Hubbard, (Robert) Cal

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HUBBARD, (Robert) Cal

(b. 31 October 1900 in Keytesville, Missouri; d. 17 October 1977 in Saint Petersburg, Florida), college and professional football player and major league baseball umpire who was one of the greatest linemen in football history and was named to the college football, professional football, and baseball Halls of Fame.

Hubbard was one of five children born to Robert P. Hubbard, a farmer, and Sally Ford, a homemaker. Raised in north-central Missouri, Hubbard attended Glasgow High School, where he participated in football and track, and eventually transferred to Keytesville High School, from which he graduated in 1919. He then attended a business college in Chillicothe, Missouri, while working at a variety of odd jobs.

Hubbard enrolled in 1922 at Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana, so that he could play football under the direction of the coach Alvin "Bo" McMillin. With good size and speed, Hubbard was a standout at guard and tackle for three seasons as Centenary compiled an overall record of 26–3–0 from 1922 to 1924. He was selected as a Second-Team All-American for 1924 by the sportswriter Lawrence Perry.

When McMillin moved to Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, in 1925, Hubbard also transferred and, after sitting out one season of ineligibility, took over as an end for Geneva in 1926. Again a standout, he received a First-Team All-America selection from the New York World and a third-team berth from the International News Service (INS), as Geneva posted a record of 8–2–0 that included a 16–7 upset win over Harvard University. Hubbard graduated from Geneva in 1927 with a B.A. and, after being pursued by three professional football teams, decided to sign with the New York Giants of the National Football League (NFL) as a linebacker and offensive tackle for $150 per game. He married Ruth Frishkorn on 27 November 1927; the couple had two sons.

Hubbard was an agile lineman and had good lateral movement, which, combined with his speed (100-yard dash in eleven seconds), allowed him to overtake and tackle ball carriers. He also was very strong and one of the larger players (six feet, two inches and 253 pounds) in the NFL, and he was regarded as a rugged "straight-ahead" tackler and a devastating blocker. An easygoing and even-tempered man off the field, his physical capabilities usually brought him the role of team "policeman" in dealing with overaggressive opposition players.

With Hubbard sparking a defense that allowed just twenty points in thirteen games, the Giants won the NFL championship in 1927 with an 11–1–1 record. But on a road trip to Green Bay, Wisconsin, in 1928, Hubbard was greatly impressed by the small-town atmosphere and soon demanded that he be traded to the Packers. Along with Hubbard, Green Bay also acquired several other key players, and the Packers proceeded to field the NFL's first dynasty. With Hubbard missing just three games in three years and playing tackle, linebacker, and occasionally offensive end, Green Bay rolled to the NFL championship in 1929 (12–0–1), 1930 (10–3–1), and 1931 (12–2–0).

His years with Green Bay were the best of his professional football career, and when the NFL began selecting an annual All-Pro team in 1931, Hubbard was recognized as a starting tackle for the seasons of 1931 to 1933. He took a break from professional football and served as an assistant line coach at Texas A&M University in College Station in 1934, before returning to Green Bay for the 1935 season. Hubbard closed out his NFL career in 1936 playing for the New York Giants and the Pittsburgh Pirates. He returned to football briefly in 1942 as the head coach at Geneva College, where he compiled a record of 6–3–0. Hubbard's place as one of the gridiron sport's greatest names was confirmed with his election to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1962 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963.

Early in his professional football career, Hubbard had considered shaping a second career as a baseball umpire during football's off-seasons, and so he had written a letter expressing his interest to Judge William G. Bramham, an executive in minor league baseball's National Association. This initiative resulted in Hubbard's assignment as an umpire in the Piedmont League in 1928, beginning an eight-year run (1928–1935) in various minor leagues that included the prestigious International League (1931–1935).

In 1936 Hubbard was promoted to an umpire in the American League, a position he held for sixteen seasons. He became known as one of the finest umpires in major league baseball. While working as an umpire, Hubbard's eyes were once examined by the Boston Optical Laboratory, and it was determined that he had twenty-ten vision. During his career as an umpire he worked four World Series (1938, 1942, 1946, 1949) and three All-Star games (1939, 1944, 1949).

Hunting had always been an off-season pastime that Hubbard enjoyed, but when he was accidentally struck in the eye by a shotgun pellet in late 1951, his umpiring career was ended. He was hired by the American League as an assistant supervisor of umpires in 1952, and two years later he was named the league's supervisor of umpires—a position he held for sixteen years until his retirement in late 1969. While serving as the league's umpiring supervisor, he was a strong advocate for better pay and working conditions for umpires, and also campaigned unsuccessfully for the legalization of the spitball. Hubbard was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1976 by the Veteran's Committee, making him the first individual honored by three major Halls of Fame.

A physically imposing man, Hubbard was known for his down-to-earth personality. Considered to be an outstanding duplicate-bridge player, he also enjoyed chess and music. After the death of his first wife in 1962, he married Mildred Sykes in 1963. Following his retirement from baseball, the couple lived in Milan, Missouri, on their 300-acre farm and then in Saint Petersburg, Florida, where Hubbard died at age seventy-six after a lengthy struggle with cancer. He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Milan.

Hubbard, recognized by many as the greatest tackle in professional football history, was named to the NFL's Fiftieth Anniversary All-Time squad. Coach McMillin described him as "the greatest football player of all time," and the coaches George Halas and Curly Lambeau called Hubbard "the best lineman" they had ever seen in professional football. An intelligent and aggressive player known for his speed and athleticism, Hubbard became a prototype for the football linebackers of the late twentieth century.

Accounts of Hubbard's gridiron career appear in most works on professional football history, including Alexander M. Weyand, Football Immortals (1962); George Sullivan, Pro Football's All-Time Greats (1968); and Denis J. Harrington, The Pro Football Hall of Fame (1991). Coverage of his baseball career is in Martin Appel and Burt Goldblatt, Baseball's Best: The Hall of Fame Gallery (1977). Obituaries are in the New York Times (18 Oct. 1977) and Sporting News (5 Nov. 1977).

Raymond Schmidt