Forgotten Tribe Hurler Hudlin a Piece of Baseball History

Willis Hudlin isn’t a popular name in Indians history, but probably a name more should recognize and know for both his place in team and MLB history.

Hudlin is the Tribe’s third most tenured pitcher in Indians history, pitching 15 seasons for Cleveland. Only Mel Harder, who tossed 20 seasons, and Bob Feller, who fired 18 of his own, spent more time on the pitcher’s mound than Hudlin. Hudlin may go unnoticed mostly in Tribe history because he never pitched on a serious pennant contender, nor did he ever win 20 games.

However, Hudlin’s most notable accomplishment may make him a bigger piece of New York Yankees history than the Indians. On August 11, 1929, Hudlin matched up with the Yankees at League Park. In his third full season, Hudlin was having his best so far as a Tribesman, yet both Cleveland and New York were out of the pennant race with seven weeks remaining. The Philadelphia Athletics, led by manager Connie Mack, had a 10.5 game lead on New York and a 21 game lead on the Indians. The Yankees and Tribe were in second and third place in the American League, respectively.

New York scored in the top of the second inning and again in the top of the fourth. In the fourth inning, Babe Ruth lofted a home run over the 35-foot fence in right field and onto Lexington Avenue. Once The Great Bambino circled the bases, he asked a policeman if he would try to get the ball back for him.

It was Ruth’s 500th home run—the first player in baseball history to reach the milestone.

Ruth got the ball back from a fan for $20 and an autograph baseball, and despite giving up homers to both he and Lou Gehrig, Hudlin hung on to earn the victory in a 6-5 Indians victory. It was Hudlin’s 12th win of the season, en route to 17 wins on the season. He finished the year 17-15, with a 3.34 ERA. Despite allowing the historic homer, Hudlin only allowed five home runs to Ruth in his career. Ruth’s 30th homer that day sent him on his way to hitting .345, with 46 home runs and 145 runs batted in.

Ruth went on to his 214 more home runs after that August afternoon, establishing himself as the all-time home run hitter baseball history. His record would stand for nearly 50 years until it was broken by Hank Aaron.

Hudlin pitched with the Indians until 1940, when he was released in May of that season. He pitched for four teams that season and made one appearance with the St. Louis Browns in 1944 when teams were desperate for talent during World War II. Hudlin retired with 158 career wins, pitching in 491 games, including 328 starts and 155 complete games. He is still among the top ten for the Tribe in wins, losses, games, complete games, starts, innings pitched and bases on balls.

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.

League Park is now renovated and a state landmark. On the plaque explaining the park’s significance it notes Ruth’s 500th home run.

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