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Hugh Casey

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Hugh Thomas Casey
(Fireman)

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Casey (right) with Jean-Pierre Roy of the Montreal Royals in 1946

Nicknamed "Fireman", Hugh Casey was one of the best relievers of his era. During his career, he posted a 51-20 record out of the bullpen for a winning percentage of .718 - the highest in history for a reliever with at least 50 decisions. Unfortunately, he was only 24-22 as a starter.

Casey began his pro career in 1932 and briefly reached the majors with the Chicago Cubs in 1935, appearing in 13 games out of the bullpen. Back in the minors, he posted a 2.56 ERA for the Birmingham Barons in 1937 to lead the Southern Association. Following the 1938 campaign, he was selected by the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1938 Rule V Draft.

Casey joined the Dodgers in 1939 and won 15 games in 40 appearances, mostly as a starter. By 1941, he was primarily pitching in relief, and Brooklyn won the National League pennant. However, he struggled in the World Series, taking the losses in both Games 3 and 4. His loss in Game 4 is the stuff of baseball lore: he had entered the game with Brooklyn trailing the New York Yankees, 3-2, in the 5th, and was still on the mound nursing a 4-3 lead in the 9th; with two outs, he threw a curveball in the dirt on a full count to Tommy Henrich, who swung and missed, but the ball bounced away from catcher Mickey Owen, allowing Henrich tor each first base on a dropped third strike; a lot of sources have also speculated that the troublesome pitch was actually a spitball. All hell then broke lose and the Yankees led 7-4 by the time the third out was recorded.

The Dodgers trained in Havana in 1942 and Casey was involved in an unusual incident that spring. Writer Ernest Hemingway was living in the Cuban capital and liked to hang around the Dodgers' camp. He befriended a few of the team's players and took them out to gamble and otherwise experience the local nightlife; one evening, he invited a number of players to his home and decided to have a boxing match with one of them. Casey was closest to his own size and got to don the gloves; he was however fifteen years younger and in much better shape than the celebrated writer and proceeded to hand him a good whipping, thrashing part of the living room in the process. Hemingway cooled down his relations with the Brooklyn players after the episode. Casey bounced back from his World Series struggles that summer, leading the National League with 13 saves. He then entered the Navy in January 1943.

After three years away from baseball during World War II, Casey was discharged by the Navy in December 1945. He picked up where he left off with the Dodgers, posting a 1.99 ERA in 1946 and leading the NL with 18 saves in 1947. He pitched in 6 games of the 1947 World Series, earning 2 wins and allowing only 1 earned run. However, after posting an 8.00 ERA in 22 games for Brooklyn in 1948, he was released.

Casey split the 1949 season between the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Yankees. He spent one last pro season in the minors with the Atlanta Crackers (the same team with which he began his career years earlier) in 1950.

The transition after baseball was difficult for Casey. He took his own life in 1951. While talking on the phone to his estranged wife from an Atlanta hotel room, he shot himself with a 16-gauge shotgun. He had just been named as the defendent in a paternity suit, although he denied the charges. He was 37 years old.

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