Hugh Mulcahy and the Phutile Phillies
As far as nicknames go, Hugh “Losing Pitcher” Mulcahy was neither very creative nor catchy. He took it in stride. “You know, in sports, somebody’s gotta win and somebody’s gotta lose. Well, I was the guy who always lost.”
Mulcahy never had a year where he recorded more wins than losses. The closest he came was in 1936 when he went 1-1. Here’s the thing though - his pitching was far from terrible. His fastball had a lot of movement that, if he could keep it close to the plate, would regularly induce bats to whiff empty air. However, as a team the Phillies were absolutely abhorrent. In 1940 he pitched 280 innings and carried a 3.60 ERA. The Phillies finished that season 50-103.
Fans found no reprieve from the Great Depression on the diamond at Shibe Park. Many seasons during the 1930’s ended with triple digits in the loss column. You might think it’s a challenge to be a Phillies fan after they failed to reach the World Series this year. Imagine what it was like in 1941 when they went 42-111-1. The owner at the time, a former shoe salesman by the name of Gerry Nugent, had a penchant for developing talent and selling them off before they could do the team any good.
But Mulcahy somehow remained in a Phillies uniform. On September 16, 1938, he carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning. Supposedly a woman in a box seat yelled to the pitcher as he made his way back to the dugout, “Keep it up, Hughie; it’ll be a no-hitter.” With the jinx successfully implemented he gave up a hit to the next batter he faced. But he went on to give up only three hits and the Phillies went on to beat the Cincinnati Reds 2-1.
Ted Williams, Hugh Mulcahy and Bob Feller pic.twitter.com/GRUPpClE3e— BaseballHistoryNut (@nut_history) March 2, 2023
During an amusing home game against the St. Louis Cardinals in 1940, Mulchahy drove in three of the four runs the Phillies scored, while from the mound he kept the Cards scoreless. The Phillies won 4-0. Mulcahy was selected to the NL All-Star team that year.
What kind of pitcher plays for the Phillies for half a decade without inciting a brawl?
Claude Passeau was a Phillies pitcher who had been traded to the Chicago Cubs early in 1939. When the two teams played against each other later that year in South Philly, Mulchahy was on the mound. Passeau hit a grounder down the first base line and Mulchahy dashed to the ball to field it. After picking up the ball he reached out to make the bare-handed tag of his former teammate when Passeau tried to strike his wrist in order to force Mulcahy to drop the ball. Mulcahy responded with a swing at Passeasu’s face. The benches cleared for an old fashioned melee on the diamond. For his role in the skirmish he was fined $25. The Inquirer dubbed him “One-Punch Mulcahy” (a much cooler nickname than “Losing Pitcher”), and quoted him as saying, “It was worth $25 to relieve my mind and show the Cubs that we weren’t going to take anything laying down.” Later, Passeau visited the Phillies clubhouse and apologized. The two men remained lifelong friends.
Called into service
Hugh Mulcahy became the first major league player drafted by the Army when his number was called on March 8, 1941. He reported to Camp Devins in Massachusetts and told The Sporting News, “My losing streak is over for the duration [...] I’m on a winning team now.”
His stint in the service was originally slated to be fairly short since he was scheduled to be discharged later that year when he turned 28. He hoped to miss only a single season, especially since just before his induction he had bought a house with the expectation of an annual salary north of $10,000 as the result of a newly signed contract with the Phillies. His salary from the army was a bit less than that: a whopping $30 per month.
When he was discharged on December 5, 1941, Mulcahy was excited at the prospect of returning to baseball.
The world had other plans.
In the early morning hours of December 7, 1941, Imperial Japan carried out a sneak attack of the American naval fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor. Over 2,400 sailors, soldiers, Marines, and civilians were killed.
Mulcahy immediately found himself back in uniform. He served in the Pacific, spending time in New Guinea and the Philippines. By the time the war ended, he had earned a Bronze Star and three campaign ribbons.
In between the fighting, he played baseball. He served as manager and played for a team in the 8th Army called the Chicks, named after the minor league Memphis Chicks. While in the Pacific he also found opportunities to play ball on various islands. Playing under the name Mulcahy’s Marauders and Mulcahy’s Wanderers, his team went undefeated in a string of games played in the intense heat of the South Pacific.
Mulcahy after the war
When he returned to Philly, the fans greeted him with a rousing welcome. The owner and management had changed, but the Phillies’ affinity for losing did not. And unfortunately for Mulcahy, his performance never returned to its pre-war form. He weighed much less than he did when he left for the war, and command of the ball eluded him.
After posting a 4.46 ERA over 62.2 innings in the 1946 season, he signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates to be closer to wife’s hometown. He hoped the change would spark a revival.
It did not. In 1947 he pitched in two regular season games before the Pirates cut him.
But Mulcahy was far from finished with baseball. He joined the White Sox as a pitching-coach and scout and remained with them into the 1970’s. In 1974 he was honored as White Sox Man of the Year for his work developing young pitchers. A man of many talents and intelligence, he also invented a machine that could catch balls and return them to a pitcher, eliminating the need for catchers when practicing and warming up.
Despite the lifeless performance of the Phillies during his tenure, and being called into military service as the height of his career, Hugh Mulcahy remained persistently grateful for the opportunities that came his way. Reflecting on his baseball career and his time in the service, he said, “A lot of guys went to the war and didn’t come back. I came back and had a long career in baseball. I feel I was fortunate, not cheated. You never know, six more months with the Phillies and I might have gotten hit with a line drive.”
He died at the age of 88 in Beaver, Pennsylvania.
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Researching Hugh Mulcahy’s story was a lot of fun, and this article barely scratches the surface of what exists out there about this amazing man. I highly recommend reading for yourself the following pieces that served as reference (in addition to FanGraphs), for all of the material in this article.