'Carl K's Quintet' among Midsummer's best

'Carl K's Quintet' among Midsummer's best

"A fellow doesn't last long on what he has done. He has to keep on delivering."
Carl Hubbell

He is still delivering.

Seventy-seven years after he struck out five future Hall of Famers in succession, Hubbell is opening the eyes of many Major League Baseball fans and now into the final four of the Midsummer Classics bracket competition now under way at MLB.com/moments.

Babe Ruth. Lou Gehrig. Jimmie Foxx. Al Simmons. Joe Cronin. All of them came up to bat against the New York Giants' "Meal Ticket" during that 1934 All-Star Game at the old Polo Grounds, and all of them returned to the dugout. It now ranks as the greatest pitching performance in All-Star history according to this competition, and the question now is whether it can move past Pete Rose's '70 play at the plate and then win in the finals.

Mitch Williams, who pitched to plenty of future Hall of Famers during his own Major League career, was among those tasked with deciding on an original field of 16 for the Midsummer Classics. Watching Hubbell breeze through the first two rounds the way he had breezed through that 1934 American League batting order, Williams has a special appreciation.

"Carl showed that even Hall of Famers can be pitched to, and struck out, if you execute your pitches," Williams said.

What Hubbell did at Major League Baseball's second All-Star Game, way back in 1934, was so unbelievable then that fans are savoring the moment again now. The winner of that semifinal matchup will advance to the final round against either the Ted Williams' '41 walk-off homer or Cal Ripken's 2001 MVP farewell game.

The final matchup will be announced on July 2, and then the fans' decision as the ultimate Midsummer Classic will be announced on FOX during the July 12 All-Star Game at Chase Field in Phoenix. That will be the 82nd such event, and the objective here is to determine which of the previous 81 dating back to 1933 was most legendary and worthy of standing alone.

The starting field of 16 Midsummer Classics -- all featuring highlight videos narrated by Bob Costas -- included eight from each league, selected by former All-Stars and MLB Network analysts Al Leiter, Harold Reynolds and Mitch Williams.

Major League Baseball is timeless, and anyone who worried that modern memories would have an edge have been able to relax during this competition. Whether learning about Hubbell for the first time or making sure others find out, fans have spoken loudly on his behalf, choosing 1934 over Dave Parker's '79 defensive prowess and then over the combined magic of Fernando Valenzuela and Dwight Gooden in the '84 All-Star Game.

In fact, Hubbell's strikeout parade just steamrolled past the game that gave such a grand 50th-anniversary celebration in his memory -- proving that it's hard to beat an original. If Hubbell could strike out those hitters in succession, then could any future All-Star moment ever possibly match it in magnitude? So far the answer is no, with two rounds to go.

Hubbell was born on June 22, 1903, and he spent his entire career with the Giants, from 1928-43. The Meal Ticket was a 20-game winner in five consecutive seasons, pitching in three World Series, including the '33 Fall Classic where he was 2-0 as the Giants beat the Senators. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in '47, on 140 of 161 ballots, and died in '88.

With Midsummer Classics, many fans are learning about Hubbell's legacy, and especially what happened that day in 1934. Just as Rose made his All-Star history in front of hometown fans at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, Hubbell also did his wonders at home, representing the New York Giants for the National League that day at the Polo Grounds. There were 48,368 fans watching, and a lot who came to see, of course, Ruth.

The Bambino already had swatted 699 of his 714 career home runs, and this would be his final season with the Bronx Bombers. Hubbell started slowly, giving up a leadoff single to Detroit's Charlie Gehringer and then walking Washington's Heinie Manush. So there was Hubbell vs. Ruth, who had clubbed the first All-Star homer just a year earlier, in the inaugural event.

Then Ruth went down swinging. And it was just the start. Gehrig, always there behind Ruth in the order for the Yankees, fared no better. Then came Foxx, who would finish his career with 534 long balls. He struck out as well. The crowd roared.

"What I was trying to do was strike Ruth out," Hubbell said 25 years ago, two years before his passing. "He was the only one I was really trying to strike out."

Frankie Frisch backed Hubbell with a solo homer in the bottom of the first, and then Hubbell returned to the mound for the second inning, and proceeded to whiff Simmons and Cronin back-to-back. It was a strikeout parade that stood the test of time. Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan once described the term "Ruthgehrigfoxxsimmonscronin" as part of a national lexicon, uttered by those who passed the story down for generations.

In an oral interview given to John Carmichael of the Society for American Baseball Research, Hubbell talked about the meaning of being an All-Star. Remember, it was only the second such event, and MLB's All-Star Game is the granddaddy of them all.

"They talk about those All-Star Games being exhibition affairs, and maybe they are, but I've seen very few players in my life who didn't want to win, no matter whom they were playing or what for," Hubbell said. "If I'm playing cards for pennies, I want to win. How can you feel any other way? Besides, there were 50,000 fans or more there, and they wanted to see the best you've got. There was an obligation to the people, as well as to ourselves, to go all out. I can recall walking out to the hill in the Polo Grounds that day and looking around the stands and thinking to myself, 'Hub, they want to see what you've got.'"

Today's fans are still seeing what he had, thanks to Midsummer Classics.

"Like all of our jewel events, the Midsummer Classic has produced memories for fans for over 75 years," said Tim Brosnan, MLB executive vice president, business. "This program is intended to refresh those memories and celebrate this year's All-Star matchup."

The 82nd Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Phoenix will be televised nationally on July 12 by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and Le Reseau des Sports, and around the world by Major League Baseball International, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 8 p.m. ET. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. You also can leave comments on his MLB.com Blogs Central community blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.