to the pennant-bound squad. The 1959 season represented his last, best hope for promotion to the White Sox.

A winter campaign in Venezuela preceded another Triple-A season, this time in the Pacific Coast League with the newly-affiliated San Diego Padres. A less impressive record of 11-11, 4.29 still accorded Hobaugh consideration “as [part of] the trio knocking on the big league door,” according to White Sox farm director Glen Miller.2 This promising outlook preceded the American League expansion draft by one month.

The expansion draft, on December 14, 1960, was held to stock two new teams, the Los Angeles Angels and the expansion Washington Senators. Hobaugh became one of the youngest hurlers taken by the Senators in a group that included aging veterans Bobby Shantz, John Klippstein, and Dick Donovan. Washington was roundly applauded for the choice as Hobaugh drew plaudits that included: “[a] fine rookie … [to] bolster the starting staff”3; the “Kid With [the] Greatest Potential,” from an informal poll of sportswriters4; and nomination to the “most-likely-to-succeed club.”5 This was high praise for the bespectacled righty as he prepared for his first major-league season.

Taking the mound at Comiskey Park on April 19, 1961, against his former White Sox associates, Hobaugh had an outing something short of textbook. A single sandwiched between two walks opened the White Sox’ first inning and Hobaugh was fortunate to avoid surrendering more than one run. He fared better in the second after another leadoff walk, but Chicago jumped on him again in the third (aided by a wild pitch) and he was lifted before the end of the inning. Better outings followed, including three complete-game victories that earned Hobaugh a 5-3 record at the end of June. He was cited as one of the team’s few bright spots after the Senators suffered through a dismal 11-19 mark in June. But Hobaugh did not shine nearly as brightly in July. Two consecutive losses (12 runs surrendered in 7⅓ innings) relegated him to the bullpen in August and mixed use thereafter. He concluded the campaign with a record of 7-9 and a 4.42 ERA.

A still thin staff greeted the Senators in the spring of 1962, and hope abounded that Hobaugh would step into the role expected of him. He instead started the season in the bullpen, and a 5.52 ERA on June 2 (league average: 3.97) resulted in a demotion to the minors. He fared well in 10 appearances for Syracuse and earned a rapid return to the Senators. Good pitching in August convinced manager Mickey Vernon to try Hobaugh in consecutive starts. But he did not survive the fourth inning in either outing and was returned to the bullpen, where his work was superb after his return (2-0, 2.51 ERA in 16 appearances).

The Senators experienced a vast amount of turnover in their first two expansion seasons, and in 1963 spring training Hobaugh was one of only four remaining from the players selected in the 1960 draft. The 1963 squad went on to a franchise-worst 106 losses, few of which Hobaugh would be around to witness. Assigned to the Milwaukee Braves’ Triple-A affiliate in Toronto (with whom the Senators had a working relationship; he was sent to the St. Louis Cardinals’ affiliate in August under an identical arrangement), Hobaugh’s season started promisingly with a 2.42 ERA and 21 strikeouts in five appearances spanning 26 innings. But his remaining 27 appearances did not go as swimmingly and Hobaugh finished the season with a record of 6-7, 4.11. He was called up by the Senators in September, and his reappearance on the major-league stage gave the press pause to recall the once-promising youngster who “never quite realized his potential.”6 He made nine appearances (one start) without getting a decision. On September 27 he was inserted in mop-up duty in an 11-2 loss to the White Sox and struck out the last two batters he faced. This outing, his last in the major leagues, served as a sad bookend to Hobaugh’s career – his first and last appearances occurring in Comiskey Park against the team that had signed him out of college.

Hobaugh spent the next six years in the high minors, pitching primarily in relief for Senators, White Sox, and Pittsburgh Pirates affiliates. In 1964, pitching once again for the Indianapolis Indians, he earned five straight victories that contributed to an impressive 10-4, 2.83 campaign. Two years later, while pitching for the Columbus Jets in the Pirates’ system, he was voted runner-up in the International League managers’ poll of top relief performers. “Ed’s a better pitcher now than he ever was,” enthused his manager, Larry Shepard. “He can work almost every day and I’m sure he could help some major-league club that will be needing help going down the stretch.”7 Despite the success he achieved along these varied stops there is no indication that the parent clubs considered promoting Hobaugh. Traded again to the White Sox organization in 1969, the 35-year-old Hobaugh made 20 appearances before abruptly quitting the Tucson club. He did one stint of managing for the Gastonia Pirates in the Western Carolinas League before retiring to his roots in Armstrong County, Pennsylvania.

Hobaugh became a physical-education teacher and assistant baseball coach – serving under his eldest son, Bradley, the head coach – in the Armstrong School District. Each of the Hobaughs’ three children entered the education field, with youngest son Brian’s pursuits following a brief stint in the Minnesota Twins organization. Together Ed and Cassie enjoyed the company of their three children and two grandchildren until Cassie died in April 2009.

Hobaugh had only three years in the majors after a remarkably promising start to his professional career. A 1965 column hinted at the improper handling of the budding prospect,8 an opinion that seemed to resonate through Hobaugh’s own words in an interview 32 years later: “The quality of instruction in the minor leagues at that time wasn’t that great. I was a power pitcher and with a little more instruction I think I could have done a lot better.” Hobaugh’s accomplishments at the collegiate and minor-league levels appear to bear this out.

 

Author’s note

The author wishes to thank Lisa Smith-Curtean, a volunteer at the West Waco (Texas) Library and Genealogy Center, for her helpful support researching the 1940 census, and Len Levin for editorial and fact-checking assistance.

 

Sources

The Sporting News

Baseball-reference.com

ancestry.com

sabr.org/bioproj/person/51b849c7

baseball-almanac.com/hero/hero1100.shtml

msuspartans.com/sports/m-basebl/archive/msu-m-basebl-indrcrds.html

fanbase.com/Michigan-State-Spartans-Baseball-1956

news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1144&dat=19870426&id=hpMcAAAAIBAJ&sjid=MGMEAAAAIBAJ&pg=6453,4986272

obituaries.triblive.com/listing/149833/Mary-K-Hobaugh/

US Census Bureau, 1940 Census

 

Notes

1 “Hudson Molded Expansion ‘Castoffs’ Into Classy Corps,” The Sporting News, May 31, 1961, 4.

2 “Fast-Baller Peters Blooming as Slab Beaut on Chisox Vine,” The Sporting News, November 30, 1960, 35.

3 “Sum-Up of Junior Loop Clubs,” The Sporting News, April 12, 1961, 10.

4 “Names to Watch? Scriveners Spill Lowdown,” The Sporting News, April 19, 1961, 2.

5 “Yastrzemski, Davis Prize Kids Of ’61,” The Sporting News, April 19, 1961, 2.

6 “Nats to Comb Waiver Lists, Hope to Discover Hidden Gems,” The Sporting News, September 14, 1963, 14.

7 “International Items,” The Sporting News, July 23, 1966, 41.

8 “Walker, Pignatano Giving Senator Cast Deeper Dodger Hue,” The Sporting News, February 6, 1965, 22.

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