Carl Hubbell and Juan Marichal: Two Meal Tickets, One Pair of Giants

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Carl Hubbell and Juan Marichal: Two Meal Tickets, One Pair of Giants
Associated Press
Twice an MVP, King Carl reigned over New York's pitchers in the 1930s.

No, they’re not doppelgangers—see my previous article for a fuller explanation—but Carl Hubbell and Juan Marichal—the New York/San Francisco Giants franchise's two greatest pitchers after Christy Mathewson—enjoyed substantially paralleling careers. Bill James’s “similarity score” of 912, which denotes Hubbell and Marichal as “truly similar,” already indicates that their career numbers approach one another. (James devoted a chapter to this subject in The Politics of Glory, although he did not spotlight the tandem of Hubbell and Marichal specifically.) Yet Hubbell and Marichal’s “true similarity” deserves a closer examination, both as an exercise in trivia and because they were aces of the same franchise little more than a generation apart.

Although completely different types of pitchers—Hubbell relying heavily on a masterful and maddening screwball, whereas the high-kicking Marichal’s pinwheel delivery blazed fastballs past distracted batters—their most obvious and impactful similarity is their won-loss records. Standing second on the Giants’ all-time victories list, Hubbell, dubbed the Meal Ticket by teammates grateful for the World Series checks he helped bring them, compiled a fantastic 253-154 mark—99 more wins than defeats. Marichal’s career total of 243-142—earning him the spot directly below Hubbell in Giants’ annals (although five victories came elsewhere)—is, of course, 101 more victories than losses. Thus, they straddle that impressive 100-win difference as closely as is possible.

Despite Hubbell operating in the more potent 1930s, as opposed to Marichal in the offensively hamstrung 1960s, their ERAs still come with a hair’s breadth: 2.98 for Hubbell, 2.89 for Marichal.

(As if their career win totals are not near enough, Hubbell logged 52 victories in the minor leagues before finally slipping on his Giants uniform; Marichal scored 50 victories on his way to the Giants roster.) 

Many of Hubbell and Marichal’s statistics are within a few percentage points, and although no real significance can be attached to that, it is somewhat fascinating to investigate how closely the numbers jibe across a pair of 16-year careers. (And by the way, they each enjoyed 16-year careers.) Perhaps a table best illustrates their other key correlating statistics: 

Notable pitching similarities
GS IP CG H R ER BB WP ERA+
Hubbell 433 3590.1 260 3461 1380 1188 725 53 130
Marichal 457 3507.0 244 3153 1329 1126 709 51 123

BaseballReference.com

As you can see, many of their significant career numbers come very close to one another, despite the radically different eras in which they pitched. Only strikeouts varies greatly, with a big edge to Marichal thanks to his fastball and the emphasis on the strikeout in general. (Their near-identical total of wild pitches is particularly remarkable considering how random is the occurrence of a wild pitch—especially across the course of 16 seasons.)

Now for the really fun stuff…

Each Giants legend topped the National League in shutouts by throwing 10 goose eggs—each in their sixth season.

Farther down that path, both Hubbell and Marichal led the NL with a career-high 26 victories—each in their ninth season.

Each of these great pitchers authored extra-inning masterpieces that may never see an equal in Giants’ lore—although they nearly equal one another. On July 2, 1933, Hubbell, while leading New York to its first pennant in a decade, hurled an 18-inning, complete-game shutout against the second-place St. Louis Cardinals. He surrendered a mere six hits and, incredibly, walked no one, while striking out 12. Frankie Frisch, Pepper Martin and Rogers Hornsby—three of the most dangerous hitters in the NL—went 0-for-15 between them. Second baseman Hughie Critz singled home Jo-Jo Moore in the bottom of the 18th to mercifully conclude this first game of a double-header. (Tex Carleton managed 16 gallant shutout innings for St. Louis, although Jesse Haines took the loss out of the bullpen.)

Uncredited/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press
Juan Marichal firing for all he was worth against the Phillies' Johnny Briggs.

Exactly 30 years later, on July 2, 1963, Marichal—in one of the epochal clashes of titans—gutted out a 16-inning gem, defeating Warren Spahn (who also went the distance) thanks to Willie Mays's walk-off home run. Slightly more generous than Hubbell had been on that very day three decades earlier, only one of the eight hits that Marichal yielded went for extra bases (a double to Spahn, oddly enough). Marichal also stuck an 0-for-6 collar on Hank Aaron in the 1-0 victory.

So extraordinary were both Marichal’s performance and the date on which it occurred that the Associated Press referred to him as the Giants’ “new Meal Ticket.” 

Marichal’s marathon performance occurred a mere two and a half weeks after he spun his first and only no-hitter: a 1-0 obra maestra against the Houston Colt .45s. Not only did this mark the first no-hit game in the Giants’ new home of San Francisco, but it was the first no-hitter authored by a Giant since—you guessed it—Carl Hubbell, in 1929.

Marichal, known blithely as the Dominican Dandy, would finish that 1963 campaign with a whopping 25 wins. Hubbell, approximately midway through his 30-year tenure as the Giants’ director of player development at the time, knew long before of Marichal’s talents. According to SABR.org, Hubbell said of a young Marichal, “This guy is a natural. He’s got ideas about what he wants to do and does it. He amazes me.”

Even growing up in the far-off Dominican Republic, Marichal was aware of Hubbell. He stated in a 1971 interview that his favorite baseball cards were of King Carl and Sal Maglie.

Returning to statistics, although they are not among each others 10 most similar batters, Carl Hubbell and Juan Marichal’s career marks with the bat also converge. This is surprising considering that although only 24 starts separate them, Hubbell actually played in 60 more games—which should allow for a lot more discrepancy. (Hubbell came out of the bullpen 98 times in those more-carefree, less-specialized days, earning 33 saves.) Yet Hubbell accrued a mere 67 additional at-bats.

Not only are several of their numbers extremely similar, but also Hubbell and Marichal, over a mean of 1254.5 at-bats, accumulated an identical number of home runs (4) and triples (2), while near-missing in doubles (30/29, in favor of Hubbell) and both stolen bases and hit-by-pitches (2/1, each in favor of Marichal). They also came very close to one another in sacrifice hits. About the only statistics for which their bat work does not match are runs scored and RBI.  

In one regard, they were not similar players: fielding. Hubbell’s record shows him to have been a decidedly superior fielder to Marichal, well above league average in fielding percentage as opposed to Marichal, who committed significantly more errors. Of course, Marichal’s day saw much less bunting, resulting in vastly differing totals of putouts and assists.

Although baseball writers never regarded Marichal as the best pitcher of his time—nary a single vote for the Cy Young Award in any of his six 20-victory seasons—they rewarded each hurler with the Hall of Fame in his third season of eligibility.

Almost as an aside, in the JAWS ranking (a ratio based on career WAR to seven-year peak WAR) of the thousands of pitchers throughout Major League history, Marichal and Hubbell finish 43rd and 44th, respectively.

Certainly, many pairs align more closely in similarity score than Carl Hubbell and Juan Marichal—but rarely such legends who donned the same uniform. Perhaps it was in the stars: only 11 days after Carl Hubbell won Game 4 of the 1937 World Series—the final Series performance of his career—Juan Marichal was born.

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