Carl Hubbell’s bottom-line stats look pretty good in their own right …
253-154 (.622 winning percentage), 2.98 ERA, 1.166 WHIP, 68.5 WAR
That career line makes him something like the 40th best starting pitcher ever, according to JAWS (as proffered by Baseball-Reference.com).
But King Carl’s legend goes beyond mere black-and-white.
There are the years, of utter dominance, for example — 23-12, 1.66 ERA in 1933, for example, and 26-6, 2.31 ERA in 1936.
Both were good enough to lead the National League in wins and ERA, and both were good enough to nab the NL Most Valuable Player Award.
And, if you like geeky-stats stuff, both were good for 9+ WAR, meaning Meal Ticket’s dominance stands up to modern scrutiny as well.
All this, plus three more years of 20+ wins as part of five in a row, after the age of 30 and for a guy who didn’t make his major league debut until he was 25 years old — not ancient by any means, but not the stuff of breakout prospects, either.
And all this from a guy who wasn’t a strikeout artist (4.2 per nine innings for his career).
That last bit, the paucity of gaudy strikeout numbers, made Hubbell’s most legendary feat all the more remarkable, and improbable.
That feat, of course, unfolded over a magical two-inning stretch at the second All-Star Game there in 1934 when Hubbell struck out five future Hall of Famers in a row: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, and Joe Cronin.
The stuff of stone-cold legend.
But for collectors, there’s even more to Hubbell’s lore, a graphical narrative that pulls us in and gives us clues about the man and his times, even if that narrative is scrawny.
To wit, if you take a look at the PSA Population Report overview page and scroll down to the 1930s, you’ll see that there just weren’t very many baseball cards issued during Hubbell’s prime years.
There were just enough pasteboards, though, to give us a glimpse, to build the intrigue.
And if you want to get your collector heart pounding, just take a look at Hubbell’s 1935 Diamond Stars issue:
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This was part of a 108-card set actually issued over three years (1934-36), and it’s spectacular for any number of reasons …
- The Dick Tracy colors
- The Art Deco styles that perfectly capture the 1930s (non-Depression division)
- The Atlas-Shrugged-Meets-The-Great-Gatsby vibe
- The … um … tennis net (??) that Hubbell’s leaning against
- Hubbell’s relaxed, knowing demeanor — leaning, cockeyed hat, slight smirk — what does he know that we don’t?
Maybe that he’s got more trickery up his left sleeve.
Or maybe that he’s going to grace one of the hobby’s early iconic cards.
Or, just maybe, that this card, #39 in the set, would someday (like, now), carry a $2000 or so price tag if you could find it in PSA 9 condition (whatever that was!).
It’s all part of the mystique of a murky era in baseball history that hid its legends from hobbyists behind the pall of the rations and darkness of the age.
Lucky for us, Carl Hubbell and his Diamond Stars beauty shines through the decades.