One of the first great relief pitchers, Big Hugh Casey, a drinking buddy of author Ernest Hemingway, was an extraordinary fireman for the Brooklyn Dodgers of the World War II Era. One must be creative to see that Casey qualifies for the Hall of Fame–he spent three years of his career in the military during WWII and would have had twelve years of Major League service had he not joined the colors.
Casey was initially brought to the Major Leagues by the Cubs in 1935. He appeared in just 13 games and then spent the next few years bouncing around the minors in the Pacific Coast League and the Southern Association. The Dodgers bought his contract from the Memphis Chickasaws of the Southern Association after the 1938 season and brought him up to Brooklyn in ’39. Used in 40 games, with 25 starts, Hugh put together a fine season, winning fifteen decisions on a 2.93 ERA.
By 1940, Hugh was used more in relief, finishing fourth in games pitched. In 1941, the Dodgers continued to use Hugh in uncommon fashion, working him out of the rotation in about half of his games. Nevertheless, Casey finished second in saves in ’41 and helped the Dodgers make the World Series. In the Fall Classic, Hugh appeared in three games–all in relief–and had a decent 3.38 ERA.
Casey’s breakout year came in 1942 when the Dodgers decided he was best suited for relief work. Moving Hugh to the pen was a brilliant move as the stout Southerner led the NL in saves. Used much differently than closers today, Hugh pitched in 50 games but racked up 112 innings of work–in stark contrast to the one-inning closers making the big bucks today. Casey was spot-on all season, posting a 2.25 ERA and averaging just 0.813 hits per inning–far better than Hall of Fame hurlers Carl Hubbell (1.006), Red Ruffing (0.943) and Ted Lyons (0.928).
With his country at war Casey left the Dodgers and cast his lot with Uncle Sam. Hugh missed the 1943-1945 seasons to the war, but when he returned in 1946, he had his finest season. Big Hugh fashioned an 11-5 record on a nifty 1.98 ERA. The workhorse relief man averaged two innings per outing while leading the league in games finished. He followed up his brilliant ’46 campaign by leading the NL in saves in 1947 and guided the Dodgers to another World Series. Hugh was used in six World Series games and won two games while saving another on a magnificent 0.87 ERA.
Hugh struggled in 1948 with an injury and his career was essentially over. The Dodgers released him after the season and he pitched with moderate success for the Pirates in 1949, ending the season with the Yankees. He spent the 1950 season back in the bushes, trying to rebuild his arm, but when this failed to work, and coupled with the breakup of his marriage, Hugh took his life.
W 75/L 42/PCT .641/SV 55/G 343/IP 940/H 935/BB 321/SO 349/ERA 3.45