Obituary: Paul Hinrichs (1925-2023)

RIP to Paul Hinrichs, who pitched in 4 games for the 1951 Boston Red Sox. He died on April 9 at the age of 97 at Owensboro Muhlenberg Community Hospital in Greenville, Ky. After Hinrichs’ baseball career was done, he entered into a life of service in the Lutheran ministry.

Paul Edwin Hinrichs was born in Marengo, Iowa, on August 31, 1925, the son of Carl and Martha Hinrichs. Carl Hinrichs, a first-generation German-American, was a Lutheran minister. Martha was a German immigrant, and they had nine children, per Paul Hinrichs’ SABR bio. According to the 1930 Census, the family lived in Osceola County, Iowa, and Carl was the pastor of St. John Lutheran Church. Paul attended school at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, where also happened to be one of the school’s best athletes. In a basketball game on December 8, 1945, Concordia defeated Eastern Illinois by a score of 54-41, and Hinrichs was one of the high scorers with 14 points. Eastern Illinois is a teachers’ college, so Concordia won the battle of the Preachers vs. the Teachers that day. Hinrichs was also a very good pitcher, and he wasn’t the first Concordia student to display impressive baseball skills. Before him, the school was home to future major-leaguers Max Carey, Bill Wambsganss and Dick Siebert.

The Detroit Tigers signed Hinrichs in June of 1945, and starting the following year, he set aside his spiritual pursuits to try a baseball career. His first pro season was a successful one, as he won 10 games for the Class-C Lubbock Hubbers on the West Texas-New Mexico League. He struck out 146 batters in 124 innings and showed decent control, with a little over 4 walks per 9 innings. He opened the opening round of the postseason series against Abilene and struck out 10 batters in 11 innings, as Lubbock won 3-1. “The Concordia Comet,” as he was called (as well as “The Pitchin’ Parson”), got the Hubbers to the championship round before losing to Pampa. Hinrichs won 18 games for Lubbock on 1947 and tied for second in the league with 213 strikeouts, but his control wasn’t as sharp, with 106 bases on balls. On June 24, he set a league record with 19 strikeouts against Abilene.

Hinrichs practiced oil painting when he wasn’t pitching or attending seminary school. Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 12, 1948.

Hinrichs had a brief taste of Double-A ball in 1947 when he pitched in 5 games for the Dallas Rebels. However, his control deserted him, as he walked 15 batters in 12 innings. He returned to Dallas for the whole of 1948 and had a 9-10 record and 3.60 ERA. He fanned 113 batters but walked almost as many. His season in Dallas ended up being his final one with the Tigers. He and nine other Detroit minor-leaguers were declared free agents by Commissioner A.B. Chandler on October 27, 1948. The commissioner ruled that the team, which cut ties with Dallas after the 1947 season, illegally controlled those players through invalid oral agreements. “It was a lucky break, the kind a ball player dreams about,” said the brand-new free agent. Hinrichs didn’t get much of a signing bonus with the Tigers — “practically nothing” is how he described it — but his new freedom generated a bidding war. The New York Yankees beat out the other suitors for Hinrichs, with a bonus said to be about $60,000, spread over three years. He became the first “bonus” player signed by the Yankees organization.

The young right-hander became the sensation of the Yankees training camp in 1949, with a string of 16 scoreless innings (or 19, according to some reports). Nevertheless, he was sent to the team’s Triple-A affiliate in Kansas City for more seasoning. Hinrich’s SABR bio, which includes quotes from the man himself, states that Yankees manager Casey Stengel felt that the pitcher was just too Christian and not mean enough to succeed in the majors. Certainly, the team wasn’t quite prepared for a seminary student among the player ranks. According to the Kansas City Star, Hinrichs was sitting with pitching coach Jim Turner during a spring game, and Turner pointed out an opposing batter. “Look at that hitter. You can see why he can’t hit, the silly so-and-so.” Only “so-and-so” was probably not the word he used. Turner realized what he had said and quickly added, “Excuse me, Paul.” Hinrichs answered, “But you were right, nevertheless, he can’t hit standing that way.”

Source: The Messenger (Madisonville, Ky.), March 7, 2004.

Hinrichs spent two seasons in Kansas City and never showed the same potential he’d had with Detroit. He suffered a groin injury at the Yankees camp in that spring of 1949 but pitched through it, as pitchers did then. The lingering injury led to him getting shelled as a starter in 1949. He was converted to a reliever and had a combined 9-15 record in 1949 and ’50. His walk rate rose, his strikeout rate declined, and he posted an alarming 5.53 ERA in 1950. However, he pitched much better over the second half of the 1950 season, enough that the Boston Red Sox picked him in the minor league draft held that November. “We got him for relief purposes, and we feel pretty lucky about it,” said Red Sox general manager Joe Cronin. “He was our first choice because of so many splendid reports about his pitching in the last half of the 1950 season.”

New Cleveland manager Al Lopez, up from the minors himself, was sad that the Indians hadn’t claimed Hinrichs. “There was a time when we were delighted to have Hinrichs go out there and pitch. My Indianapolis players couldn’t get to the plate fast enough. But the last half-dozen times we saw him, we didn’t get a run against him. Our fellows weren’t running up to hit any longer.”

Carl Hinrichs died during the spring of 1951, and his son missed part of the Red Sox training camp because of it. He didn’t debut with Boston until May 16, against the Chicago White Sox. Boston starter Chuck Dobbs was knocked out of the game in the first inning, having given up 5 runs. Hinrichs entered the game with a runner on third base and one out, and he retired Gus Niarhos and Joe Dobson to escape the threat. He retired Chico Carrasquel on a grounder to start the second, but then Hinrichs walked Paul Lehrer and allowed a single to Minnie Minoso. Eddie Robinson delivered an RBI single, Al Zarilla hit a sacrifice fly, and Jim Busby tripled to clear the bases. Red Sox manager Steve O’Neill took the rookie out of the game with 3 runs allowed in 1-1/3 innings.

Hinrichs made 3 appearances for Boston in June. He faced the White Sox again on June 3 any didn’t retire any of the four batters he faced. Minoso singled, Robinson doubled and Bud Stewart and Busby both walked. All four runners came around to score, leaving the pitcher with a stratospheric 47.25 ERA. He settled down somewhat in a series against Cleveland. Hinrichs threw an inning on June 20 and recorded his only strikeout, against no less than Hall of Famer Larry Doby. He also surrendered a home run to Bobby Avila, an inside-the-park shot that was Avila’s third homer of the game. Hinrichs threw a scoreless inning against Cleveland on the 21st, though a walk to Harry Simpson and a single to Doby put a couple runners on before he got Al Rosen to hit a comebacker to the mound for the third out.

In 4 appearances, Hinrichs worked a total of 3-1/3 innings. He allowed 8 earned runs on 7 hits, including a home run, and he walked 3 and struck out 1. He did not pick up a decision, and his ERA was 21.60. Boston returned Hinrichs to the Kansas City Blues of the American Association, where he had pitched in 1949 and 1950, and Kansas City in turn sent him to the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League. There is a discrepancy in Hinrichs’ Baseball Reference page, as his record doesn’t show any minor-league statistics in 1951. He pitched at least one game for the Seals, taking the loss in the first game of a doubleheader against the Oakland Oaks. He started the game and gave up 4 runs in 5 innings of work.

The 1952 campaign was Hinrich’s final season of pro ball. He had reached the majors, even if it was a short stay, but he decided to pursue his ministerial dreams rather than be separated from his family, bouncing around in the minors. He was ordained in September of 1953 at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Augusta, Ga. He was assigned to a church in Aiken, S.C. — “near the hydrogen bomb materials plant,” according to wire reports. He still played baseball for local amateur teams, but his higher calling took precedence. He participated in the groundbreaking of Aiken’s new Bethlehem Lutheran Church and helped to establish the new community.

Paul and Fran Hinrichs on their 50th Anniversary. Source: The Messenger, December 13, 1998.

Hinrichs served in the ministry for 34 years, spending most of his time at Trinity Lutheran Church in Chesterfield, Mo. He also served in La Puente, Calif., Litchfield, Ill., and Madisonville, Ky., before retiring. Even after retirement, he and his wife, Fran, worked at the Retired Senior Volunteer Program in Madisonville, where they gave academic help to special needs children. In a 1995 interview, Hinrichs noted that part of the educational process with his student was just building trust. “I remember the fears and how I felt threatened when I was this boy’s age. All the things I found so challenging at that age. In working with him, I remember what it’s like to be a child.”

In his retirement, he and his wife liked to cruise Madisonville in his 1931 Model A Ford. He also restored a harpsichord that he had built from a kit for use in his church in Missouri. When that church stopped using it, he rescued it from storage and donated it to the University of Evansville for use in its music department. The Pitchin’ Parson gave a few interviews about his baseball career, with a heavy dose of humor. “My only claim to fame is that, in batting practice, I once let a ball get away from me and I hit Ted Williams,” he told one reporter. Another time, he noted that he once struck out Willie Mays on a slider that fooled him so badly, Mays asked the catcher what kind of pitch it was. “The next time I threw him the exact same pitch.” Hinrichs recalled. “He hit it out of the park.”

Paul and Frances Hinrichs married on December 16, 1948, and were together for 74 years. In addition to his wife, Hinrichs is survived by children Mark, Rebecca, Heidi, and Angela. He was predeceased by a son, Paul Jr.

For more information: Tucker Funeral Home

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One thought on “Obituary: Paul Hinrichs (1925-2023)

  1. Sam, as always, a very interesting and informative article. FYI, Paul Hinrichs pitched in 5 games for San Francisco in 1951; 0-3, 4.88 ERA in 24 innings with 6 K’s and 14 BB’s. Also, he was a fellow student (I’m not sure if he was a classmate) of Jack Faszholz (Cardinals’ 1953) at Concordia Lutheran Seminary. Regards, Pat Doyle


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