TIME WAS, the name Fred Hutchinson stood for baseball excellence. You couldn’t grow up here and escape the “Hutch” legend. Often as a child, long pre-Mariners, I stood in the cavernous foyer of Sicks’ Stadium (now a Lowe’s Home Improvement store in the south end), looked up and admired Fred’s portrait high on the wall in the Seattle Rainiers Roll of Honor.
Today, “Hutch” signifies cancer research and the pioneering Seattle center, founded by his surgeon brother Bill, that has borne Fred’s name for 44 years. Employing 2,700 scientists and staff, “The Hutch” memorializes Seattle’s first baseball star of national stature. If he were alive, this hometown hero would turn 100 on Aug. 12.
In late 1999, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer named him Seattle’s Athlete of the 20th century. The Seattle Times rated him second only to a more-recent phenom, Ken Griffey Jr.
Fred’s deep local significance is disproportionate to his short stints here in a professional uniform, and minor league at that. One year was as a pitcher (his Cinderella season of 1938, post-Franklin High, when he went 25-7 for the Pacific Coast League’s Rainiers, who had changed their nickname before that season), and one year plus half of another as a manager (again for the Rainiers, in 1955 and early 1959).
Still, he was the classic local boy made good. His big-league success (notching 95 wins as a pitcher, managing Cincinnati to the 1961 World Series), plus the respect accorded his alternately gentlemanly and fiery persona, gave him a lasting impression. The perseverant Fred also could turn a phrase. “Sweat is your only salvation,” he once told columnist Emmett Watson.
After his death from lung cancer in 1964, sports writers created the Hutch Award. It didn’t hurt that the namesake’s nickname felt both informal and virile. (One original criterion for recipients, long ago discarded, was “manliness.”) The award grew into one of The Hutch’s biggest fundraisers.
Our “Then” photo captures Fred at a peak of his popularity, the day before the Rainiers’ 1955 home opener. This 1:30 p.m. rally at World War II-themed Victory Square — in front of the soon-to-be-razed Metropolitan Theatre (circa 1911) on University Street — celebrated Fred’s return from Detroit.
(After being traded to the Tigers following the 1938 season, he split time between the majors and minors for the next three years. Then he missed four years due to military service during World War II. He returned to the Tigers in 1946, pitching in the majors through the 1953 season, the last year and a half as player-manager. He retired as a pitcher after the ’53 season, and managed the Tigers for a year in 1954, before returning to Seattle.)
Even the most hopeful fans could not have forecast his craftiness in shepherding a Rainiers team to the 1955 PCL crown with no .300 hitter in the regular lineup for the full season or 20-game-winning pitcher.
In this photo, before a sea of adoring fans (mostly male, mostly fedora-ed) and on a stage crowded with business-suited players, the Barclay Girls cancan troupe and the Jackie Souders Orchestra, Fred is a “Where’s Waldo?” figure. Try to find him. If you give up, we’ll help you in the caption.