Mel Hunt

Mel Hunt

by William Bowen


Mel Hunt was, simply put, a winner. Hunt manned second base for the Pittsburgh Industrials for 14 years and did not play a game on a losing team until his final season. A speed demon with gap power, Hunt wreaked havoc on the basepaths and played second with a steady hand for four championship teams, acting as the offensive counterpart to the steady excellence of Elmer Deaton.

Industrials scouts ran across Hunt at a tryout and were immediately struck by his blinding speed and raw athleticism. They signed the 18-year-old the next day. Hunt would remain with the Industrials until well after his 39th birthday.

Hunt spent four years on the Industrialsí reserve roster before getting a chance in 1927, when starting second baseman Herb Ferguson tore a ligament in his thumb. Ferguson, who had by then attended three spring trainings with Hunt and mentored him on the finer points of playing second, knew he was out of a job the moment he suffered his injury. He would spend the rest of his Pittsburgh career as a utility player off the bench, sticking around just long enough to win his first World Series ring with a team led by Hunt and Deaton.

Hunt hit for the cycle on July 30 against the Cleveland Bobcats, and after the game the Industrialsí manager confirmed the second-base job was Huntís to lose. Hunt was not one for losing, and he held that job for more than a decade.

In Huntís rookie year, the Industrials posted a winning record, only the second time in the previous 10 years they had done so. In his sophomore year, they turned into monsters of the NBL West.

Huntís second year was the first of six consecutive seasons in which he led the league in stolen bases, swiping 57. He became a beloved player in Pittsburgh, bashing doubles and triples down the lines and into the gaps of Allegheny Field and swiping bases at every opportunity. He led the Industrials to a World Series title in 1931, and posted a career season in í32, leading the league in runs, triples, and stolen bases, accumulating 7.2 WAR.

It was only after this season that Hunt gained national recognition, making his first of four consecutive All-Star teams in 1933. The Industrials also won back-to-back World Series in í34 and Ď35, making it three in the last five seasons.

In 1936, the normally durable Hunt suffered a series of injuries. Although his play remained excellent, the injuries sapped his running speed, and Hunt never led the league in triples or stolen bases again.

Hunt could still hit and defend, so he remained a solid starter for Pittsburgh. He had one last great season in him: 1939, when he posted a 133 OPS+ and a career-high 7.8 WAR at age 34.

Hunt worked on his defense throughout his career, improving throughout until time caught up to him and dulled his reflexes. 1939 was his zenith, posting a +13.5 zone rating, better than anything he had put up in his 20s.

1940 was Huntís last year as a starter. He was reliable as ever, and the Industrials won the fourth championship of his career.

Hunt remained on the Industrialsí roster for the next four years, mentoring young players and taking the occasional at-bat. As a veteran, Hunt mentored star center fielder Tom Gideon and later trained with third-base phenom Harry Osborn.

In 1944, Hunt made only three plate appearances for the Industrials, who were in the midst of their first losing season since he had come to town. After spending the season essentially as a coach, Hunt announced he would officially retire. He made his final appearances in the last homestand of the season, and the Industrials enjoyed their first sellout crowds in months, who gave their stalwart second baseman a warm send-off.

Mel Hunt retired with a slash line of .296/.363/.460, which came out to a 121 OPS+ and 70.1 career WAR. He recorded 2,514 hits, 448 of which were doubles, 298 triples, and stole 496 bases. Hunt led the league in steals (1928, 1929, 1930, 1931, 1932, 1933), triples (1932, 1934, 1935), runs (1932, 1939) plate appearances (1930, 1932, 1934), and at bats (1930, 1939). He made five All-Star teams, won Player of the Week four times, and Batter of the Month once. He won four World Series titles with the Pittsburgh Industrials.

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