Ken R. Hunt (THE TOPPS COMPANY)

Ken R. Hunt

This article was written by Tim Otto

Ken R. Hunt (THE TOPPS COMPANY)For a brief time in the summer of 1961, Ken Hunt was mentioned in the same sentence with Sandy Koufax as the top two young pitchers in the National League. The 1961 Cincinnati Reds were expected to finish no higher than sixth in the eight-team National League.1 However, on the last day of June, Cincinnati was at the top of the NL standings, 2½ games ahead of the second-place Dodgers and 3½ games ahead of the third-place Giants. The June 26 cover of Sports Illustrated featured the NL pennant race, and a supporting article focused on the number of good young hurlers in the league. It declared that the two best were Koufax of the Dodgers and Hunt, a rookie righthander.2

At that time, Hunt’s record was 8-3, with a 2.73 ERA — but even though the Reds went on to win the NL pennant that year, Hunt won just one of his last eight decisions, dropping out of the starting rotation in August. He made one brief appearance in the World Series and never pitched again in the majors after that, even though he was just 22. Control problems, which had been his bane in the low minors, resurfaced; he also suffered a sore shoulder. He was out of pro baseball after 1965.

Kenneth Raymond Hunt, Jr. was born on December 14, 1938 in Ogden, Utah to Kenneth and Wanda (née Dixon) Hunt. The 1940 U.S. Census shows that the elder Hunt was a switchman on a steam railroad. Ogden was and is known as “The Junction City” for its importance in the nation’s transcontinental rail network. The Hunt family could trace their Utah roots to Wilson Hunt (1817-1897), who was described by a grandson as being a large, athletic man of great faith. In 1852 Wilson, accompanied by his wife Seila and their three sons, traveled from Iowa across the Plains in a group of about 200 other Mormons and 50 wagons. Reaching Salt Lake City that October, the Hunts stayed there only a few days before moving to Ogden, then a settlement of 20 to 25 families.3

Ken grew up with his three younger brothers in Ogden.4 The young Mormon first dreamed of pitching in the majors at the age of ten. By the time he was a freshman at Ogden High School, he was 6-foot-3 and 175 pounds.5 Hunt graduated in 1957 and was all-state in both basketball and baseball.6 He was an offensive star for the Ogden basketball team, averaging 18 points a game as a senior.7 As a pitcher, he threw two no-hitters and averaged about two strikeouts per inning, including one game where he had 21 strikeouts.8 “The batters gave me a lot of help. Their strike zone was from the eyes to the shoe tops,” said Hunt later, explaining why he didn’t need to develop a curve ball until after high school.9

Hunt received both a baseball and basketball scholarship to attend Brigham Young University.10 After striking out 18 in a game against Central Utah in the spring of his freshman year, he was expected to be one of the primary starting pitchers for BYU during his sophomore season.11 However, at the end of his freshman year, Hunt signed with Cincinnati for a reported $35,000 bonus.12 “The choice was easy,” he said. “My father and I figured signing with the Reds was the quickest way for me to reach the major leagues. They needed pitching more than any other club.”13

After being signed by Cincinnati scout Bobby Mattick, who also had signed Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, and Jim Maloney for the Reds,14 Hunt was sent to Visalia in the Class C California League. Appearing in 21 games during 1958, including seven starts, he walked 75 batters in 54 innings on his way to a 2-5 record and a 9.00 ERA.

Ken married Carol Nelson, a 1958 graduate of Ogden High School, on February 6, 1959. The couple honeymooned in Salt Lake City before making their home in Visalia,15 where Hunt returned for his second professional season. The Reds ordered his manager, Dave Bristol, to pitch him every fourth day no matter how many he walked or how many games he lost. They hoped this schedule would help Hunt learn to control his fastball.16 Despite a 4-14 record and a 6.66 ERA, with 185 walks in 150 innings, Hunt improved his strikeout total to 160 from 34 the prior year. The Reds saw enough progress in the young righthander to assign him to Columbia in the Class A Southern Atlantic (Sally) League for the 1960 season.

1960 was a breakout year for Hunt. At the end of May he was leading the Sally League in strikeouts (66 in 61 innings), with a record of 5-3 and a 2.06 ERA (second best in the league).17 By mid-July he had increased his record to 12-3 after a 10-strikeout, four-hit effort in a win against Knoxville.18 Cincinnati General Manager Gabe Paul thought Hunt threw harder than even Jim Maloney, and that Ken would eventually be a star at the major league level. “He’s built like Paul Derringer was in his prime,” said Paul, “6-5 and about 225 pounds.”19 For the season Hunt finished with a 16-6 record, a 2.86 ERA, and a league leading 221 strikeouts in 211 innings. He had cut his walks to a more manageable 134 and was recognized as the league’s leading pitcher.20 The National Association of Baseball Writers named him as the pitcher on the all-star team for all Class A-level leagues.21

In February 1961, Hunt was listed on the roster of Indianapolis, a AAA affiliate for Cincinnati. He was one of 11 farmhands invited to train with the major-league squad at their spring training facility in Tampa, Florida.22 In his first opportunity to face major league batters, Hunt pitched three innings against the White Sox, giving up one run on three hits. “The guy really surprised me,” said Indianapolis manager Cot Deal, a former Reds pitching coach. “I expected to see power, power, and more power. Nobody had mentioned to me that he had finesse … just that he had a real good arm.”23

In a spring training start against the defending World Champion Pirates, Hunt gave up a first-inning, two-out single to Roberto Clemente, followed by a two-run homer to Dick Stuart. He then held Pittsburgh without another hit through six innings of work in a 4-2 Reds victory.24 Pirates third baseman Don Hoak commented, “His fast ball is the kid’s best pitch, but his sidearm curve is a lulu.”25 According to National League President Warren Giles, “I saw a remarkable number of good young players in Florida this spring, and the best young pitcher was Ken Hunt of the Reds.”26 Hunt was promoted to Cincinnati’s major-league roster for the start of the 1961 season.

Hunt made his big-league debut on April 16 in a relief appearance against the Cardinals. Entering the game in the fifth inning with runners on first and second, and none out, Ken ended the St. Louis rally on a ground ball double play, followed by a lineout to first baseman Gordy Coleman. Hunt retired the Cardinals in order in the sixth before being removed for a pinch-hitter in the top of the seventh. Though the Reds lost the game 5-3, Hunt’s performance earned him his first major-league start in San Francisco three days later.

Ken’s mother and grandmother made the trip from Utah to see his start against the Giants.27 In the first inning Hunt allowed a walk, a single, and another walk to load the bases with none out. A ground ball double play scored one run for the Giants. The damage was limited when, after another walk, the next batter lined out to right field. Chuck Hiller led off the Giants half of the second with a single and advanced to third base on Hunt’s wild pick-off throw. A bunt scored Hiller, but Ken settled down and struck out the next two batters. Thereafter he allowed only three singles and a walk before being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the ninth, as the Reds rallied for two runs to win the game, 4-2, securing Hunt’s first major-league victory.

“Sure, he was jumpy at first,” said Reds manager Fred Hutchinson. “Remember, too, he’s also making a big jump — from Class A to the majors.”28 Giants manager Alvin Dark noted, “My hitters told me his fast ball really jumps around, and he showed me a good curve to go with it.”29 “The kid looked great to me,” said veteran Harvey Kuenn. “What makes him real tough is the fact that he has good off-speed pitches … a curve and a change-up. They throw you off stride because you’ve got to look for his fast ball.”30

Hunt made his Crosley Field debut against the Phillies on May 2. He held Philadelphia scoreless until giving up two runs in the top of the eighth. He allowed six hits, with five walks and five strikeouts before being removed for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the eighth. Earning the victory as the Reds won 3-2, Hunt threw 148 pitches over his eight innings of work. “I thought he pitched a good strong game considering how erratic he was,” said Cincinnati pitching coach Jim Turner. “He pitched himself out of a lot of holes and he didn’t do it by retiring the batters on line drives.”31

A victory over the Pirates at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field on May 14 was notable for a few reasons. Hunt improved his record to 3-1, allowing one run on four hits. With the bases loaded and one out in the sixth, Hunt struck out Roberto Clemente and retired Rocky Nelson on a fly out. He struck out five and walked five over 6 2/3 innings, throwing 46 curves or change-ups out of 110 pitches. “Hunt’s control of his curve was the best he has had this season,” said pitching coach Turner.32 The Pittsburgh game, played on a Saturday and broadcast on national television, was the first time Ken’s father had the chance to watch his son pitch in the majors.33 His dad also saw Ken get his first major league hit. A strike out victim his first 10 at bats of the season, Hunt doubled in the top of the seventh, driving in the Reds’ second run in their 3-1 win.

Hunt’s sharp early-season performance included complete-game victories on May 29, June 11, and June 21, the latter two coming against St. Louis. In the June 21 outing, a blister on Hunt’s pitching hand broke. His fastball was very effective in the first four innings, but he switched to slow stuff to finish the game.34 Afterwards Ken was asked if he was doing anything different now from what he was doing at the start of the season. “I’m throwing a slow curve,” he answered. “I use it as a change-up pitch.”35

Not long after he received his plaudits in Sports Illustrated, Hunt was scratched from his scheduled July 5 start in San Francisco due to soreness in his right shoulder. “Hunt’s soreness isn’t anything serious,” said Hutchinson, “but there’s no sense in taking any chances.” Ken said that he first experienced some soreness in his shoulder the year before, during a Sally League playoff game. “It was still a little sore in spring training,” he said, “but I didn’t say anything about it. It worked out though, throwing in the hot weather in Florida.” Since then, he hadn’t felt any pain in the shoulder until his start the prior week in Chicago. “The pain was still there when I pitched against Milwaukee last Saturday,” he continued, “and the next morning I couldn’t even raise my right arm.”36

Two days later, on July 7, Hunt was back on the mound to start the opener of a doubleheader in Los Angeles. Helped by double plays in the third, fourth and fifth innings, he lasted through six innings. Hunt developed another blister on his pitching hand and was relieved at the start of the seventh inning. “The blister, though, wasn’t the reason why I took him out,” said Hutchinson. “He had had enough.”37 He was the winning pitcher in Cincinnati’s 11-7 victory, raising his won-loss record to 9-4.

Hunt’s father attended the game in Los Angeles, seated behind the Cincinnati dugout. “I didn’t see him after the second inning,” joked Ken’s roommate, Jim Maloney, after the game. Hunt explained, “That’s the way Dad was when I used to pitch American Legion ball. I’d get into a jam and he’d have to go someplace where he couldn’t watch the game. Then, when I’d get them out, he’d come back.” 38

The win against the Dodgers turned out to be his last as a major-league pitcher. Beginning on July 16 against the Cubs, he lost five straight starts. Only one of the three runs the Cubs scored against Hunt over six innings was earned in the 4-2 Chicago victory over the Reds. “Hunt had real good stuff,” said Hutchinson, “but it’s pretty hard to get them out when you give them seven outs in an inning. We messed up a couple of double-play balls.”39 Against the Giants on July 22, Ken was charged with five runs (four earned) in only one-third of an inning, as the Reds lost their sixth in a row, dropping their lead over the Dodgers to one game.

His manager thought he might have found the cause of Ken’s early-inning troubles. “Jim Turner and I have been talking it over,” said Hutchinson, “and we think maybe Hunt hasn’t been warming up properly.” Prior to his next start at Milwaukee on July 25, Turner paid particular attention to Hunt’s warm-up routine, and the result was “one of the best games he’s pitched all season,” according to Hutchinson.40 Despite a complete-game effort in which he gave up only five hits and one walk while striking out four, he lost again to the Braves, 2-0, as Lew Burdette hurled a two-hit shutout.

Hunt had another decent outing in Chicago on July 30 but on August 5 was again knocked out of the box in the first inning. He did not pitch again until finishing the final two innings of a 12-2 loss against the Giants on August 22. Two more relief appearances followed before Ken made his final start of the season, on September 4 in Philadelphia. He retired the first eight Phillies he faced before the opposing pitcher, Art Mahaffey, doubled. With the Reds ahead 1-0, Hunt ran into trouble in the fourth. After walking the leadoff batter, a stolen base, a wild pitch, and a single scored one run. He walked the next batter and was forced to exit the game after yet another blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand broke.41 Hunt was the losing pitcher in the Phillies’ 5-3 win. The loss reduced Cincinnati’s lead over the Dodgers to two games.

When he next pitched, in relief against the Giants on September 22, the Reds had expanded their lead to four games. He made two more relief appearances as the team clinched its first pennant in 21 years. Hunt finished the regular season with a 9-10 won-loss record and a 3.96 ERA. In 136 innings he recorded 75 strikeouts and 66 walks.

Cincinnati lost the World Series to the heavily favored Yankees in five games. Hunt did not see any action in the Series until asked to pitch the ninth inning of the final game. He yielded a walk to Roger Maris, but struck out Elston Howard to end the inning.

Not long after the World Series ended, The Sporting News selected him as the National League Rookie Pitcher of the Year for 1961.42 Prior to the end of the regular season, Hunt enlisted in the Ohio Air National Guard. In early November he reported for duty at Lackland Air Base in Texas.43

Hunt was available for the start of spring training in 1962. He received permission to report late so he could be with his wife for the birth of their first child.44 Ken had high expectations for 1962, declaring, “I expect to win 15 games this season.”45 However, in three spring training appearances, totaling seven innings, he gave up 17 runs on 12 hits and 11 walks.46 Hunt was assigned to San Diego (Class AAA) in the Pacific Coast League. Splitting his 1962 season between San Diego and Macon (Class A), Hunt went 2-8, with a 7.67 ERA and 80 walks in 61 innings.

At the start of spring training in 1963, Hunt said, “I feel 100% different than I did a year ago. I think I have my control and my timing back.” Reflecting on his problems in 1962, he continued, “Last spring I got here late after being in the Army and we had our baby. I guess I tried to rush things to catch up and nothing went right.”47 Yet despite his optimism, Hunt continued to struggle on the mound. In a late March spring training game against the Braves, he gave up seven runs, walked eight, had two wild pitches, and struck out only one in 4 1/3 innings.48 Assigned again to San Diego, he also spent part of the 1963 season pitching for Macon. Again, he averaged over a walk per inning.

Hunt retired from baseball after pitching for two more seasons in the minors. He harnessed his control to some extent, issuing roughly six walks per nine innings, but the overall results were not impressive. Reflecting several years later on what changed after his initial success in 1961, he said, “I guess you could call it the Dizzy Dean Syndrome. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, I started throwing the ball a little differently. I got a callous on a different finger. I just — unconsciously, I guess — was making some adjustments there. All of a sudden, my right shoulder started hurting. I think I changed my grip then, and all of a sudden, the arm quit hurting, but I had lost something.”49

Hunt earned a degree from BYU after he left professional baseball. He and Carol moved to Morgan, Utah, where they raised their daughter (Jennifer) and two sons (Ken and Adam). He taught English and coached baseball and basketball at Morgan High School for 30 years, prior to retiring in 2003.50 He was twice named Coach of the Year in basketball for Class 2A and was inducted in the Utah Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.51 A passionate fan of the Utah Jazz, Ken enjoyed hunting, fishing, camping and spending time with his family, which included seven grandchildren.52 On January 27, 2008, surrounded by family at home, Ken Hunt passed away at the age of 69. He was laid to rest at the South Morgan Cemetery, Morgan, Utah.

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and Bruce Harris and fact-checked by Chris Rainey.

 

Sources

The author accessed Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org. for box scores/play-by-play information, player, team, and season pages, pitching game logs, and other data:

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/h/huntke02.shtml

https://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/H/Phuntk101.htm

 

Notes

1 Robert Creamer and Tex Maule, “A Look at the New Season,” Sports Illustrated, April 10, 1961: 53.

2 Tex Maule, “The Young Pitchers Take Command,” Sports Illustrated, June 26, 1961: 15.

3 Wilson Hunt Find a Grave Memorial, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/18052677/wilson-hunt

4 Ken’s contemporary, North Dakotan outfielder Kenneth Lawrence Hunt (unrelated), was born four years earlier than Ken.

5 Earl Lawson, “Hunt Prize Hill Rookie,” Cincinnati Post and Times Star, March 27, 1961: 20.

6 Kenneth Raymond Hunt Obituary, Legacy.com,

https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/saltlaketribune/obituary.aspx?n=kenneth-raymond-hunt&pid=102206577

7 Steve Smilanich, “Bears, ‘Diggers Favored in Class A Casaba Joust,” Provo Daily Herald, March 5, 1957: 8.

8 Mark Schmetzer, Before the Machine: The Story of the 1961 Pennant-Winning Cincinnati Reds (Cincinnati: Clerisy Press, 2011): 62.

9 Earl Lawson, “Hunt Prize Hill Rookie.”

10 Kenneth Hunt Obituary

11 Wendell Rigby, “BYU Should Have Top Nine Again in 1959,” Provo Sunday Herald, Jun 8, 1958: 14.

12 Wendell Rigby, “BYU Loses Fine Athlete,” Provo Sunday Herald, Jun 8, 1958: 13.

13 Earl Lawson, “Hunt Prize Hill Rookie.”

14 Clark Nealon, “Don’t Overlook the Reds in N.L. Race,” The Sporting News, April 26, 1961: 5.

15 “Carol Nelson Married to Kenneth R. Hunt,” Ogden Standard Examiner, February 15, 1959: 5C.

16 Earl Lawson, “Hunt Prize Hill Rookie.”

17 Friend News Service, “Sally Averages,” The Sporting News, June 8, 1960: 49.

18 “Hunt Posts 151st Strikeout,” The Sporting News, July 27, 1960: 37.

19 Earl Lawson, “Kid Twirlers Lift Gloom in Reds’ Plunge,” The Sporting News, August 10, 1960: 20.

20 “Hunt Named Leading Hurler,” The Sporting News, September 14, 1960: 45.

21 Mark Schmetzer, Before the Machine: The Story of the 1961 Pennant-Winning Cincinnati Reds (Cincinnati: Clerisy Press, 2011): 62.

22 Earl Lawson, “Flame-Thrower Ken Hunt Hailed as Red Hill Find,” The Sporting News, February 22, 1961: 23.

23 Earl Lawson, “Hunt Great in Debut,” Cincinnati Post and Times Star, March 13, 1961: 26.

24 Lou Smith, “Reds Stun Pirates With 3-Hit Hurling,” Cincinnati Enquirer, March 26, 1961: H-6..

25 Lou Smith, “Hunt Hot Hurler,” Cincinnati Enquirer, March 27, 1961: 46.

26 Pat Harmon, “Reds Might Be Tired — DeWitt,” Cincinnati Post and Times Star, March 31, 1961: 14.

27 Earl Lawson, “Dark Lauds Reds’ Hunt,” Cincinnati Post and Times Star, April 21, 1961: 21.

28 Earl Lawson, “Hunt is Great in Major Debut,” Cincinnati Post and Times Star, April 20, 1961: 23.

29 Earl Lawson, “Dark Lauds Reds’ Hunt.”

30 Earl Lawson, “Hunt is Great in Major League Debut.”

31 Earl Lawson, “Reds Beat Phils with Four Hits,” Cincinnati Post and Times Star, May 3, 1961: 25.

32 Earl Lawson, “Clutch Pitching Wins for Hunt,” Cincinnati Post and Times Star, May 15, 1961: 17.

33 Earl Lawson, “Dad’s Letters Keep Hunt Hustling,” Cincinnati Post and Times Star, June 22, 1961: 16.

34 Jim Brosnan, Pennant Race (New York: Harper Brothers, 1962), 172.

35 Earl Lawson, “Dad’s Letters Keep Hunt Hustling.”

36 Earl Lawson, “Lame Shoulder Sidelines Hunt,” Cincinnati Post and Times Star, July 6, 1961: 36.

37 Earl Lawson, “Ken Hunt Earns 9th Win after Shaky Start.”

38 Earl Lawson, “Ken Hunt Earns 9th Win after Shaky Start.”

39 Earl Lawson, “Cubs Edge Reds; Lead cut to 5,” Cincinnati Post and Times Star, July 17, 1961: 17.

40 Earl Lawson, “Hunt Beaten, 2-0, in “Best” Game,” Cincinnati Post and Times Star, July 26, 1961: 23.

41 Earl Lawson, “Johnson to Replace Purkey?” Cincinnati Post and Times Star, September 5, 1961: 8.

42 Edgar Munzel, “Schwall Top Sparkler Among ’61 Frosh,” The Sporting News, November 1, 1961: 1.

43 “Ken Hunt Gets Military Orders,” Cincinnati Post and Times Star, November 6, 1961: 23.

44 Lou Smith, “’Ken’ Reds Uncover Another Hunt?” Cincinnati Enquirer, March 3, 1962: 19.

45 Lou Smith, “’Ken’ Reds Uncover Another Hunt?”

46 Lou Smith, “Hunt Again Routed Early as Chisox Rap Reds, 10-6,” Cincinnati Enquirer, April 2, 1962: 37.

47 Lou Smith, “Hunt Regains Confidence, Fast Ball; Reds Smile,” Cincinnati Enquirer, February 26, 1963: 29.

48 “Hunt Wild as Braves Win, 7-5,” Cincinnati Enquirer, March 27, 1963: 36

49 Mark Schmetzer, Before the Machine: The Story of the 1961 Pennant-Winning Cincinnati Reds (Cincinnati: Clerisy Press, 2011): 179.

50 Kenneth Raymond Hunt Obituary, Legacy.com

51 Utah Sports Hall of Fame,

https://www.utahsportshalloffame.org/honorees-hall-of-fame-induction/hall-of-fame-2000s/

52 Kenneth Raymond Hunt Obituary, Legacy.com

Full Name

Kenneth Raymond Hunt

Born

December 14, 1938 at Ogden, UT (USA)

Died

January 27, 2008 at Morgan, UT (USA)

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