Fred Hutchinson and the 1964 Cincinnati Reds

Fred Hutchinson: the first person to have his number retired by the Cincinnati Reds; namesake of the world-famous Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and the Hutch Award, given annually to the major league baseball player who shows courage in overcoming adversity.

Fred Hutchinson's Number One on the facade at the Great American Ballpark.

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In December, 1963, Fred Hutchinson was on top of the world. The 44-year-old manager of the Cincinnati Reds was just two years removed from leading the Reds to the 1961 World Series. He was a two-time Manager of the Year and one of the most respected men in baseball.

In January, 1964, he was fighting for his life.

This is the story of the man Sport Magazine called the most courageous man in sports when they named him their 1964 person of the year. It's the story of how he was diagnosed with untreatable lung cancer and, knowing exactly what his odds were, how he tried to finish out one last season with his team.

The 1964 season turned out to be one of drama and tragedy for the Cincinnati Reds. Led by future Hall of Famer Frank Robinson and second-year emerging star Pete Rose, the Reds battled all year while watching their popular manager slowly lose his battle. Seemingly out of the race in early September, they mounted a ten-game winning streak which enabled them to overtake the Phillies and pull into Cincinnati for the last week of the season knowing that they had a chance to win one for Hutch.

A Legend in Seattle:

Fred Hutchinson was the son on a prominent physician in Seattle.
Fred and his older brother Bill were both great athletes. After hitting .400 at the University of Washington, Bill was offered a contract by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He turned the offer down to pursue a medical career and became one of the most well-known surgeons in the region, specializing in the treatment of cancer.

Fred became the most celebrated athlete in Seattle history, starring for the hometown Seattle Raniers of the Pacific Coast League as an 18 year old. He was sold to the Detroit Tigers for $100,000. His legacy in Seattle was so great that his image appears on the side of the rows of seats at Seattle's baseball field and in 2000 he was selected as Seattle's greatest athlete (outdistancing Ken Griffey, Jr. and Alex Rodriguez).

After his playing career (which was interrupted by 4 years in the Navy during WW II) was finished, he went into managing--first managing the Tigers, then the Cardinals (shown below with Stan Musial) and finally the Cincinnati Reds.

In 1961 he led the Reds to a surprising pennant and faced the Yankees in the World Series.

Meanwhile, brother Bill rose to prominence in Seattle as a surgeon and began raising money to fund a world-class cancer research institute. In December of 1963, Fred noticed a lump on his neck and called Bill who urged him to fly to Seattle so he could look at it. Bill diagnosed his brother with cancer. Tests revealed that it was lung cancer which had progressed to the stage that it was incurable. Bill informed his brother that he had less than a year to live.

Rather than wallow in self-pity, Fred announced the truth to inquiring sportswriters and vowed to finish out the season as the Reds manager.

The Reds, with a cast of greats and unforgettable characters such as Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, Pete Rose, Jim O'Toole, Ryne Duren, Chico Ruiz, Jim Maloney and Deron Johnson, put together a late winning streak and almost overcame the Phillies to win the pennant for their ailing manager--the entered the last day of the season with a chance to win it all.

The story of how he courageously faced his final season left a lasting legacy. The Hutch Award is given each year to the baseball player who demonstrates courage and overcomes adversity.

With powerful political allies, Bill Hutchinson succeeded in building his cancer research center and named it after his fallen brother. Today the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, known locally as the Hutch, is one of the top cancer research facilities in the world. It is shown below--all the red buildings in the foreground.


I was a bit skeptical about reading a book devoted to the life of Fred Hutchinson . Was he really so dynamic or iconic to warrant a full biography? However after reading this fascinating book, I now understand why Doug Wilson chose to write about him. Not only was Hutchinson a wonderful and beloved mentor to the players he managed but he was also a devoted father, husband and brother. Most of all his courage and dignity in dealing with terminal cancer at such an early age, speaks volumes about the man. Wilson's writing style is straightforward, powerful and devoid of maudlin excesses. His ability to easily deliver insightful research, allows the reader to really understand the iconic stature of Fred Hutchinson. Even so, the real magnificence of this book lies with is the author's deft ability to weave the tale of Hutchinson's life together with the story of the 1964 Reds. The anecdotes about this team are spellbinding, especially when it comes to stories about Leo Cardenas, Pete Rose Joe Nuxhall Frank Robinson and the (widely over looked) Vada Pinson.
This book will especially seem poignant for baby boomers and fans who followed the National League in the early 1960s. I wholeheartedly recommended it as one of the best baseball books I have read in many years. Doug Wilson should be commended for making Fred Hutchinson and the 1964 Reds a scintillating read..
Harvey Kaminski

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