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Ferrell, Hildebrand and Averill: Cleveland’s Inaugural All-Stars

Ferrell, Hildebrand and Averill: Cleveland’s Inaugural All-Stars

| On 10, Jul 2013

With the All-Star game rosters recently announced, and the Indians being represented by second baseman Jason Kipnis and right-handed pitcher Justin Masterson, it seemed only fitting to reflect on Cleveland All-Stars from years past. Everyone remembers the abilities and skills of players from recent ballots, with the likes of Omar Vizquel, Kenny Lofton and Sandy Alomar Jr. filling roster spots. Clevelanders can even reflect on past points of pride in the form of Rocky Colavito and Larry Doby. And who can pretend not to know the names Lou Boudreau or Bob Feller?

However, there are a few lesser-known names in Indians All-Star history that deserve some recognition as we head into the All-Star break, including the first three Cleveland Indians named to inaugural American League All-Star team 80 years ago in 1933 – Wes Ferrell, Oral Hildebrand and Earl Averill.

Despite playing for the Indians during a time when the team itself was mediocre, Ferrell, Hildebrand and Averill were three strong players, and each individually possess some of the top stats of their eras.

Ferrell, a Greensboro, North Carolina, native, started his career with the Cleveland Indians in 1927. He did not see much playing time in his first two seasons, making only two appearances and mainly throwing during batting practice. Noted for having a bit of an attitude, Ferrell once refused to pitch during his pre-game duties during the 1928 season and was sent down to a minor league team in Terre Haute for the rest of the season. While there, Ferrell posted a 20-8 record.

Upon his return to Cleveland for the 1929 season, Ferrel posted a 21-10 record with 100 strikeouts and a 3.60 ERA. His numbers rose in his next season with Cleveland, as he went 25-13, with 143 strikeouts and a 3.31 ERA, second in the America League. His 1931 season found Ferrell pitching a 9-0 no-hitter against the St. Louis Browns, a game in which he also struck out eight batters and also hit a home run, a double and posted four RBI. Ferrell’s brother, Rick, was a member of the Browns’ roster, and was the only player for the Browns to come close to getting a hit in the game – he managed to reach first base on an error by the shortstop.

Ferrell won 13 consecutive games in 1931 and finished the season at 22-12 with 123 strikeouts and a 3.75 ERA. He also pitched an AL-best 32 complete games, and, although opponents hit nine home runs off Ferrell in 1931, he delivered nine home runs himself throughout the season.

In his first four full seasons with Cleveland from 1929-1932, Ferrell set a Major League record by posting at least 20 victories each season. He was so driven in his playing abilities and performances that, when he was driven from the mound during one game in 1932, Ferrell destroyed the clubhouse and his uniform, and also allegedly punched himself in the jaw so hard he almost knocked himself out.

After being named to the 1933 All-Star team, Ferrell’s pitching skill began to diminish due to shoulder pain. He pitched an uncommon 11-12 record in 1933, and was sent to the Boston Red Sox at the end of the season. Ferrell ended his Major League career in 1941 with the Boston Braves. He continued to play minor league ball until 1949, when he retired from the game for good. Ferrell ended his playing career with a 193-128 record, 4.04 ERA and 985 strikeouts in 374 games.

Also a pitcher, Hildebrand was named to the 1933 All-Star roster from the Cleveland Indians. Hildebrand was born in Indiana into a family of farmers who first discovered baseball during his high school career. He played center field on his high school team and first pitched during his sophomore year. Hildebrand was the first member of his family to graduate from high school and enrolled in Butler University in the fall of 1928, where he played baseball and basketball.

Hildebrand left Butler when it was discovered that he had signed an agreement with the Indianapolis Indians, where he played through the 1931 season. He was called up to play with the Major League Cleveland Indians for the 1932 Indians and started the season out of the rotation. However, by midseason, Hildebrand was a steady member of the rotation. He was a full-time starter in the 1933 season, which was his best season to date. He led the American League with six shutouts and greatly benefitted from the inaugural season of pitching in the new Cleveland Stadium; Hildebrand’s ERA was almost a full two runs lower at home than on the road, and despite only making four more starts at home than on the road throughout the season, he pitched a whole 65.2 more innings in Cleveland. On April 26 during his 1933 season, Hildebrand pitched a one-hitter for the Indians.

While not as volatile as Ferrell, Hildebrand had a temper, as well, and had several public disputes with Cleveland manager Walter Johnson until Johnson was fired in 1935. Hildebrand pitched for Cleveland through the 1936 season, and was subsequently traded to the St. Louis Browns and two years later to the New York Yankees. He pitched a career-low 3.06 in 1939 and started game 4 of the World Series for the Yankees, where he pitched four shutout innings, helping the Yankees win the title.

Hildebrand returned to playing minor league baseball in 1941 and retired in 1942, supposedly suffering from poor health. In his six years in Cleveland, Hildebrand went 56-46 with a 4.18 ERA and 331 total strikeouts.

The only non-pitcher named to the 1933 All-Star team from Cleveland, Averill is also the only one of the three to be named to the Hall of Fame. The center fielder from Washington state was also the first American League player to hit a home run in his first-ever Major League at-bat. He also became the first player to hit four home runs in a doubleheader in 1930. He played for the Indians from 1930-1939, and is the all-time Indian leader in total cases, RBI, runs and triples. His is third in hits and doubles and fourth in home runs and walks. Interestingly, the Indians never finished higher than third with Averill in their lineup.

In his first seasons playing professional baseball, Averill’s hitting was so noteworthy that he was intentionally walked five consecutive times by the Red Sox in 1932. After his first naming to the All-Star roster in 1933, Averill went on to be named to the next six All-Star games – including during the 1935 season when he suffered lacerations on his right hand and burns on his face and chest after a firework exploded in his hands. Not only noted for his impressive numbers, Averill is also known for hitting the line drive that broke Dizzy Dean‘s toe in the 1937 All-Star game.

Also in 1937, Averill was forced to alter his batting style when he began to be bothered by temporary paralysis in his legs due to a congenital spinal malformation. This alternation began Averill’s descent, as 1937 was the last year he was named to an All-Star roster.

Averill was traded to the Detroit Tigers in the middle of the 1939 season, when the Tigers reached the World Series. Averill went 0-for-3 in the series in his three pinch-hitting appearances, and the Tigers lost the series to the Reds. Averill retired in 1941, ending his career with the Boston Braves.

Despite having three strong All-Star level players on their roster in 1933, the Indians finished the season fourth in the American League with a 75-76 record. They were 23 1/2 games behind the first place Washington Senators.

Stellar players on a team that doesn’t quite seem to measure up to its overall potential – isn’t it funny how certain things don’t seem to change? Regardless, Kipnis and Masterson will now join the ranks of Ferrell, Hildebrand and Averill as Cleveland Indians who have earned a spot as some of the top major league players of the season. Hopefully in 80 years, someone will be writing this story about them.