This article was written by Joseph Wancho
After four seasons of double-digit victories as a starter for the Dodgers (1946-1949), left-handed pitcher Joe Hatten started only twenty-eight games over the next three seasons. He then departed the Major Leagues for a long career in the minors. When Hatten was asked what single thrill he remembered from his days as a major leaguer, he replied, “I remember Brooklyn and liked it very much. I can’t just pick out any one thrill. Every day was a thrill while playing in Brooklyn. I thought they were a great bunch of fans.”1
Joseph Hilarian Hatten was born on November 7, 1916, in Bancroft, Iowa. He was the fourth of eleven children (six girls and five boys) born to Frank and Gertrude Hatten. Frank owned a harness-making shop, a lively trade in a period when horses were still important to American commerce. Joe’s first experience at playing baseball was at the Junior American Legion level as a teenager. When he grew too old for Legion ball, he played semipro baseball around Bancroft for four years. In 1938 Hatten signed a minor-league contract with Sioux City of the Nebraska State League. However, the Cowboys released him a month into the season, and there is no evidence that he got into any games.
Hatten signed the next year, 1939, with Crookston, Minnesota, of the Class D Northern League. In his first full professional season, he led the team in victories, posting a 14-14 win-loss record for the last-place club. He had an earned run average of 3.02 and led the league with 299 strikeouts, including twenty-one in one game. In 1940 Hatten played for the Dodgers Class B Anniston, Alabama, farm club of the Southeastern League. The competition was tougher and Joe slipped to 7-18 with a 5.31 ERA. Yet in 1941, Hatten found himself pitching at the top minor-league level, with the unaffiliated Minneapolis Millers of the American Association. He won five and lost six, pitching in both a starting role and in relief.
Andy Cohen of the Dodgers had been scouting Hatten as a minor leaguer. Based on Cohen’s report, Brooklyn acquired the six-feet, 175-pound southpaw from the Millers in December 1941. Hatten started the 1942 campaign with the International League’s Montreal Royals, the Dodgers’ top farm team. He won four games and lost two before being called up for Navy service on May 25.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers purchased his contract. “But it was going to be a long time before I could pitch for them,” he recalled.2 Hatten served in the Navy for forty-one months, ten of which were overseas in the Pacific, Australia, and India. Back in the United States, he was stationed at the Naval Air Station in Livermore, California. Hatten pitched on service teams both overseas and at Livermore, compiling a record of 85-25. While serving his tour of duty, Joe married Zanette Easley on March 20, 1944.
After Hatten was discharged, in October 1945, he played winter ball in California. Dodgers president Branch Rickey offered him $450 a month to pitch for the Brooklyn club in 1946. Hatten, now twenty-nine, balked at the offer, and was a holdout as the Dodgers opened spring training in Daytona Beach, Florida. “I’ll be glad to pay him what he will be worth if he proves himself,” said Rickey. “But I think he should report and start for what he has been offered. He must demonstrate that he can pitch in the National League and win.”3 Eventually the two men came to an agreement and Hatten received more than the original offer.
Brooklyn manager Leo Durocher was impressed the first time he saw Hatten pitch that spring. “No doubt about it, this Hatten looks like a real pitcher,” the Dodgers’ skipper said. “He pours that thing by you, and he isn’t half trying yet. He ought to be something when he’s ready to cut loose. All you have to do is look at him and you know that if he can control it, he can be the best southpaw the Dodgers have ever had.”4
Hatten won his major-league debut, on April 21, 1946, at Ebbets Field. He outdueled New York Giants pitcher Bill Voiselle to earn the 2–1 decision. The 1946 race was a nip-and-tuck battle between the Dodgers and the St. Louis Cardinals. On the next-to-last day of the season, Hatten pitched Brooklyn to a win over the Boston Braves. The victory extended his winning streak to six and gave him fourteen wins for the season.
Both the Dodgers and the Cardinals lost on the final day of the season, forcing a best-of-three playoff, the first playoff in major-league history. Howie Pollet defeated the Dodgers, 4–2, in the first game. Hatten started Game Two and was knocked out in the fifth inning. The Cardinals won the game, giving them the pennant. Hatten had posted a fine 14-11 record in 1946, while leading the Dodgers with thirteen complete games and a 2.84 earned run average. However, he was second in the league in walks with 110 and first in the league in hit batters with seven. Control problems plagued Hatten throughout his major-league career; his walks exceeded his strikeouts in every season.
Before the start of the 1947 season, baseball commissioner Happy Chandler suspended Durocher for one season for “an accumulation of unpleasant incidents” and “publicity-producing affairs.” Rickey tapped an old friend, Burt Shotton, to come out of retirement and lead the Dodgers. Rickey believed that Shotton would be able to handle the issues that would occur during Jackie Robinson’s first year in the big leagues. Hatten started the Dodgers’ opener, on April, 15, 1947, and worked six innings. He left for a pinch-hitter trailing, 3–2, but the Dodgers rallied to win, 5–3.
Hatten finished the season with a 17-8 record and a 3.63 ERA. Perhaps his most impressive day came in a September 14 doubleheader in Cincinnati. Joe pitched a complete game to win the opener and then held the Reds to one hit over the final five and two-thirds innings to win the nightcap. The two victories that day were numbers fifteen and sixteen for the year. (Sixteen of Hatten’s seventeen wins in 1947 came against the second-division Reds, Cubs, and Phillies.)
Brooklyn managed to hold off the Cardinals this time and won their first pennant since 1941. After Brooklyn lost the first two games of the World Series at Yankee Stadium, they returned home for Game Three. Hatten started for the Dodgers, but it was not one of his better performances. He gave up six runs in four and a third innings, including a two-run home run to Joe DiMaggio. But the Dodgers knocked around Yankees starter Bobo Newsom to win, 9–8, with Hugh Casey getting the victory in relief. Hatten pitched out of the bullpen for the remainder of the Series, making brief appearances in the final three games. The Yankees won the Series in seven games.
Durocher returned from his suspension to manage the Dodgers in 1948. He said of Hatten, “I’ve been hammering away at Joe to keep his curve ball low. When he gets it across the letters, they murder him. He came to see me the other day. ‘I’ve got it now, Leo,’ was all he said, but that was all I wanted to hear.”5
In July, Durocher was let go and named manager of the New York Giants and Shotton took over as Brooklyn’s manager. Hatten completed his third straight season with over 200 innings-pitched. His record for the third-place Dodgers was 13-10 with a 3.58 ERA.
The Dodgers returned to the top of the National League in 1949, edging the Cardinals by one game. Hatten was 12-8 that season, but his earned run average ballooned to 4.18. In the 1949 World Series against the Yankees, Hatten pitched in Game Four, giving up three earned runs in an inning and a third of relief. He pitched a third of an inning in Game Five, as the Yankees made quick work of Brooklyn, winning the series four games to one.
The addition of Preacher Roe in 1948, the promotion of Don Newcombe in 1949, and the maturation of Carl Erksine spelled the end for Hatten as a full-time starter. He started a combined fourteen games for the Dodgers in the 1950 and 1951 seasons, with most of his appearances coming in relief.
Shotton vehemently denied placing Hatten in his doghouse for ineffectiveness, yet he hardly gave him a vote of confidence: “. . . All the time I have been at Brooklyn Joe has been a very brilliant pitcher some times and a very mediocre pitcher other times. I think he is a pretty good spring pitcher. Last summer, I believed I had others who were going better, that’s all. That’s Hatten’s history. He’s either very good or very bad. One thing about him, it doesn’t take long to find out whether he got it or not.”6
Following the 1950 season, in which the Dodgers finished second to the Phillies, Branch Rickey was forced out at Brooklyn by co-owner Walter O’Malley. Manager Shotton was fired and replaced by Charlie Dressen. Soon Hatten left Brooklyn as well, being dealt to the Chicago Cubs as part of an eight-player deal on June 15, 1951. Hatten, outfielder Gene Hermanski, infielder Eddie Miksis, and catcher Bruce Edwards went to the Cubs, in exchange for pitcher Johnny Schmitz, catcher Rube Walker, infielder Wayne Terwilliger, and outfielder Andy Pafko.
Chicago finished the 1951 season in last place, thirty-four and a half games behind the pennant-winning Giants. Hatten was 2-6 for the Cubs, but at spring training in 1952 he earned the praise of manager Phil Cavarretta and pitching coach Charlie Root. “The way Hatten’s going this spring,” said Cavarretta, “I think he’s going to be very valuable to us. It’s nice to have those 200-inning pitchers, especially those like Hatten who know how to win.”7
Root said, “Hatten’s in such great physical condition that he can go for quite a few years yet, and the wonderful thing is that he’s got all the savvy and doesn’t have to learn the hard way anymore. Lots of fellows don’t really get good until they pass 31 or 32. Joe’s had a few lean years now, and has had enough rough moments to know what it’s all about.”8
However, Joe failed to live up to those expectations. In thirteen games, including eight starts, he went 4-4 with a 6.08 ERA. He pitched in his last major-league game, as a reliever, on July 4, 1952, in St. Louis, and then was optioned to the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League. “I guess I was just rockin’ along up there,” he said. “It was an awful shock to discover that all the clubs would waive on me.” For his major-league career, Hatten won sixty-five games and lost forty-nine with an ERA of 3.87.
During the rest of 1952, he was 8-8 for the Angels as a starter. In 1953 he posted a 17-11 record for the Angels, with a 3.34 ERA. His 152 strikeouts led the league. His victories included a seven-inning no-hit, no-run game against San Diego on June 7. Altogether, he pitched nine minor-league seasons, almost all at the Triple-A level, after leaving the big leagues, and won ninety-three games while losing eighty-seven.
In 1960, at the age of forty-three, Hatten retired to Redding, California, where he began a new career as a mailman for the Unites States Postal Service. He returned to his hometown of Bancroft, Iowa every year until 1981 for the annual old-timers game or Joe Hatten Day. The street leading to the sandlot ball diamonds was renamed Joe Hatten Drive.
Joe Hatten died in Redding on December 16, 1988, at age 72, after a struggle with cancer. He was survived by his wife and their five children, sons Donald and William, and daughters Donna, Judy, and Barbara. Hatten is buried at the Inwood/Ogburn Cemetery in Shingletown, California.
Rogers, C. Paul III, and Robin Roberts. The Whiz Kids and the 1950 Pennant. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996.
1. Bob Du Vall, Baseball Digest, June 1971, Page 64.
2. Roscoe McGowen, “Young Man Hatten of Brooklyn,” National Baseball Hall of Fame archives.
3. Roscoe McGowen, “Young Man Hatten of Brooklyn,” National Baseball Hall of Fame archives.
4. Bill Roeder, “No Rest for the Dodgers,” National Baseball Hall of Fame archives.
5. Harold C. Burr, Sporting News, April 18, 1948.
6. Bill Roeder, “Newcombe’s Key to Flock Crisis,” National Baseball Hall of Fame archives.
7. Chicago Cubs Press Release, March 26, 1952. National Baseball Hall of Fame archives.
8. Chicago Cubs Press Release, March 26, 1952. National Baseball Hall of Fame archives.