As the Fall Classic is once again upon us, I thought it would be a good time to post an article about the McQuillan who played in the World Series. Hugh McQuillan, a major league hurler in the twenties, played in three successive World Series for the New York Giants pitching against the mighty Babe Ruth in two series. Hugh hailed from Astoria in Queens, New York; having been born there in 1895.
His major league baseball career began with the Boston Braves in 1918, he pitched for the Braves for 4 years until John “Muggsy” McGraw, legendary New York Giants manager, came calling in June 1922. McGraw had built the Giants into the first superstar baseball team in America, a legendary character, George Bernard Shaw had once called him the most remarkable man in America. In June 1922 the New York Giants were in the heat of a National League pennant race with the Cardinals. McGraw reckoned that his pitching staff needed freshening up and he decided to trade for the Boston Braves ace, “Handsome” Hugh McQuillan. Muggsy paid a hefty fee at the time, $100,000, plus three Giant’s pitchers, to get his prize. The Giant’s rivals and the nation’s sportswriters cried foul, claiming that the trade was grossly unfair allowing the Giants to literally buy the pennant. This trade was one of the reasons for the June 15th deadline in Major League baseball which stood for many years. In any case, the move paid dividends as the Giants won the pennant and went on to meet the American League Champs, The Yankees, in the 1922 World Series. Hugh was pencilled in to pitch in Game 4.
The complete series was played in the Giant’s ballpark, the famed Polo Grounds, as the Yankees were tenants at that time. However, McGraw had a visceral dislike for the Yankees in general, and Babe Ruth in particular, due to his love for the dead ball, inside the park baseball he grew up with, in comparison to the new power “home run” game pioneered by Ruth and the Yankees. The Giants swept the Yankees in the series to give McGraw his last World Series win. In Game 4 on a rainy day in Harlem, Handsome Hugh went up against the Yankee ace, Carl Mays, the fearsome Yankee submarine pitcher. Going into the 5th inning, the Giants trailed by 2 runs but in the inning the Giants scored four runs, with Hugh himself hitting a double and also scoring one of the runs. The Babe wasn’t able to score any runs against Hugh with a fly -out, a walk, a foul out, and a pop up to second base. McGraw held a masterclass in baseball coaching throughout the series calling all the signs for his pitchers and silencing the Babe with a steady diet of curveballs thrown outside of the strike zone. One interesting piece of trivia to note, this ’22 series was the first where the winning team awarded World Series rings to their victorious players, so Hugh McQuillan was among the first group of players to ever receive a World Series ring, this practice didn’t become commonplace until the 1930’s.
In 1923, Handsome Hugh had the honour of being picked as the starting day pitcher against his old team, the Boston Braves. That year the Giants won another pennant, with Hugh pitching again against the Yankees in the World Series. However, this time the Yankees won this series in six games. Hugh pitched in Game 2, with the Babe homered off him in the 4th inning. In 1924 the Giant won their third National League pennant in a row, but again lost the World Series this time to the Washington Senators in seven games. Hugh pitched in Game 3 at the Polo Grounds, and was the winning pitcher even though he was relieved in the fourth inning.
During these salad days, Hugh had New York at his feet and frequented Manhattan speakeasies enjoying the company of beautiful showgirls. McGraw was aware of his activities, rebuking and fining him on occasion. Unfortunately, Hugh was involved in one of the most reported divorce cases in New York papers of the time. Eventually the high life and Hugh’s personal difficulties took its’ toll on his baseball career and he was traded back to the Braves in ‘27. After that, he went down to the minors playing for the Newark Bears in the International League. Hugh then retired from baseball and continued to live in Queens, dying there in relative obscurity in 1947.
Before I finish this post, I’d like to leave you with an anecdote about Hugh and his baseball prowess, he claimed to have one of the greatest pickoff moves of any pitcher during the twenties. In his book, “Jocko” (Conlon & Creamer, 1967), umpire Jocko Conlon relates this prowess, “Hughie McQuillan…had pitched with the Giants and then he joined the Newark team I was with in the International League. They had told us that when Hughie was with the Giants and it was a close game, if the other team got a man on base in a late inning McGraw would yank his pitcher and put Hughie in. Hughie would pick the runner off base, and McGraw would send another pitcher to finish up. It was a good story, but it seemed fantastic to me. Yet Walter Johnson (the Bears’ Manager) did exactly that with McQuillan at Newark when I was there. He took Hughie right out of the dugout – he didn’t event warm up – and sent him out to the mound, and then got ready to pitch. There was a base runner on second. Boom. McQuillan caught the man off second, and then Johnson took him out. I saw it happen.”
As a final point, we’d love to hear from any McQuillans who have more information about Hugh, please feel free to contact us or post comments below about this fascinating man.