INSTANT REPLAY: Remembering Hal Straight
If you know the name Hal Straight, it’s probably because he was the larger-than-life owner and publisher of The North Shore Citizen from its beginnings in 1958 and through its heyday until he sold the paper in 1974.
Or maybe you remember him as the managing editor of The Vancouver Sun in the 1940s and again in the 1950s after a short time away as publisher of The Edmonton Bulletin from 1948-51.
When he returned in 1951, he bought a home at 4072 Marine Drive in West Vancouver and for many years lived at 810 Highland Drive and later on in the 2200-block of Folkestone Way. He died at 79 in 1989.
Possibly your memory – or at least your knowledge of his newspaper career — goes back much further to the days when he was The Sun’s Sports Rays columnist and the paper’s sports editor in the 1930s.
But did you know he was the Carl Hubbell of Vancouver baseball in the 1930s?
Hubbell was the New York Giants’ Hall-of-Fame hurler whose left-handed deliveries earned him his “Meal Ticket” nickname along with more than 20 wins every year between 1932 and 1937.
During the same period, Straight’s southpaw slants at Vancouver’s Athletic Park were earning him acclaim as one of the top pitchers in the Vancouver Senior City League.
It was there at old Athletic Park — situated between 5th and 6th avenues, the current site of Hemlock Street’s north-bound on-ramp to the Granville Bridge — that Straight faced a team of touring major leaguers exactly 75 years ago on October 5, 1936.
Eight days after the 1936 major league regular season ended, and with the World Series underway, a barnstorming lineup of American Leaguers arrived via Seattle to play a double-header versus the all-stars of the Senior City League.
e then-27-year-old Straight was selected as the starting pitcher for the afternoon game. He’d grown up in a still-standing heritage home at 2650 West 5th Avenue in Vancouver, the son of Vancouver elementary school principal and later assistant superintendent Bob Straight, and was a multi-sport athlete while graduating from Kitsilano High in 1927 and attending U.B.C.
For the first four innings, he shut down the major leaguers with nary a run.
The News Herald, one of three daily papers serving Vancouver at the time, noted, “Hal Straight took a little kidding from the big leaguers’ dugout… ‘Hi Hubbell,’ one of them called out. ‘I thought you were in New York this week.’”
Yes, actually the real Hubbell certainly was in New York where he’d pitched a complete game 6-1 victory over the New York Yankees in the opening game of the World Series five days previously, then allowed four runs (three earned) in seven innings of a 5-2 loss in Game 4 the day before.
Straight’s mound opponent on this occasion was Monte Weaver of the Washington Senators who had recorded a 6-4 won-lost mark that year during a major league career in which he had an outstanding 71-50 record over six full seasons and parts of three others.
Oddly enough, Weaver and Hubbell had pitched against each other in Game 4 of the 1933 World Series, the first extra-inning game in the Fall Classic in nine years. Hubbell and the Giants won 2-1 when Weaver gave up the winning run in the 11th after both pitched magnificently.
Now it was Straight – apparently disguised as Hubbell – facing Weaver.
Vancouver led 2-0 after four innings with Straight accounting for one of the runs with the game’s only home run, a drive over the high right field fence onto 6th Avenue.
In the fifth inning, two infield errors by the home side opened the door for four runs. Straight set the visitors down in the sixth again before allowing two runs in the seventh and giving way to reliever Tommy Musgrave for the final two innings. In his seven innings of what became a 10-2 loss, Straight gave up six runs (an unknown number of which were unearned), 10 hits, two walks and a hit batter while striking out two.
Wally Moses, who hit a career high .345 with Philadelphia Athletics that season, and Hall-of-Famer Heinie Manush, whose .330 lifetime average ranks as one of the best in major league history, combined for nine hits off Straight and Musgrave.
The Sun’s game report summed up the performance of their star columnist by noting he “pitched good ball for seven innings besides helping himself to a circuit clout over the right field wall.”
The Province called Straight’s homer the “highlight of the afternoon game.”
The News Herald had the best overall coverage. It praised Straight’s pitching under the sub-head “Straight Standout, Tosses Nicely, Also Socks Homer” and reported, “Hal Straight made quite a smart job of elbowing [i.e. pitching]. With better fielding he might have held the score down somewhat. And he topped off his performance by lofting a home run.
“Hal’s performance was the standout of the two games. He served up change of pace, crossfire and really had the major men swinging frantically for several innings before they got on to his slants. Then a brace of errors sent the score booming up and the American aces were away to an easy victory.”
In describing Straight’s four-bagger, The News Herald reported, “As the customers yelled the odd shout of approval, the ‘Great One’ [that was Straight; Gretzky wasn’t born yet] with his cap perched cockily on his head, stepped up to the plate and smashed one of Weaver’s tosses over the right field wall for a canter around the bases.”
So maybe Straight wasn’t the Vancouver version of Carl Hubbell after all. Maybe – given his dual prowess as both a portside pitcher and a left-handed slugger – Straight was really more like the local reincarnation of the recently retired Babe Ruth.
This is episode 436 from Len Corben’s treasure chest of stories — the great events and the quirky — that bring to life the North Shore’s rich sports history.