Markusen: The final year of Fred Hutchinson’s life

From Bruce Markusen at The Hardball Times on March 18, 2014:

The long grind of a baseball season is arduous under normal circumstances. The games come relentlessly, day after day, with no respite for those hitters who are slumping or those pitchers who have become saddled with dead arms. Win or lose, the endless season takes an appropriate toll.

Now let’s consider what a team faces when it deals with real-life tragedy. How do the players cope with the knowledge that their manager, the man entrusted with leading his 25 followers, has been diagnosed with a life-threatening ailment? How does the manager deal with the very real possibility that he is dying? That’s what the Cincinnati Reds and their manager encountered 50 years ago, from the middle of the winter to the end of the regular season—and beyond.

By 1964, Fred Hutchinson had developed an exemplary reputation in baseball. A veteran of World War II, he returned to the game from overseas duty in 1964 and established himself as a solid right-handed starter. From 1946 to 1951, he won in double figures each year for the Tigers, who liked his reliability and his toughness. He also became legendary for his competitiveness. “I always know how Hutch did when we follow Detroit into a town,” Yankees catcher Yogi Berra once told Sports Illustrated. “If we got stools in the dressing room, I know he won. If we got kindling, he lost.” Yes, a bad loss for Hutch put the clubhouse in physical jeopardy.

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Originally published: March 18, 2014. Last Updated: March 18, 2014.