With his slow, cartwheel-like delivery of the screwball, the lefthander off the Oklahoma oil fields recorded five consecutive 20-win seasons for the Giants and helped propel his team to World Series competition in 1933, 1936, and 1937. He was the only peacetime pitcher ever to win two MVP awards (Hal Newhouser won two during the talent-poor years of WWII) and was a true workhorse; in 1934, while winning 21 games, pitching 313 innings, and leading the league with a 2.30 ERA, Hubbell also paced NL hurlers with eight saves. With his gaunt, smiling face, big, floppy ears, and an arm permanently turned completely around from the strain of tens of thousands of screwballs, King Carl appeared unlikely to strike fear in the hearts of opposing batters.
Hubbell was obtained by Detroit from Oklahoma City (Western League) in 1925, but performed unspectacularly in their farm system. Manager Ty Cobb wouldn’t let him throw his screwball in spring training trials, and Hubbell was outrighted to Beaumont (Texas League) in 1928. That season, a Giants’ scout convinced John McGraw to acquire him. McGraw encouraged his young southpaw to utilize his best pitch at will, and Hubbell went 10-6 after his promotion in 1928. The following May 8, he no-hit the Pirates. In sixteen years with New York, he had only one losing record (11-12 in 1940) and established himself as the premier NL pitcher of his era, though he was never as colorful as his arch-rival, Dizzy Dean.
Hubbell’s preeminence shone through most strikingly in 1933 and 1936, his MVP seasons. In ’33, he led the AL with 23 wins, a 1.66 ERA, ten shutouts, and 308.2 IP. Typical of his performance was a July 2 game against the powerful Cardinals. Through eighteen innings, he controlled his singular pitch so masterfully as not to allow a walk, while striking out 12. In his two WS starts that year against the Senators, Hubbell pitched 20 innings, striking out 15, and did not allow an earned run.
The feat that Hubbell will always be remembered for took place in New York’s Polo Grounds, in the second ML All-Star Game, July 10, 1934. Matched against his crosstown rival, Lefty Gomez, Hubbell allowed a single to Charlie Gehringer, then walked Heinie Manush. Babe Ruth went down on five pitches, taking a screwball for a called third strike. Next, Lou Gehrig, in his prime, struck out swinging on four pitches. The baserunners pulled off a double steal, but could not break the southpaw’s concentration. Jimmie Foxx fanned on three screwballs to end the first-inning threat. Handed a one-run lead, in the second, Hubbell continued his amazing streak, striking out Al Simmons and Joe Cronin. Bill Dickey managed a sharp single to center, but Hubbell came back to strike out Gomez, going on to complete three scoreless innings and establishing the All-Star record of six strikeouts.
Over the course of the 1936-37 seasons, Hubbell accomplished another incredible achievement. On July 17, 1936, with a record of 10-6, he began a streak of 16 consecutive wins through the end of the season, then picked up with eight victories to open 1937, establishing the ML record of 24 consecutive wins. His 26 victories, .813 winning percentage, and 2.31 ERA in ’36 led the NL, and his 1937 numbers, 22 wins, .733, and 159 strikeouts, did the same.
After undergoing elbow surgery following the 1938 campaign, Hubbell won 11 games a season, 1939-42. He retired from play in 1943, and was named the Giants’ director of minor league operations. He joined the immortals of Cooperstown in 1947, and worked for the Giants until 1977, when a stroke relegated him to part-time scouting duties. The Giants retired his number 11