This is a tale of two princes – Hal Newhouser and Derek Jeter.
Newhouser’s nickname was “Prince Hal,” while Jeter is today’s prince of baseball.
Newhouser grew up in Detroit and broke in with the Tigers at the age of 18 in 1939. By the time he was 31, he’d won 200 games while wearing a Detroit uniform.
Newhouser attempted to wear a military uniform and enlisted in the Army Air Corps, but doctors told him he couldn’t fly because of a heart murmur. After being turned down by the Navy Air Corps as well, Newhouser made a pitch for the Army but doctors tagged him 4-F.
Newhouser won 29 games in 1944 and 25 in 1945 and was named the American League’s Most Valuable Player both seasons.
Hank Greenberg returned to the Tigers from military service in July 1945. He homered in his first game back and in the last game of the season. He and Newhouser helped the Tigers edge the Cubs in the 1945 World Series – the Cubs’ last appearance in the fall classic.
Detractors said Newhouser wouldn’t do as well in 1946 because many of the league’s top stars would be back from military service. Newhouser silenced the critics by recording 26 victories, and his 1.94 ERA led the league.
Arm problems led to his release by the Tigers in 1953 and Newhouser found himself out of the game at age 32. But former teammate Hank Greenberg, by then the general manager of the Cleveland Indians, called Newhouser to tell him of the great ballclub he expected to have in 1954.
Greenberg told Newhouser the Indians had pitching, speed, power, and good hitters but could use a solid veteran pitcher. The sore-armed Newhouser was invited to spring training with the hope that he could pitch in short relief.
Newhouser rewarded Greenberg with a 7-2 record and a 2.51ERA in 1954, helping Cleveland to 111 wins and the American League pennant. After pitching only two innings the following year, Newhouser called it a career with lifetime stats of 207 wins, 150 losses, and a 3.06 ERA.
The numbers should have been good enough for the Hall of Fame, but writers thought his numbers were aided by his having pitched against players who wouldn’t have been in the major leagues if not for the fact that many of the game’s stars were in the military during World War II. Newhouser’s abrasive personality didn’t help his cause either.
The decades passed and Newhouser was regularly snubbed by Hall. In the meantime he worked as a vice president of a suburban Detroit bank before turning to scouting for major league teams. Staying in the Detroit area, he served as a scout for the Indians, the Tigers, the Baltimore Orioles and the Houston Astros.
The Tigers allowed high school championship games at Tiger Stadium while the team was on the road. I saw Newhouser often at the ballpark scouting high-schoolers. He was Jimmy Stewart silver-haired handsome and still as slim as he’d been during his pitching days.
While working for Houston, Newhouser followed a high school infielder two hours west of Detroit in Kalamazoo, sending his bosses rave reviews on Derek Jeter.
“No kid is worth a million dollars to sign,” Newhouser said, “but if one kid is, it’s this kid.” Newhouser said Jeter could be signed for $750,000, but Astros owner John McMullen, disregarding Newhouser’s pleas, said that was $50,000 too much. The Astros drafted Phil Nevin instead, who signed for $700,000.
After Newhouser’s rage cooled, he quit the Astros in protest. While the June draft was disappointing for Newhouser, he was finally enshrined in Cooperstown two months later, 37 years after he’d pitched his last ball as a major leaguer.