Most Cincinnati Reds fans know Fred Hutchinson as the man who led the team to the 1961 pennant and then passed away just three years later; the first man to have his number retired by the team--the number one on the façade. Many doctors know the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (above in red/orange) in Seattle as one of the world's best cancer centers. Most do not know the whole story behind both.
It's a tale of courage in the face of overwhelming odds, the bond between two brothers--one who had dedicated his life to the defeat of a disease destined to take his brother's life--and the unique legacy of hope and research that lives to this day.
Fred Hutchinson was raised in Seattle, the son of a prominent doctor. Fred's older brother Bill was a good enough baseball player to hit over .400 at the University of Washington and receive an offer from the Pittsburgh Pirates, but he felt another calling.
Accepted to medical school at the same time the offer from the big leagues came and informed by the school that he could not do both Bill, like the Field of Dream's Moonlight Graham, stepped over the baseline forever and took up his doctor's bag.
Fred became the biggest sports sensation the city of Seattle had ever seen. In a time when local school boy heroes were worshipped, Fred won 60 games and lost only 2 while leading his school to the city championship three straight years. He then signed with the hometown Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League for the 1938 season and went 25-7, winning the PCL Most Valuable Player Award and being named Minor League Player of the Year by The Sporting News. Fred's performance inspired such hometown sentiment that in 1999, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer named him Seattle Athlete of the 20th century. And when a new Seattle Mariners baseball park was built, Safeco Field, Fred's likeness was placed on the end of every row of seats.
Fred was then sent to the Detroit Tigers for $50,000 and four players. It was called the biggest minor league deal in a decade (just two years earlier the Yankees had acquired a pretty good centerfielder named Joe DiMaggio for $25,000 and five players).
Unfortunately for Fred's big league dreams, World War II and arm problems rendered him a junk ball pitcher who survived a decade in the majors due to savvy and an intense competitive nature.
Competitive? The man absolutely hated to lose. He couldn't bear the tortured feelings of defeat. He left a string of battered clubhouses and broken runway lights around the league. Yogi Berra perhaps said it best: "When we follow the Tigers into a town, I can always tell how Hutch did. If the clubhouse is in good condition, he won. If all we find is kindling, I know he lost." One time (in a story I verified with his then 90+ year old wife) he lost a game and stormed out of Detroit's Briggs Stadium, walking the seven miles home in despair. In his anger, he forgot that he had driven to the game and his car was still in the parking lot. He also forgot that his wife had driven with him and she was still in the same lot, waiting for him.
Despite his temper, Hutch was popular with both fans and teammates. They understood that he was never mad at other players, only himself and they came to appreciate that he wore his emotions on his sleeves--there was never any attempt at deceit from the man who came to be known as Honest Hutch. He looked people right in the eye and told them what he thought.
After his playing days were over, Fred managed mediocre Tiger and Cardinals teams before arriving in Cincinnati midway through the 1959 season, brought in by Powell Crosley to rescue a talented but underperforming team.
A classic player's manager, Hutch treated his players like men. There were few bed checks and he didn't obsess over physical errors. But woe to the man who made a mental error or failed to hustle.
After leading the team to the pennant in 1961, Hutch was the toast of Cincinnati. In 1963 he took a chance on a hustling second baseman named Pete Rose and inserted him in the lineup, even though most observers felt he needed more time in the minors. Hutch was looking forward to the 1964 season when in December, 1963 he admitted to his wife that he had a troublesome bump on his neck that seemed to be growing. She convinced him to call his brother Bill.
While Fred had been making a name for himself in baseball Bill, who had remained very close to Fred, had been having similar success in the field of medicine. A surgeon who specialized in cancer treatment, Bill was recognized as one of the most prominent cancer doctors in the northwest. Recognizing the need for organized research for the devastating disease, Bill had been working for years to raise money for a center dedicated to research for cancer. In December of 1963, he had his goal in sight: construction for the center was planned for the next year.
While talking to his brother Bill's trained ears picked up troubling words that he knew only too well. He convinced Fred to fly to Seattle immediately. After a battery of tests, Bill was forced to tell his brother some heartbreaking news: it was cancer of the lung. And in 1963 there was no cure. Fred had less than a year to live. There would be no sugar-coating of the news. "My father [Fred] told him, 'Give it to me straight, I want to know,'" said Fred's son Rick.
"Bill laid it right on the line," said Patsy Hutcinson, Fred's wife. "He didn't hold anything back. Bill cried like a baby."
But there would be no crying from Fred. He took the news, followed his brother's advice and planned to lead the Reds throughout the 1964 season. Family members, sports reporters and his team were amazed at the way Fred conducted himself throughout the season. He answered every question in his usual straight-forward manner and was never heard to utter any complaints or ask for sympathy. Team members sadly watched as the powerful man literally wasted away before their eyes throughout the summer.
Determined to finish the season, despite constant pain, Fred made it into August before he was forced to take a seat and allow coach Dick Sisler to take the reins the rest of the way. Reds players would have loved nothing more than to win one for Hutch, but sometimes real life doesn't match Hollywood. A late winning streak brought the club into the last game with a chance to force a tie for the pennant, but the Reds lost to Philadelphia and Jim Bunning. There wasn't a dry eye in the clubhouse as Fred appeared in street clothes, thanked his players for the season and promised to see them in the spring. "And you just knew to look at him that we weren't going to see him next spring," said rookie Billy McCool.
Fred passed away in early November. His stoic struggle against the fatal disease had been an inspiration to all. Sport magazine named him its Man of the Year for 1964. "Sometimes the world of games is a setting for an act of courage which glitters with meaning when measured by any yardstick," the accompanying article stated.
Bill Hutchinson stood by his brother until the end. In 1965 ground was broken for his long-awaited cancer center. There was little discussion when he decided to name it after his brother and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center was born. Today it is recognized as one of the top facilities of its kind in the world.
Friends and sports writers instituted the Hutch Award which is still given yearly in Seattle for the major league baseball player who best exemplifies the honor, courage and determination of Fred Hutchinson.
Fred Hutchinson, 1919-1964. "Hutch taught us all how to live, and when the time came, he taught us how to die." Gene Mauch.