This article was written by Gregory H. Wolf
Baseball lifers Branch Rickey and Fred Haney described Cal Hogue’s knee-buckling curveball as one of baseball’s best — if he could control it. Seven years after signing his first professional contract, Hogue finally reached the majors in 1952, tossing a four-hitter in his first start. He never harnessed the potential of his breaking ball and heater and finished with a 2-10 record in parts of three seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Calvin Grey Hogue was born on October 24, 1927, in Dayton, Ohio. His father, Walter G. Hogue, a native of Missouri, was a truck driver and later a carpenter. His mother, Ohio-born Nora M. (Redick) Hogue, was a homemaker. Together they raised five children, daughters Dorothy and Gladys, and sons Frank, Gene, and Cal, born over a 16-year period. Cal, the youngest by eight years, was their only child born in Dayton, after the family had relocated in the mid-1920s from Kansas City to the fast-growing industrial city of 200,000 residents in southwest Ohio.
Cal attended Roosevelt High School, located on the city’s near west side and about a mile from the Hogues’ apartment on Ashley Street adjacent to what is now the University of Dayton. Already 6 feet tall as a sophomore, Cal excelled on the hardwood as a guard and was described as a “fine prospect” for college.1 As a junior he was named to the all-city first team squad by the Dayton Herald-Journal for the 1944-1945 season.2 A hard-throwing right-hander, Cal also pitched for his high-school baseball team and for the Acme club in the highly competitive local industrial league. Dayton sportswriter Bill Bombeck described the prep star as a “little wild at times,” which pointed at the bugaboo that followed Hogue throughout his baseball career.3
The 17-year-old Hogue apparently planned to quit school after basketball season in his junior year. He aimed to either join the Merchant Marine or enlist in the Coast Guard in spring 1945.4 However, with World War II winding down in the European theater, he signed a professional baseball contract with the St. Louis Browns. No Sporting News contract card exists for Hogue, but it is likely the Browns signed him on the recommendation of scouts Jack Fournier, Jim McLaughlin, or Lou Maguolo, all of whom would have scouted the area.5
Hogue’s rise to the majors was an arduous and disappointment-filled seven-year journey. Along the way, he played for no fewer than seven teams in Organized Baseball, jumped his contract with at least two teams, sat out two years, and suffered injuries, while not advancing above Class A.
The Browns assigned Hogue to their affiliate at Newark in the Class D Ohio State League in spring of 1945. Not long after his debut in May, Hogue attempted to secure his release and returned home to Dayton. He eventually rejoined the club, suffered from an “infected leg,” and limped to a 7-11 record with 105 walks in 137 innings.6 The knee injury required offseason surgery performed by the Browns team physician, Dr. Robert Hyland, in St. Louis.7
Hogue refused to report to the Browns organization in the spring of 1946. Health, however, was not an issue. He had recently married Dayton resident Jackie Gilbert, and decided play in the local industrial league and for the Lebanon Merchants in the semipro Buckeye League, centered in Cincinnati. In September he apparently had a tryout with the Reds despite being under contract with the Browns.8
Hogue’s return to the Browns organization in 1947 lasted just two games with the Aberdeen (South Dakota) Pheasants in the Class C Northern League. Included was a five-hit complete-game victory with 13 walks.9 He was injured while playing in the outfield, left the club, and eventually resumed pitching in midsummer for the Greenville team in the semipro Miami Valley League, in southwestern Ohio. There was no doubt about his talent: On August 28 he tossed a no-hitter, fanning 17.10 Four days later he whiffed 17 again, in a 15-inning complete game.11
Tired of Hogue’s contract-jumping, the Browns released the 19-year-old hurler, who signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates on the recommendation of scout Bill Hinchman.12 The change of scenery reinvigorated Hogue’s commitment to professional baseball. In excellent shape from playing semipro basketball in the offseason, Hogue went 8-3 with a 3.16 ERA for the Uniontown (Pennsylvania) Coal Barons in the Class C Middle Atlantic League in 1948. After pitching in four different Class A and Class B teams in the next two seasons, logging just over 200 innings, Hogue once again became disillusioned with the slow progress of his career. He jumped his contract with the Charleston (South Carolina) Rebels in the Sally League after walking 86 batters in 75 innings and returned home to Dayton in the summer of 1950.
With a record of just 21-30 in parts of five seasons, Hogue’s professional baseball career seemed to be over. The Pirates placed him on the voluntarily retired list. According to the Dayton Daily News, Hogue “decided he had enough of that kind of life” and “didn’t think he’d go anywhere.”13 Hogue was frustrated by his lack of opportunities to demonstrate his ability. “They weren’t pitching me,” he explained. “When one of the officials called me ‘Lefty’ one day, I realized they didn’t know me, so I quit.”14
Back home in Dayton, Hogue worked full time as a union plumber, a trade he continued after his playing career. He also continued to pitch in semipro circuits in southwestern Ohio.
Away from professional baseball for almost 18 months, Hogue had a change of heart in the spring of 1952 and returned to the Pirates organization. The Pirates had averaged 90 losses in the seasons 1949 through 1951 — yet they were in the beginning of their worst stretch in club history. Branch Rickey, the club’s general manager since 1951, recognized that he needed to populate the Pirates farm system with pitchers, even if their big-league potential was questionable. The Mahatma invited Hogue to the club’s minor-league camp in 1952. “I first saw Hogue at Deland, Florida, this spring and I wondered what he was doing out of baseball,” said Rickey. “He had a great curve, a major-league fastball, and I told him we’d give him a chance.”15
By then 24 years old, Hogue was assigned to Charleston in 1952. Surprisingly, he emerged as one of the best pitchers in the Sally League, posting a 10-3 record and a solid 3.21 ERA in 126 innings, though he walked 77. In July the Pirates optioned Ron Kline and called up Hogue, who made the big jump from Class A to the big leagues.16
Hogue landed in skipper Billy Meyer’s doghouse before he even donned a Pirates uniform.17 Instructed to report a day before a potential debut in a Sunday doubleheader against the Boston Braves on July 13, Hogue arrived a day late. On July 15 Hogue debuted against the Philadelphia Phillies and looked good, reported sportswriter Lester J. Biederman. The rookie hurled a scoreless inning of relief and walked one.18
The pitching-poor Pirates, en route to the highest staff ERA in baseball (4.65), hoped to ride Hogue’s hot hand with a series of doubleheaders on the horizon. In what Bucs beat writer Charles J. Doyle described as a “heroic pitching feat,” Hogue tossed a four-hitter in his first start, fanning three and walking six to beat the Phillies in the first game of a doubleheader at Forbes Field on July 17.19 He also got his first hit.
The blue-eyed, soft-speaking Hogue, with the typical crew cut of the era, made for good copy — but the fairy tale ended quickly. In his next start, against those same Phillies on July 22, he was “soundly thrashed,” according to Pittsburgh sportswriter Jack Hernon. Hogue gave up nine hits and 11 runs (10 earned) and walked five in three innings.20 It was the first of an NL season-high eight consecutive losing decisions.
Hogue was doomed by his poor control and suffered from the Pirates’ anemic offense, which averaged just 3.3 runs per game, easily the worst in the majors. On August 5, he surrendered eight hits in a 12-inning complete game against St. Louis, but was derailed by nine walks and lost 4-3. Mused Hernon: “[Hogue] found his control tougher to combat than the Cardinals bats. He was able to pitch out of consistent jams, but the bases on balls ruined him.”21 While the Pirates (42-112) completed one of the worst seasons in baseball since 1900, Hogue concluded his rookie campaign with a 1-8 record, a 4.84 ERA in 83⅔ innings (12 starts and seven relief appearances), while fanning 34 and walking 68. The Pirates lost 17 of the 19 games in which Hogue appeared.
In 1953 Hogue participated in his first big-league spring training, directed by new Pirates skipper Fred Haney. Rickey moved camp from San Bernardino, California (where the Bucs had conducted spring training on and off since 1935), to Havana, Cuba. The site and city were not new to Rickey. While GM of the Dodgers, he held camp there to relieve some of the pressure and media attention focused on rookie Jackie Robinson in 1947.
Always well-conditioned, Hogue seemed primed for a breakout season. “If any Pittsburgh rookie has shown flashes of promise,” gushed sportswriter Pete Castiglione, “this fellow has.”22 But in the Pirates’ fourth game of the season, on April 9, the Brooklyn Dodgers rocked Hogue for four runs in a disastrous two-inning relief stint, in which he also walked four. Afterward, the young hurler failed to gain Haney’s confidence, despite a pretty good showing in an exhibition game with a local Smoky City semipro team on May 2. He threw a complete game with 11 strikeouts in a 5-5 tie but was optioned to the Oklahoma City Indians of the Double-A Texas League.23
The Pirates wanted Hogue to pitch regularly, with the goal of harnessing his control. In just his second start, he fired a two-hit shutout.24 However, he missed much of the summer because of arm pain and made just 17 starts (21 total appearances), posting a 7-5 slate with a 3.41 ERA in 116 innings.25
Heading to a 104-loss season and once again the worst record in the majors, the Pirates gave Hogue another look-see in September. He made two starts, completed both, but walked 12 in 17 innings. In the season finale, he beat the New York Giants at Forbes Field, to end his personal nine-game losing streak. The 6-4 win was his second and last in the big leagues.
Hogue was assigned to Hermosillo in the Mexican Pacific League for extra work in the winter season. He was joined by a Bucs catcher, former Heisman Award trophy winner at The Ohio State University, Vic Janowicz.26 Hogue won his only game before abruptly quitting and returned to Dayton to work as a plumber.27
Rickey’s spring-training experiment in Havana lasted just one season. It proved to be too expensive, and Haney complained that the lack of big-league competition made it impossible for him to evaluate players.28 Consequently, the team conducted camp in Fort Pierce, Florida, where Hogue reported in 1954. In the previous dismal season, the Pirates had once again scored the fewest runs in the NL while the staff had the league’s highest ERA (5.22) for the fifth straight year. Nonetheless there was optimism, especially with regard to the pitching corps. Along with the maturation of Bob Friend, the staff had veteran Max Surkont and Vern Law, who had returned after missing the previous two seasons in military service. “Hogue and his curve ball,” remarked Hernon, “figure in Haney’s plan as the season opens.” The Bucs beat writer boldly predicted, “It all adds up to the Bucs retiring from the ranks of push-overs.”29
Hogue looked good in his first appearance of the season, tossing three scoreless innings of what Biederman called “nifty relief” in the Pirates’ loss to the Dodgers on April 15.30 In his next two appearances, both starts that lasted just four innings each, Hogue was shelled for 10 hits and six earned runs while walking 12. Those outings proved to be the last of Hogue’s big-league career –he was optioned to the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League (open classification). “He’s nervous and tense and unsure of himself,” said Haney, who still believed that with regular pitching Hogue could find a spot on the staff.31 “He has as good a curve ball as there is in the league,” the skipper added.32 However, he thought Hogue’s failures had more to do with his psychological disposition than talent. “He has to lick his problem, which is fighting himself, before he can lick major league pitching.”33
After a brief stint with Hollywood, Hogue was released to the New Orleans Pelicans of the Double-A Southern Association. Pitching for future Pirates leader Danny Murtaugh, Hogue won a career-best 11 games (against seven losses) with a fairly respectable 3.79 ERA in 133 innings. He helped the club to a second-place finish. Hogue still relied on his curveball, which Nashville sportswriter Fred Russell described as the league’s best.34 The Pirates recalled Hogue in September; however, he remained on the Pels’ roster for the postseason. Hogue had battled arm pain down the stretch, which ultimately forced him to miss the postseason series victory over the Birmingham Barons and the championship series loss to the Atlanta Crackers.
Hogue briefly participated in spring training for the Pirates in 1955 but was optioned in mid-March to Hollywood. Converted into a reliever, he was returned to the Pirates in late May after a shaky spot start in which he walked six and unleashed five wild pitches in six innings.35 He was subsequently assigned to the Williamsport (Pennsylvania) Grays in the Class A Eastern League. He was 7-6 but logged a 4.67 ERA in 133 innings, fueled by 76 walks.
The 27-year-old retired from baseball after the 1955 season. After a year away from the sport, he had a brief comeback in spring 1957 and pitched in three games for the Columbus Jets in the Triple-A American Association.
In parts of three seasons with the Pirates, Hogue posted a 4.91 ERA in 113⅔ innings to go with his 2-10 record. He pitched approximately 1,000 innings in 10 years in the minors.
Hogue lived with his wife, Jackie, in suburban Dayton for the rest of his life. They raised four children, daughters Laurie, Melody, and Belinda, and son Michael. He worked as a union plumber. In the decade after his playing career, Hogue remained active in local semipro and adult baseball leagues and also conducted pitching clinics for local youths. Later in life he became an active member of the Centerville Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Hogue died at the age of 77 on August 5, 2005, at the Kettering Medical Center. According to his obituary, his death was unexpected.36 He was cremated.
This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and Len Levin and fact-checked by William Lamb.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also accessed Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, the SABR Minor Leagues Database, accessed online at Baseball-Reference.com, SABR.org, The Sporting News archive via Paper of Record, newspapers via Newspaper.com, and Ancestry.com.
1 Al Cartwright, “Between Innings,” Dayton Herald, March 9, 1944: 21.
2 Don Patterson, “Five Schools Place Men on All-City Court Club,” Dayton Journal, March 4, 1944: 16.
3 Bill Bombeck,” Teddies-Beavers Vie Today,” Dayton Journal, June 7, 1944: 8.
5 Per SABR Scouts Committee.
6 Tom Carroll, “Free Ball on Kickoff Talk of Grid Fans,” Dayton Daily News, September 30, 1945.
8 “Receive Tryouts,” Dayton Daily News, August 28, 1946: 21.
9 Associated Press, “Twins Win 3-2 in 11 Innings,” Minneapolis Tribune, May 18, 1947: S2.
10 “Cal Hogue Hurls No-Hit, No-Run Tilt,” Dayton Daily News, August 29, 1947: 30.
11 “Greenville Wins,” Dayton Journal, September 2, 1947: 13.
12 Per SABR Scouts Committee and Pittsburgh Pirates records, reviewed by Chad Glover in 1997 and Rod Nelson (2020).
13 Bruce Pluckman, “Bucs Call Up Daytonian Cal Hogue,” Dayton Daily News, July 11, 1952: 33.
14 Lester J. Biederman, “The Scoreboard by Les Biederman,” Pittsburgh Press, July 18, 1952: 20.
15 Biederman, “The Scoreboard.”
16 United Press, “Bucs Option Kline; Purchase Cal Hogue,” Lafayette (Indiana) Journal and Courier, July 11, 1952: 12.
17 Lefty McFadden, “The local scene,” Dayton Daily News, July 15, 1952: 10.
18 Lester J. Biederman, “Clark’s Slam Gives Simmons Cushion,” Pittsburgh Press, July 16, 1952: 18.
19 Charles H. Doyle, “Chilly Sauce,” Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, July 18, 1952: 18.
20 Jack Hernon, “Phils Go Hogue Wild to Rout Bucs, 14-4, 8-1,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 23, 1952: 14.
21 Jack Hernon, “Hogue Goes 12 Innings, But Cards Win, 4-3,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 6, 1952: 14.
22 Pete Castiglione, “And Also Meet the Team’s Newest Players,” Pittsburgh Press, April 15, 1953: 15.
23 “Dormont Ties Pirate Reserves,” Pittsburgh Press, May 3, 1953: 68.
24 “Cal Hogue Stingy,” Pittsburgh Press, May 21, 1953: 57.
25 Lester J. Biederman, “Bucs Recall 17 Players from Farm,” Pittsburgh Press, September 6, 1953: 39.
26 “23 Bucs and Farmhands to Play Winter Ball,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 22, 1953: 20.
27 Lefty McFadden, “Tom Pequignot to Be Only New DIAA Coach,” Dayton Daily News, November 8, 1953.
28 Joe Guzzardi, “’Playing Ball in Cuba,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 29, 2014. post-gazette.com/opinion/Op-Ed/2014/03/30/Pirates-playing-ball-in-Cuba-JOE-GUZZARDI/stories/201403300161.
29 Jack Hernon, “Roamin’ Around,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 12, 1954: 23.
30 Lester J. Biederman, “Bucs Convinced, Dodgers Have Everything,” Pittsburgh Press, April 16, 1954: 20.
31 Harry Keck, “Sports by Harry Keck,” Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, April 27, 1954: 20.
32 Lester J. Biederman, “The Scoreboard by Les Biederman,” Pittsburgh Press, April 27, 1954: 28.
33 Harry Keck, “Sports by Harry Keck.”
34 Fred Russell, “Sidelines,” Nashville Banner, July 16, 1954: 25.
35 Alter Judge, “Oaks Held to Two Hits by Twinks,”San Francisco Examiner, May 21, 1955: 17.
36 Obituaries, Dayton Daily News, August 7, 2005: B5.