It developed into one of baseball's most celebrated deals. As an 18-year-old in 1938, Hutch won 25 games for Seattle. Ball parks were jammed with fans, curious to watch this calm, dead-faced youngster deftly handle the league's best hitters with his uncanny control. The inevitable clubhouse lawyers, attuned to the big crowds, urged Hutch to demand an increase over his $250-a-month salary. But Fred's father, the distinguished, goateed Dr. Hutchinson, got wind of the move. "By the Lord, you're a Hutchinson!" he thundered. "You made a bargain and you'll stick to it—or you can pack up and move out right now." Hutch stuck with the bargain, and when the season was over he was named the league's Most Valuable Player by the St. Louis Sporting News.
That winter Hutch was sold to Detroit in a deal worth $100,000 to the Rainiers ($20,000 to Hutch). Hutch's entry into the major leagues was no instant success.
Big league hitters gleefully hammered his limited pitching stuff. Almost instantly, he was branded a "$100,000 lemon." Indeed, Hutch spent two more seasons in the minors, at Toledo, then Buffalo (where he won 26 games in 1941), with only brief periods at Detroit before entering the Navy for a four-year term in 1941. It was only in the postwar baseball years that he became established as a big league pitcher. He became a steady winner, but worked in the elegant shadow of such Detroit greats as Hal Newhouser and Dizzy Trout. But Hutch's intense combativeness and accomplished pinch hitting made him a favorite among Detroit fans. His displays of temper became legendary in the American League. "I always know how Hutch did when we follow Detroit into a town," cracked Yankee Catcher Yogi Berra. "If we got stools in the dressing room, I know he won. If we got kindling, he lost."
His clashes with umpires were frequent. Once, after he was tossed out of a game by Umpire Bill McKinley, reporters sought him out in the Briggs Stadium dressing room. "You can say for me," Hutch growled, "that they shot the wrong McKinley." His manager for several years was Steve O'Neill, a man he still worships, and from whom, one gathers, he learned the virtue of patience with young players. "If I needed one game on which my whole season was based," O'Neill used to say, "if my career depended on that single victory, I'd pick Hutch to pitch it for me."
Detroit players elected Hutchinson player representative in 1947; a year later he became the American League representative, a post he held until midseason of 1952, when Walter O. (Spike) Briggs, the Detroit president, picked him out of the ranks to succeed Red Rolfe as manager. In 2� years as boss of the Tigers he moved the club from last to sixth to a single game out of first division. Then, in a typically stubborn Hutchinson gesture, he quit his $40,000-a-year job. Long aware that he wasn't being consulted on player deals or inner council planning, Hutchinson demanded a two-year contract.
A few days later, after a meeting of the Detroit board of directors, Briggs telephoned Hutchinson at his home. "It's a club policy," he said. "One year is all we can do."
"Then I'm turning it down," Hutch replied.
At less than half his Detroit salary, Hutchinson went back to Seattle, where he signed a three-year contract to manage Emil Sick's Rainiers. His old high school teammate and close friend, Dewey Soriano, by now was general manager of the Rainiers. Together they ripped apart a fifth-place roster, made 67 separate player deals and turned out a winner. Without a regular .300 hitter or a 20-game winning pitcher, Hutchinson juggled his lineup almost daily (he used eight second basemen during the season) and finished in front of second-place San Diego by three games. Pacific Coast League baseball writers elected him Manager of the Year.
One of Hutch's spot-winners on the Rainiers, Old Pro Larry Jansen, paid his manager a pitcher's definitive baseball tribute: "I never saw a better man with pitchers. Hutch saved half a dozen games by moving his pitchers at the right time. He was almost psychic."
Frank Lane, meanwhile, had taken over as general manager of the Cardinals, who had steadily declined from third to sixth to seventh in three years of Gussie Busch's ownership. "I knew we were going to have to build with young players," Lane says now, "and I needed a manager who could handle them." When Lane proposed Fred Hutchinson as manager of the Cardinals, Gussie Busch's reaction was typical of a relative newcomer in baseball. "Who's Hutchinson?" he wanted to know.