Willis Hudlin: A Forgotten Big Arm for the Tribe
Most Tribe fans wouldn’t be surprised to know that Mel Harder had the longest tenure with the team, playing 20 years for the Indians (he spent another 16 years as a coach).
Second on the list is also no shock: Bob Feller, who spent 18 years throwing for the Tribe.
But Willis Hudlin is third on the list for 15 years with the Indians, from 1926 to 1940. He’s still among the top ten for the Tribe in wins, losses, games, complete games, starts, innings pitched and bases on balls.
A native of Wagoner, Okla., Hudlin broke in with the Indians in 1926. The following year, his first full season in the majors, he went 18-12 and led the Indians with 265 innings pitched. He came on in relief in the first inning of a game against the Yankees on May 21, 1927, and ended up getting the win as the Indians rallied from three runs down to win 5-4 in the 12th inning. But that wasn’t the important part.
They stopped the game, Hudlin recalled in an interview, to announce that Charles Lindbergh had landed safely in Paris, completing a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean.
Hudlin was facing the Yankees again on Aug. 11, 1929, at League Park. Lou Gehrig hit a home run off him, as did Babe Ruth. Babe’s gopher ball landed on Lexington Avenue, and he sent a police officer after it, saying, “I’d kind of like to have that one back.” It was his 500th career home run, and Ruth got it back in exchange for $20 and an autographed baseball.
Somehow, Ruth hitting his 500th home run off Hudlin turned into Ruth hitting 500 home runs off Hudlin, and Hudlin had the fan mail to prove it. But Hudlin was proud to proclaim that he only gave up five home runs to the Babe – and won the game where Ruth hit his 500th home run.
Hudlin left Cleveland for Washington in 1940. Indeed, he played parts of that season for the Indians, Senators, Browns and Giants. Afterward, he knocked around minor league baseball and made one final two-inning appearance for the St. Louis Browns, taking a loss to make his major league record 158-156. That was the year the Browns, loaded with 4F and old players during World War II, won their only American league pennant, succumbing to the Cardinals in a Streetcar World Series.
Hudlin went on to become the pitching coach for the Detroit Tigers in 1957, and scouted for the Yankees in the 1960s and 1970s. He was named to the Indians all-century team in 2001, and died the next year at the age of 96.