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Hutchinson famously wrestled a bear during spring training in Lakeland, FL. (hard to tell whether it's Hutchinson who is chained, or the bear). / David Eskenazi Collection
Recalled Yankees catcher Yogi Berra: ?I always know how Hutch did when we follow Detroit into a town. If we got stools in the dressing room, I know he won. If we got kindling, he lost.”
Hutchinson had a couple of nicknames. One was ?Iceman,? the other ?The Bear.? The latter stemmed from a spring training incident in Lakeland, FL., and is best recalled by Virgil Trucks, who pitched for Detroit when Hutchinson did.
Hutchinson became the manager of the Detroit Tigers midway through the 1952 season at the age of 33, while he was still an active pitcher. / David Eskenazi Collection
“They had a little sideshow circus at the ballpark, and they had a bear there,” Trucks said.
“This bear was staked out by the trainer, but the bear broke the stake and got loose and was coming toward Fred — and Fred just grabbed him by the throat and the neck, and had an arm around his neck.
“He (the bear) probably didn’t weigh any more than Hutch did, but you know bears, they got claws and everything else they can retaliate with. But that didn’t bother Fred.
“The trainer came over and said, ‘Hey, man, you let go of my bear. You gonna kill him.’ He probably would have, but Fred said, ‘You get him away from me. He might kill me, too.’ But he held on to him. That bear couldn’t do nothin’. Oh, he was really strong.”
But, as Meyers noted, Hutchinson had a soft heart. Jim Brosnan, who pitched for Hutchinson in both St. Louis and Cincinnati when Hutchinson managed those clubs (Cardinals, 1956-58; Reds, 1960-64) wrote this about Hutchinson in 1959: “Most ballplayers respect Hutch. In fact, many of them admire him, which is even better than liking him.
“He seems to have a tremendous inner power that a player can sense. When Hutch gets a grip on things it doesn’t seem probable that he’s going to lose it. He seldom blows his top at a player, seldom panics in a game, usually lets the players work out of their own troubles if possible.”
Hutchinson managed the Tigers from 1952-54 and also managed the St. Louis Cardinals (1956-58) and Cincinnati Reds (1960-64). / David Eskenazi Collection
Thirty-five years after Hutchinson’s death (3:58 a.m. on Nov. 12, 1964, at Manatee Memorial Hospital in Bradenton, FL.), the Seattle Post-Intelligencer named Hutchinson the city’s Athlete of the 20th Century, an amazing pick considering that that he played and managed in Seattle for slightly more than two years.
“No local athlete has been more revered than Hutch,” wrote Dan Raley. “Hutchinson was a leader, and there was never a question.
“He led people to championships. He led us to tears, sharing his own struggle with cancer in a very public and heroic manner.”