Hub Pruett: The Babe Ruth Nemesis

Hub Pruett of the St. Louis Browns The pitcher who had Babe Ruth's number

Hub Pruett of the St. Louis Browns
The pitcher who had Babe Ruth’s number


Hopefully, you’ve already heard of him. Dr. Hubert “Hub” Pruett once pitched for the St. Louis Browns back in the 1920’s and that fact in itself seemed to own its own legs as a “local boy makes good” story. Born in Malden, Missouri on September 1, 1900, played baseball and graduated from the University of Missouri before breaking into majors with the Browns on April 26, 1922 at the age of 21. Lefty Pruett pitched three mediocre seasons for the Browns (1922-25), posting a record of  14 wins and 18 losses before falling out of the big leagues for a couple of years. Hub returned with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1928-29, losing 17 games in his first new club season and finishing his two-year run with a record of  9 wins and 21 losses. Skipping 1929, Pruett won 5 and lost 4 for the 1930 New York Giants for the only time in his  seven career MLB seasons in which he won more games than he lost. – Skip another season and Hub finished his run in 1932 with a 1 and 5 record for the Boston Braves.

Hub Pruett was out of baseball at age 31, finishing his MLB career with a record of  29 wins, 48 losses, and an E.R.A. of 4.63. Not exactly Hall of Fame stuff.

So what even kept Hub Pruett in the majors for as long as he lasted, given his nothing-to-write-home-about playing record?

Part one of that answer will be found inside 15 of Hub’s 357 career strikeout total. The rest of the answer is contained in the light of whom it was that fanned so often against an otherwise nothing-special left handed pitcher named Hub Pruett.

The 15-times-a-strikeout-victim batter’s name, of course, was Babe Ruth of the New York Yankees! Babe couldn’t hit a pitcher that was no big problem for anyone else – or so it seems.

Contemporary observers said that Hub had an uncanny fade-away delivery that the lefty Ruth just couldn’t handle. We guess so. The fact that Pruett struck out Ruth 13 of the first 15 times he faced the iconic slugger of early 20th century baseball was proof enough. According to one source, Pruett struck out Ruth a total of 15 times in the 30 at bats in which they faced each other from 1922-1924, but he surrendered only two home runs over the same span to the Great One. In effect, the Browns kept Pruett around as their special weapon against one of the greatest hitters of all time. Pruett seemed to have trouble getting everybody else out, but he had found a meal ticket he could punch in his mastery of Ruth.

With the money he made as a Brown – and the money he made later with three NL clubs – Hub Pruett had found the resources he needed to use as payment for medical school, starting with those non-playing seasons that twice appear in his career baseball path. For the Browns, Pruett’s value was a known quantity. For the three NL clubs that came later, Pruett represented some kind of curious once-upon-a-time lightning bottle they could not pass up trying. Their hopes were enough to get Pruett further through medical school, even if the baseball electricity never found a rebirth within the Babe-Slayer in other ways.

Hub Pruett is simply more proof that employers hire newcomers based upon what they think the person may be able to do for their company’s production.  Once that assumption gets tested in real time, things may change pretty quickly – unless the employee has done something along the way to rekindle the employer’s original wishfulness, an “outright release” may be in order for the employee.

Pruett and Ruth never spoke on the field, nor were they friends away from the park, but Dr. Hubert Pruett is said always to have been aware of the role that his mastery of Ruth once played in helping him get through medical school. It is reported, however, that The Babe had no hard feelings – and only marveled at the lefty pitcher’s mastery of him at the plate. It’s said that Ruth would often make eye contact on the field with Pruett at the start of a new series – and then wink and smile, as if to say, “My cap’s off to you, you lucky so-and-so!”

Before Ruth’s death from cancer in 1948, Dr. Pruett went to visit with him in the hospital. Pruett wanted to tell Babe Ruth how much he respected his greatness – and how much he appreciated the part that Babe played in his ability to pay for medical school and become a doctor in the footsteps of his own medical man father. Ruth was quite moved by Pruett’s gratitude.

Near the end, Hub Pruett had brought to the dying Bambino one of the most spiritually good afternoons of his final days.


Bill McCurdy

Publisher, Editor, Writer

The Pecan Park Eagle



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