Steve with Baseball Personalities
Paul Hopkins (1904-2004) My son Mat and I visited Paul Hopkins in Deep River, CT, in the summer of 1999. Hopkins appeared in only eleven major-league games, inc. two in 1927. In his major-league debut on September 29, he gave up Babe Ruth’s 59th home run. Hopkins gained notoriety when he was featured in a Sports Illustrated article (August 24, 1998) on the 50th anniversary of the Babe’s death. Hopkins would get a number of autograph requests each week late in his life, which he sent back on postcards. The cards had two pictures of him on the front—a current one, along with one of him from his playing days. The back described Ruth’s 59th and noted that the retired bank executive was the last living pitcher to serve up a home run to Ruth that record-setting season.
Hopkins, on the Washington Senators, came on in relief on September 29th with Yankees on all three bases. He didn’t realize, at first, that he’d be facing Ruth. Once he did, said Hopkins, "I was a little nervous, but I wasn’t scared. I felt I could get anybody out." Hopkins recalled feeding the Babe –who hit two "monstrous fouls"—nothing but curves. On a three-and-two count, Hopkins felt he threw the Babe a great pitch—"a beautiful curve, real slow and over the outside of the plate"—which the Babe knocked into Yankee Stadium’s right-field seats for home run #59. After more than seventy years, "I can still hear the crack of the bat. I can still see the swing," said Hopkins.
Over the course of a few weeks that year, 1999, Paul and I had phone conversations. He was still golfing on a regular basis, approaching the age of 97. He felt the Babe could do everything and was "the best ballplayer who ever lived." After Paul dressed in street clothes (after the game in which he gave up #59), he went into the Yankees’ clubhouse to get the Babe to sign his baseball.
Paul was adamant that pitchers were not told to "serve 'em up" to Ruth (a story that has been out there). He credited Walter Johnson with recommending Paul to the Senators, when the pitching great saw Paul pitch for New Haven in ’27. Paul roomed with Tom Zachary when he joined the Senators. Ironically, Zachary gave up the Babe’s 60th home run the following day (September 30, 1927). A year later the Yankees would pick up Zachary on waivers, and he would post a 12-0 record for the 1929 Yankees.
In 1928 Paul pitched for the Montreal Royals of the International League in their inaugural season. He hurt his arm ("threw it out; threw it too hard," he said) and went to Bonesetter Reese of Youngstown, OH, a legendary muscle and tendon man (read Reese’s biography here). While Reese helped countless players, Paul said he didn’t help him. Paul then went to a doctor in Hartford, "who fixed me up all right—I was worse afterwards." In his last two seasons in Organized Baseball, 1929 and 1930, Paul had a record of 0-2.