Hal Newhouser entered the Major Leagues at 18 years old. He proved underwhelming through his age 22 season. Then, it all came together in a magical 1944 season. That season, Newhouser developed into baseball’s greatest wartime pitcher. In the end, his 29 wins helped keep the Detroit Tigers in contention throughout the season and landed Newhouser the MVP.
18-year-old left handed pitcher Hal Newhouser made his Tiger debut on September 29, 1939. He lost his first start allowing three runs in five innings. Over the next four seasons, he served as a starter and reliever, compiled a 34-52 record with a 3.69 ERA, and posted an inflated 1.535 WHIP. However, he did appear in two All Star games in 1942 and 1943. Despite the uneven success, Newhouser was still only 22.
Newhouser ended his apprenticeship and developed into a Hall of Fame caliber player in 1944. The Tiger ace became the undisputed greatest pitcher of the wartime era. He began the season 2-2, but then blossomed in May and never looked back. By month, Newhouser went 2-2 in April, 5-1 in May, 4-2 in June, 5-1 in July, 5-2 in August, and 8-1 in September. He posted a 2.16 ERA at home and 2.28 while on the road.
The Tiger led the league with 187 strikeouts. He struck out a season best nine batters on three occasions. On June 29, Newhouser struck out nine Senators. On September 15, he nailed nine Indians. Twelve days later, the lefty punched out nine A’s. During this era, batters cared if they struck out, so nine strikeouts was an impressive total. Two of Newhouser’s nine strikeout games occurred during shutout victories. Overall, the wartime ace hurled six shutouts in 1944. Newhouser tossed a two-hitter against the Browns on June 29, blanked the Red Sox on seven hits on August 18, threw back-to-back whitewashes against the White Sox and Indians on September 5 and 10, and five-hit the Athletics on September 27. His most impressive performance occurred on April 27. On that date, Newhouser pitched 12 shutout innings in a victory over Chicago. He went 12, allowed only four hits, walked six, and struck out five.
Newhouser’s pitching helped Detroit’s pennant run in 1944. The team was seven games out on August 19, but managed to make up the ground and assumed first place a month later. The Tigers swept a doubleheader against Cleveland on September 17 to claim first. Newhouser defeated the Yankees 4-1 to extend the lead to 1 1/2 games. Detroit remained in first through the left-hander’s 9-5 win over Boston. They lost the lead until Newhouser’s September 27 shutout victory over Philadelphia. The team went 2-2 in the final four games, including Newhouser’s 7-3 win over Washington, to lose the pennant by one game. On the season’s final day, Detroit lost to the Senators to finish 88-66 one game behind the Browns.
The Tiger run coincided with Newhouser’s best stretch of the season. From August 18-September 30, the ace went 10-2. In September, Prince Hal posted an 8-1 record, 2.22 ERA, 75 innings, 56 hits, 18 walks, and 57 strikeouts. He tossed three shutouts among his eight complete games. As a result of his fantastic stretch run, the Baseball Writers anointed Newhouser the American League Most Valuable Player while The Sporting News proclaimed him pitcher of the year.
Overall, Hal Newhouser led the league with 29 wins and 187 strikeouts. He started 34 games, relived 13 times, completed 25, finished another 10, tossed six shutouts, and saved two. He toiled for a remarkable 312.1 innings, allowed 264 hits, walked 102, posted a 1.172 WHIP, and finished 29-9. In addition to the MVP and Sporting News Pitcher of the Year, Newhouser was named to his third All Star team. In the end, Newhouser’s remarkable season propelled Detroit into contention.