BASEBALL ZEN: Willis Hudlin Pitched Babe Ruth's 500th Homer

My great-uncle, Cleveland Indians Willis Hudlin, 
pitched Babe Ruth's 500th homer

Willis Hudlin, Cleveland Indians 
1935 Diamond Stars Baseball Cards #79

"But what happened on the field was only a small part of that unforgettable day. They stopped the game when they made the announcement that Charles Lindbergh had landed in Paris.''

Willis Hudlin, an outstanding pitcher with the Cleveland Indians in the late 1920's and 1930's and the victim of Babe Ruth's 500th home run, died August 5, 2002 in Little Rock, Ark. He was 96.

A right-hander noted for his sinker, Hudlin yielded Ruth's 500th homer -- and his 30th of the season -- on Aug. 11, 1929, in Cleveland's League Park. Lou Gehrig hit his 27th homer that day, too, but Hudlin was the winning pitcher in a 6-5 complete-game effort.

Long after he retired, Hudlin told of the confusion that came with his connection to Ruth's prowess. ''I can't tell you how many letters I've received through the years asking me what kind of pitcher I was to let Babe Ruth hit 500 home runs off me,'' he told Walter Langford in the Society for American Baseball Research's 1987 Baseball Research Journal. ''Actually, Babe only hit a total of five home runs off me, so I guess that wasn't too bad considering that he hit 714 before he quit.''

Pitching 15 of his 16 major league seasons with the Indians, Hudlin had a record of 158-156. With Wes Ferrell, Mel Harder and later Bob Feller, he was a mainstay of the Cleveland pitching staff in the Depression years and won at least 15 games in five separate seasons. In 2001, he was selected as one of the top 100 players in Indians history when the franchise celebrated its 100th anniversary.

George Willis Hudlin, a native of Wagoner, Okla., was my mother's uncle. He made his major league debut with the Indians in 1926 and remained with them until 1940, when he went to the Washington Senators, then finished the season with the St. Louis Browns and the New York Giants. He was a flight instructor during World War II, then finished his career with the Browns' 1944 pennant winners. All except one of his victories came as an Indian. Hudlin was a pitching coach for the Detroit Tigers in the late 1950's and then a scout for the Yankees.

The game that Hudlin remembered most vividly came in his first full major league season, when his record was 18-12. Hudlin relieved against the Yankees in the first inning at Cleveland on May 21, 1927, with the Indians trailing by three runs. He allowed only one more run, pitching the rest of the way in the Indians' 5-4, 12-inning victory. But what happened on the field was only a small part of that unforgettable day.

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