Hal Newhouser, the most dominating pitcher of the World War II era, was a Detroit native who made good with his hometown Tigers. His amazing career, before and after baseball, are richly described in this Hal Newhouser biography.
Join Baseball Almanac as we fondly Remember Yesterday's Heroes through the moving writing of Jim Sargent. Included in that journey are never heard before quotes about Hal Newhouser from his peers, several insightful quotes by Newhouser himself, and stories never before published.
The Tigers Hall of Fame Southpaw | Yesterday's Heroes
Harold "Ha" Newhouser , born on May 20, 1921, was raised in one of DetroIt's thousands of poor immigrant families. In the 1930s the southpaw learned how to pitch baseball on local sandlots. Signed as a free agent by the Detroit Tigers in 1938 (major league baseball did not begin its player draft until 1965), Newhouser spent two seasons in the minors. The Tigers , however, needed left-handed pitching, and the teenager, although often erratic in his hurling and often temperamental in his behavior, looked like he could be the franchise's future ace.
Indeed, as later seen by the Tigers , their opponents, and their fans, Newhouser , always an intense competitor, developed into a great pitcher by 1944. But being a perfectionist in a game where perfection cannot be achieved, his temperamental outbursts after what he judged as subpar performances made him a personality that many of his own teammates avoided after games. In the end, however, although he traveled a long and winding road, Newhouser completed his journey to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992.
One of Newhouser's great pitching highlights occurred on September 22, 1946 . In an era when newspaper and radio publicity was the norm, Bill Veeck, owner of the Cleveland Indians , advertised that day's matchup between Indians' ace right-hander Bob Feller and the Detroit Tigers ' star southpaw Hal Newhouser as the "pitching duel of the century." Veeck used poetic license to describe the contest, but the game at Cleveland's vast Municipal Stadium drew just over 38,000, which was not a huge crowd for a Feller outing. While most of the home team's spectators disliked the result when Detroit won, 3-0, they watched the two greatest pitchers in the majors that year perform in near classic fashion.
Newhouser , with good control, enjoyed the better day, throwing 97 pitches for a complete game shutout. Feller , with slightly better speed, threw 144 pitches and allowed three earned runs. Newhouser threw 52 strikes. He allowed two singles, one an infield hopper that deflected off his glove. The lefty walked none, and no Indians ' runner reached second base. Altogether, Feller fired 59 strikes, walked four, gave up eight hits, and the Tribe made one error. Further, " Rapid Robert " struck out seven, raising his season total to 327, while " Hurricane Hal " fanned nine.
Detroit scored twice in the fourth inning. After George Kell lined out, Hoot Evers beat out a single to short. Hank Greenberg walked on four pitches, but Dick Wakefield struck out swinging. Roy Cullenbine singled to center for one run. Jimmy Bloodworth followed with another run-scoring single, before Feller retired Paul Richards on a fly ball. The Tigers added a final run in the sixth on another RBI single by Bloodworth .
The victory gave Newhouser his 26th, and last, win of the 1946 season. While no single game could diminish Cleveland's civic esteem for Bob Feller , writer Ed McAuley pointed out in The Sporting News that the appreciative crowd, on Newhouser’s last at-bat, "roared as great an ovation as has ever been tendered a member of the opposition."
A rematch between Newhouser and Feller was already set for Detroit on September 29 , the final game of the season. In the end, Newhouser finished 1946 with a 26-9 record and a 1.94 ERA in 37 games and 292.1 innings. The 26 wins tied him for the major league high with Feller , who had a 26-15 ledger and a 2.18 ERA in 48 games and a career-high 371.1 innings.
I talked to Newhouser twice in 1995. In the first interview, I asked about 1946, the first postwar season. The retired baseball scout replied: "That was my pivotal year. That's what really put me in the Hall of Fame. Because the sportswriters called me a wartime pitcher." The sportswriters were saying, "He's a wartime pitcher. Williams , DiMaggio , and all the guys are still in the service."
Prior to 1944, Newhouser had not produced a single excellent record. But the talented left-hander with the blazing speed was once a sandlot sensation in Detroit. Born in 1921 as the second son of Theodore and Emlie Newhouser, Harold grew up in the northwestern part of the Motor City. Richard, the oldest brother, and Hal liked sports, including hockey, and they first played baseball on neighborhood teams. At age fifteen Hal became an undefeated pitcher on a Detroit Baseball Federation Class E team.
Moving up to the more competitive American Legion ball at sixteen, he used his blazing fastball and sharp curve to win 15 straight for the Roose-Vanker Legion Post. Students at Wilbur Wright High School petitioned him to play for the school, not the Legion team, but it never happened. Hal had his sights set on pitching major league ball.
During the summer of 1937, Cleveland manager Steve O'Neill invited the 16-year-old and his mother to Cleveland, where Hal worked out at the Indians ' smaller facility, League Park. Reminiscing about those events for Bengal Tales in an April 1993 interview, Newhouser said that O’Neill told him, "Kid, you've got a real good arm ... take care of it."
The Indians promised to stay in touch, but Tiger scout Wish Egan had been watching Newhouser since 1937. According to one mid-1938 newspaper report, Hal's "chief stock in trade is a fast-breaking curve, although he has a very good fast ball and good control for a pitcher of his persuasion." Hurling for the Roose-Vanker Post in 1938, he won 17 straight, a streak that included 65 consecutive scoreless innings — most of which he hurled in tournament games.
Newhouser finally lost, 2-1, in the deciding Legion semifinal game played on August 29 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Both runs were unearned. That summer the 17-year-old yielded a total of 11 runs, four of which were earned, for an ERA of less than 0.25. His record for 1937-1938 was an extraordinary 31-3.
Shortly after returning to Detroit, Newhouser remembered being visited at home by Wish Egan and Del Baker , then manager of the Tigers . Having dreamed of being a star in his hometown, Hal signed a $150 per month minor league contract with Beaumont of the Class A Texas League. He also received a $500 bonus in cash.
Ten minutes after Egan and Baker had departed, Cleveland general manager Cy Slapnicka and scout Bill Bradley arrived driving a Lincoln Continental. They were too late to offer the car and a $15,000 bonus to the southpaw they had slated to room with Bob Feller . Slapnicka was angry to learn Newhouser had already signed. Hal and his parents were unhappy about losing thousands of dollars during the Great Depression.
Newhouser started the 1939 season with Alexandria, Louisiana, of the Class D Evangeline League. The 6'2" fireballer made his debut on April 18, beating Lafayette with a three-hitter while striking out 13. " Prince Hal ," as a local writer nicknamed him, fashioned an 8-4 record with a 2.34 ERA over 12 games and 96 innings. He also walked 29 hitters while striking out 17.
That performance got Newhouser moved to Beaumont in the tough Texas League. There he was hindered by his own wildness and the weak hitting of the last-place Exporters. Hal hurled 22 games and worked 134 innings, posting an ERA of 3.83. He fanned 85 betters, but he walked 73. The determined recruit finished the year with a 5-14 record, although several of his losses came by one run.
Still, the Tigers needed a left-handed starter, and they recalled Newhouser to Detroit . On September 29 , he started and lost his only major league game in 1939. In the second game of a doubleheader against Cleveland, Hal , pressing hard to make good, pitched five innings before the game was called due to darkness. Tribe left-hander Al Milnar won, 3-0, scattering four hits. Newhouser gave up three hits and fanned four. But he walked four and uncorked three wild pitches, allowing the Indians to score one run in each of the first three innings. Still, the rookie impressed DetroIt's management as well as thousands of spectators.
The Detroit southpaw made the Tigers' roster near the end of spring training in 1940. But in effect, he became " Hard Luck Hal " during the next four years. Through the 1943 season he compiled good but hardly great records. He finished with a 9-9 mark and a 4.86 ERA in 1940; a 9-11 record and an ERA of 4.79 in 1941; an 8-14 ledger and a 2.45 ERA in 1942; and, finally, he went 8-17 and 3.04 in 1943.
After winning the 1935 World Series over the Chicago Cubs , Detroit fielded mainly second-division clubs for four seasons. But in 1940 the Tigers won the American League pennant with a 90-64 record. The ball club was led by big sluggers such as Hank Greenberg , who batted .340 and paced the league with 41 home runs and 150 RBIs, and Rudy York , who averaged .316 with 33 homers and 134 RBIs. The top pitchers included Bobo Newsom , who had a 21-5 record and a 2.83 ERA, Tommy Bridges with a 12-9 mark and a 3.37 ERA, and Schoolboy Rowe , who was 16-3 with an ERA of 3.46. The Tigers lost the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds in seven games. Del Baker did not allow Newhouser , who had won nine times in 1940 but was still completing high school, to pitch in the postseason.
Thereafter, Detroit wound up in fifth place three years in a row. Baker managed the club to a 75-79 record in 1941 and a 73-81 mark in 1942, the first wartime season. In 1943, Steve O’Neill took over, but his record of 78-76 was just above .500. The Tigers usually didn't hit well when Newhouser was pitching, Detroit tied for last in the AL in 1942 with a team batting average of .246, and the lack of run support aggravated Newhouser’s temper.
The Tigers southpaw did show signs of greatness. In 1942, for instance, Newhouser led AL pitchers in fewest hits allowed per game, 6.7, lowest opponents batting average, .207, and most strikeouts per game, 5.4. While his 2.45 ERA ranked fourth in the league, his record was 8-14, and that mark was not helped by DetroIt's sloppy fielding. Only the seventh-place Washington Senators played worse in the field, recording a fielding mark of .962 compared to DetroIt's .969.
In 1943 Newhouser led the league in walks with 111, but he ranked second in strikeouts with 144. Still, after going 7-6 before the All-Star break and pitching three scoreless innings in the annual interleague contest, he won just once more that season.
During those years Newhouser also acquired the reputation for being a hot-tempered hurler who was hard on his teammates. For example, in "Doghouse to Let: Apply Newhouser and Trout," from the Saturday Evening Post of March 31, 1945, Red Smith wrote: "Trigger-tempered, almost bitterly ambitious, impatient, resentfully conscious of his youth and greenness, but nervously aware of his ability, Hal came into the league at the age of eighteen and expected to win immediately. When he didn't, he sulked. Nobody could make him understand there was more to major league pitching than sheer speed. Discovering they couldn't talk to him, the other players quit trying."
Regardless of his reputation, Newhouser became a great pitcher in 1944. Talking to Red Smith, Hal listed the major influences on his improvement that season: his marriage in 1941 and, in 1943, the birth of his first daughter, the hiring of Steve O’Neill as manager, and the arrival of Paul Richards as catcher.
Regarding his marriage, Beryl Steele met Hal at a party for teenagers in 1939. Their love grew, and she married the major leaguer on December 2, 1941. Later she explained her favorite pitcher from a wife's perspective. For the June 1949 issue of Sport Magazine , Milton Gross, who wrote "I Married A Pitcher," reported that Beryl said baseball for her husband was both an emotional and a physical experience. "I guess Hal gets mad on the field," she said, "but It's always the same. He gets mad at himself and not at anybody else."
As a dedicated baseball wife, Beryl looked on the bright side. She believed Hal's temperamental outbursts occurred because he was a perfectionist who dedicated himself to winning. He worked hard at it, she said, adding, "But he never brings the game home with him." Also, she worked on creating a happy home environment. It became the haven where Hal could return from the ballpark and relax, talk if he liked, read or listen to the radio, and get away from "fighting the opposition."
In other words, Beryl told the public that her life centered around the ongoing strains of a baseball schedule: waiting for her husband each day, waiting for road trips to end, and waiting for spring training to be over. Only in the offseason could the couple, like most baseball families, enjoy a more-or-less normal life, including raising their two daughters, Sherry and Charlene.
Beryl made a major contribution to her husband's career, providing the important element of stability at home, but she also helped in ways that few baseball fans understood. After all, newspapers and magazines of the era largely portrayed the game on the field, and few writers delved into a player's personal life or his foibles.
Actually, Newhouser would have appeared boring to most readers: he didn't drink, he didn't carouse, and he didn't chase women. During the season, he went home to his sanctuary away from the ballpark. On the road, he spent most of his time away from the ballpark in his hotel room, reading, listening to the radio, and sleeping.
"A man has just so much emotion," Mrs. Newhouser observed. "If it is not used up unprofitably at home, it can be put to profitable use on the field." However, she recalled often wishing someone had told her years ago how to live with a ballplayer.
Beryl Newhouser's experiences being married to a major leaguer were hardly unusual, and by 1943, the couple had adjusted to each other as well as to the ups-and-downs of baseball.
Concerning Richards , the veteran receiver joined Detroit in 1943 and caught 83 games. During spring training of 1944, he helped Newhouser improve. As explained by David M. Jordan in his 1991 book, A Tiger In His Time , Richards worked with Newhouser not only on the mechanics of his delivery, including to throw each pitch from the same grip, but also on improving his disposition.
On June 1, 1944, after winning his seventh game against three losses, Newhouser told sportswriter James Zerilli why he was winning more often. First, he credited Paul Richards , partly for helping him develop the slider and partly for helping him improve his control, both of his pitches and his temper.
Hal also credited his marriage and his new duties as a husband. Reflecting a sentiment that fathers everywhere could understand, he said, "You know I am now the father of a six-months-old daughter, and maybe the little one has given me a different viewpoint."
Regarding Steve O’Neill , after the 1943 season Newhouser , who lost 17 times and often read rumors that he would be traded, talked with the new manager and asked for a change of pace. The lefty, in Cleveland for a bowling tournament with other Tigers players, called up O’Neill and asked him to come to the bowling alley. O’Neill did, and the two men talked.
In 1995, Newhouser recounted their conversation: 'steve said, "You're not going anywhere. But what do you want to do?"
"I said, "Prove a point. Just because I'm 6'2" and slender, they think I can't stand pitching nine innings and pitching every fourth day. All I ask for is more work."
He said, "What do you want?"
"I said, "Pitch me every fourth day until I prove to you that I can't do it."
"He [ O’Neill ] said, "All right, That's what I'll do." So we went down to spring training, and he said, "You've had four mediocre seasons. Now you're on your own. You tell me when you're ready, and we'll pitch you."
" Steve kept his word. I ended up winning 29 games for him. I went on and I ended up in the Hall of Fame because they allowed me to pitch every four days. I proved my point."
Newhouser continued: "I started out, and I didn't do quite that well in early 1944. But Steve kept his word. Every fourth day, whether or not a game was rained out, here comes my fourth day. And I pitched.
'so I got into a nice pattern. I could rest one day. I would warm my arm up on the second day. I would rest on the third day. And I'd pitch on the fourth day. For the next 11 years, except for hurting my arm, I pitched every fourth day. I think I proved my point."
Actually, Newhouser had been making known his wish to pitch regularly since his first year as a Tiger . Sam Greene, writing for The Sporting News on May 16, 1940, pointed out that DetroIt's front office was impressed with the rookie's sharp-breaking curve and hopping fastball. But like most southpaws, Greene wrote, Newhouser was troubled from time to time by wildness, but he said more than once that his wild streaks could be cured by regular assignments. "I can get that ball in there if they'll let me pitch often enough," Newhouser remarked in a dugout conversation with Greene.
But until Steve O’Neill took over DetroIt's helm, nobody was listening to Newhouser . O’Neill , who was easygoing and preferred to let players do what they did best, was well respected and well liked for that reason.
"One of the things that I always made management aware of," Newhouser explained in 1995, "was that nobody took me out of the game, unless the game was completely lost.
"I told them, "I was the starting pitcher, that my job was to pitch nine innings, and I wanted nobody to relieve me. I wanted either to win or lose the game on my own merits. I didn't want anyone to come in and help me win a game. I wanted to do it myself.
"That's the reason in the first four years that I pitched, I didn't do so well. Every time I got off to a little shaky start, and I'd be behind, and it would be another loss. And they would pitch me once every seven days, and once every four days, and once every tenth day. I was a little wild. How in the world can anybody pitch that way?
'so I went to the management in the fall of 1943, and I said, "If you're going to pitch me the same way you have the last four years, you might as well get rid of me. There's talk about a trade, of me going to Cleveland for Jim Bagby . If That's the way It's going to be, trade me to Cleveland . Jim Bagby is a good pitcher, and I can have a new start.
"I said, "I selected the Tigers to pitch for. I could have gone with another club, but I selected the Tigers because It's my hometown. I came here to pitch. What you're doing is pitching me at your leisure.
"They said, "Well, you're not winning, and you're wild. We can't depend on you."
"I said, "If you can't depend on me, the best thing is to make the trade which is [mentioned] in the paper. I'll go my way and you go your way."
Later, the southpaw came to the understanding with Steve O’Neill . Newhouser proceeded to enjoy his three greatest seasons as a pitcher, and he remained the Tigers " dominant hurler until the 1950 season. The key to Hal’s improvement was better control.
Newhouser , a fierce competitor who had an intense desire to succeed, had matured and learned to control his life. Essentially a quiet and reserved person, he gradually mastered what he later called "pitching to win." Also, no small part of Hal’s control came from the support he received from Beryl.
The results Newhouser produced were remarkable. In 1944, 1945, and 1946 the tall hurler won 80 games while losing 27. The only southpaw who achieved a better three-year record was Lefty Grove , who fashioned a ledger of 84-19 from 1930 through 1932.
The workhorse Newhouser was not often compared to Grove during his career. Instead, he was usually compared to Bob Feller , as indicated by their "pitching duel of the century." By the time of their acclaimed rematch at Briggs Stadium on September 29, 1946 , Newhouser and Feller had faced each other five times since 1940. The results:
August 12, 1940 , at Cleveland : Both started, and Feller pitched the distance, allowing seven hits to beat Detroit , 8-6, for his 20th win. Newhouser , knocked out in the first inning, was the losing pitcher
September 2, 1940, at Detroit : Both pitched in relief, entering the game in the eighth inning. Feller took the 6-5 loss, and Newhouser hurled one scoreless inning. It was Hal’s ninth and last win of the season
September 22, 1940 , at Detroit : Feller pitched the distance and won his 27th game, 10-5. Newhouser , taking the mound in the fifth, pitched two innings in relief of starter Tommy Bridges , who lost it. Newhouser departed for a pinch-hitter
September 4, 1941 , at Detroit : Both started. Feller went the distance to win his 22nd of the season. Newhouser pitched six and one-third innings and left with a 4-3 lead. Dizzy Trout lost in relief, 7-6
August 24, 1945 , at Municipal Stadium: With an audience of 46,477, Feller , making his first start after serving nearly four years in the Navy during World War II, pitched a four-hitter, struck out nine, displayed his trademark blazing fastball, and won, 4-2. Newhouser gave up seven hits, including a two-run home run by Pat Seerey in the first
September 1, 1945 , at Detroit : Both started, and both were knocked out. Feller allowed nine hits in six and one-third innings, and Newhouser gave up seven hits in the same span. DetroIt's Jim Tobin won, 5-4, and Cleveland's Ed Klieman lost
In Detroit on Sunday, September 29, 1946 , Feller enjoyed the better day. The Indians won, 4-1, while " Rapid Robert " spun a six-hitter, set a modern strikeout mark of 348, and boosted his record to 26-15. Newhouser took the loss, closing his season at 26-9.
For perspective, Feller and Newhouser led the majors with 26 wins each in 1946, Boo Ferris and Tex Hughson of the Boston Red Sox won 25 and 20 times, respectively, and no other American Leaguer won as many as 20 games. In the National League, Howie Pollet of the St. Louis Cardinals topped the circuit with 21 wins.
No matter what was said or written on behalf of each great pitcher, Newhouser left records that contradicted what biographer David Jordan called the southpaw's "burden of wartime ball."
In 1946 Newhouser fashioned the lowest ERA in the majors, but Feller led the big leagues with 48 games pitched, 42 starts, and 371.1 innings pitched. Newhouser , selected as the American League's Most Valuable Player in 1944 and 1945, placed second to Ted Williams in the balloting for MVP in 1946. Ted , who batted .342 with 38 homers and 123 RBI, won the award with 224 votes. Hal was runner-up with 197, and Feller placed sixth with 15.
Also, Detroit fielded a strong club in 1946, after winning the 1945 World Series . The Tigers , with a record of 92-62, a team batting average of .258 (third in AL), an ERA of 3.22 (also third), and a league-high 94 complete games (29 by Newhouser ), finished second to the pennant-winning Boston Red Sox.
Cleveland , despite Feller's heroics, finished in sixth place with a 68-86 ledger. The Indians had a league-worst team batting mark of .245, an ERA of 3.62 (fifth best), and 63 complete games (tied for fifth), of which Feller hurled a major league-high 36. Regarding strikeouts, Feller paced the majors with 348, while Newhouser ranked second with 275 whiffs in 293 innings.
But the Tiger southpaw, who missed a few starts due to a sore elbow, enjoyed a stellar season through July 27, when he recorded his 20th win against three loses with a complete-game eight-hit victory over Philadelphia, 4-2. After that, Hal was 6-6 for the remainder of the season.
Overall in 1946, Newhouser led the AL in strikeouts per game, 8.4, fewest hits allowed per game, 6.6, and lowest opponents' batting average, .210. He had allowed the lowest opponents' batting mark for the previous season, .211. While he yielded an on-base percentage of .281 in 1945, he topped the AL in 1946 with a .269 figure.
Newhouser's statistics indicate that he was a great pitcher who happened to hit his stride during the last year and a half of World War II. He was a young man with exceptional talent who was brought to the major leagues too soon. Once he matured and mastered his personal life and his pitching style, he would have been a great pitcher in any era.
The former Tiger hero was proud of his first postwar season. Reflecting on his career in 1995, he said, 'so when 1946 came along, that was my pivotal year. By showing the writers, when all the "big boys" came back, what I could do. You take a look at my record. I struck out more in 1946  than I did in 1945 .
"How come, then, was I a wartime pitcher if I struck out more of the "big boys" than I did during wartime? How come I won more games in 1946 than I did in 1945? Its only one game more, but how come?
"You look at innings pitched, It's about the same. You look at Earned Run Average, That's about the same. You look at complete games, 29 both years.
"But right after that my arm started to bother me a bit. In 1947 I was 17-17, but I bounced back in 1948 with 21-12. Then my arm really begin to falter, and from there on in things really began to go downhill."
Actually, Newhouser produced four more good seasons. But his arm problem, usually tendonitis, which first appeared during September of 1945, became more pronounced during 1947. While finishing the year at 17-17, his ERA was an effective 2.87 for 285 innings in 40 games. Fred Hutchinson's 18-10 record was better, but he finished with an ERA of 3.03 in 219.2 innings.
Newhouser started 36 times in 1947, and he led the league with 24 complete games. In addition, he started in his fourth All-Star game, pitching three scoreless innings, striking out two, and walking none.
The major difference in 1947: the southpaw walked 110, roughly his average, but he struck out 176, down 99 from his 1946 peak. In fact, he relied more on his assortment of curves, plus the change-of-pace, and less on his moving fastball. Also, while the Tigers finished second, 12 games behind the Yankees , Detroit tied the Chicago White Sox for last in fielding at .975.
Newhouser continued to rely mainly on good control and off-speed pitches throughout the remainder of his career. Still, in 1948 he paced the AL with 21 victories, while losing 12. He allowed more runs, indicated by his ERA of 3.01, but other figures show his every-fourth-day pitching was consistent: 39 games total, 35 games started, 19 games completed, and 272 innings pitched.
Detroit , however, dropped to fifth place in 1948, partly because the Tigers ' next best pitcher was Virgil Trucks . The Alabama right-hander finished with a 14-13 record and a 3.78 ERA, and Hutchinson’s record was 13-11 and 4.32.
One of Newhouser's greatest triumphs came on the last day of the 1948 season [ Box Score ]. With Cleveland needing a win to clinch the pennant, or a loss by the Red Sox, neither happened. Newhouser and Feller went head-to-head in Municipal Stadium before a huge crowd of 74,181.
On a frigid Sunday afternoon, with cold breezes blowing off Lake Erie, Newhouser dazzled the Indians, 7-1. He pitched three-hit shutout ball until the ninth frame, when the Tribe broke through for one run on two singles and an infield bouncer. Feller , an inspiration to his teammates during the stretch drive, lasted two and one-third innings. Looking for win number 20, the Iowa ace picked up his 15th loss. Jumping out to a 4-0 lead in the third, the Tigers pounded out 15 hits off six pitchers, five off Feller.
Although Cleveland would rebound and win the pennant the next day in a playoff at Boston, and while Feller had bested his rival 7-1 in previous starts, Cleveland pilot Lou Boudreau remarked, " Newhouser was the best left-hander in baseball today."
Newhouser and Trucks topped DetroIt's staff again in 1949. Newhouser produced a record of 18-11 with a 3.36 ERA, while Trucks , the fireballing right-hander, was 19-11 with a 2.81 ERA. Red Rolfe replaced O'Neill as manager, and the Tigers climbed to fourth place with an 87-67 record. Still, the New York Yankees began their run of five straight pennants and World Series Championships in 1949, a period when the Yankees were the best team in baseball.
In 1950 Detroit made the club's last bid for a pennant in what became more than a decade. Finishing three games behind the Yankees , the Tigers ' two top winners were Art Houtteman , who compiled a 19-12 record with a 3.54 ERA, and Fred Hutchinson , who went 17-8 with a 3.96 ERA. Newhouser , winning in double digits for the last time, started 35 games, completed 30, hurled 213.2 innings, posted a 15-13 mark, and saw his ERA climb to 4.34.
Newhouser’s best seasons were behind him. His control was still good, but his fastball didn't hop as much, and his curveball showed less break. The southpaw went 6-6 in 1951 and 9-9 in 1952, when Detroit finished last for the first time in franchise history. At age thirty-one, then considered "old" in professional athletics, Newhouser was released by the Tigers on July 22, 1953. Plagued off and on with serious arm pain since 1949, he had pitched only 21.2 innings that season, losing once in seven games. His lifetime record was 200-148.
"I'd rather pitch for Detroit than any other team in the world," Newhouser told reporters. "I'd like to finish out the season with the rest of the boys. I feel like I'm being taken out in the ninth inning with two men out."
In fact, Newhouser made a comeback in 1954 with Cleveland , the club he just missed signing with in 1938. Managed by Al Lopez , the Tribe captured the pennant with a remarkable 111-43 ledger, and Newhouser helped. Pitching all but one time in relief, the crafty former Tiger now relied solely on experience and his once-great control. He chalked up a 7-2 mark with an ERA of 2.51 in 46 innings. In 1955, however, his arm was gone, and Cleveland released him.
Eligible for the Hall of Fame in 1961, Newhouser never received serious consideration from the sportswriters who cast the ballots. In 1967, after scouting for ten years, he began a new career as a vice president for the Community National Bank in Pontiac. He retired in 1984. Thereafter, he scouted for the Houston Astros through 1994. During all those years, Hal said in an interview for Paul Green's 1984 Forgotten Fields , he often had the Hall of Fame on his mind.
Finally, after 31 years of eligibility, the five-time All Star was selected for the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee. On August 2, 1992, Hal Newhouser arrived with his family in the upstate New York village of Cooperstown, home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The inductees best known to younger baseball fans were pitchers Tom Seaver and Rollie Fingers .
But to Newhouser , who had never visited Cooperstown, appearing on that sunny afternoon was his greatest thrill in baseball. Seated on the stage where he would receive his highest honor, Newhouser was flanked by his mother as well as by Beryl, his two daughters, and his brother Richard, who caught him during sandlot days. He was also backed by a host of baseball luminaries, including members of the Veterans Committee.
Standing to be introduced by Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent, the tall, graying, seventy-one year old gentleman acknowledged a standing ovation lasting almost half a minute. Vincent read from Newhouser’s plaque: Harold Newhouser ( Prince Hal ): "Only pitcher in major league history to win back-to-back MVP Awards (1944-1945). Strikeout king with blazing fast ball. 207-150 over 17 campaigns. Consecutive seasons of 29-9, 25-9 and 26-9 with corresponding ERAs of 2.22, 1.81, and 1.94 from 1944-1946. Hurled pennant-clincher in 1945 followed by 2 World Series victories over the Cubs."
Recalling his experiences at Cooperstown in 1995, Newhouser commented, "No matter what they say to me, you're a "wartime pitcher" or whatever, I'll always remember standing in front, with my baseball peers in back of me, Ted Williams , Stan Musial , all the others, all sitting in back of me, and 20,000 people out there, and giving my acceptance speech. They can say anything they want to, but It's something I'll never forget as long as I live."
Looking out over the enthusiastic audience and seeing his Field of Dreams, Newhouser was almost overwhelmed. Mainly he expressed his gratitude for being inducted. When I spoke to him three years later, he said to me what he never stated in public:
"I look over there and see my mother, at age ninety-five, and my wife of fifty years, my two daughters, and my grandson, and my brother, and I just said to myself, "Thirty-one years of waiting," wasn't it worth it?"
The onetime Tiger ace and longtime Detroit hero thanked many people, beginning with his mother and his wife. To the baseball world he said: "In closing may I say that everything I own and everything that I have is because of baseball, and may I say, baseball, I thank you."
With those remarks, Newhouser's long journey to Cooperstown was complete. He had finally been recognized as much more than a "wartime pitcher."
Hal Newhouser passed away on November 10, 1998, in Southfield, Michigan.
Winning the Most Valuable Player Award ( MVP ) is RIDICOUSLY hard. Being a pitcher and winning the MVP Award , even harder. Hal Newhouser , however, won the MVP Award in 1944, then again in 1945, the only pitcher in baseball history to receive the highest honor in baseball in back-to-back seasons!
NOTE: An earlier version of this Hal Newhouser biography appeared as a two-part article in Oldtyme Baseball News in 1995.