Yakima Baseball Legend Hub Kittle Dies at 86
Published on Wednesday, February 11, 2004
He likened his first look at the Yakima Valley with Brigham Young's original sighting of the Great Salt Lake area, saying it was love at first sight.
It must have been, because even though baseball took Hub Kittle all over the country and to numerous outposts in Latin America, he made Yakima home from that day on.
Tuesday morning, almost 65 years after first observing the Valley from the eastern-most hill on Satus Pass, Kittle passed away at Yakima Regional Medical and Cardiac Center from complications related to kidney failure and diabetes. He was 86.
Kittle was driving to Yakima from Portland in 1939, having been sold to the Yakima Pippins from Ponca City, Okla., for $400. He was a 20-game winner for the Pippins that season, and perhaps Yakima's most enduring sports legend was born.
A legend whose passing spawned newspaper stories in Seattle, where Kittle was a Mariners' special pitching instructor through last season, and in St. Louis, where he was pitching coach when the Cardinals won the 1982 World Series.
"I've known Hub for a long time," said Benny Looper, the Mariners' vice president of player development and scouting. "I first met him when I was in the Cardinal organization as a player and he was scouting for them.
"He was a rough-acting, rough-sounding guy, but he had a giant heart for people. I was sad to hear the news, but I know he'd been suffering for quite awhile."
Yet not enough to keep him from instructing M's pitching prospects when the Everett AquaSox, Seattle's Northwest League affiliate, visited Yakima last summer. It was Kittle's 64th season in professional baseball.
Due to his declining health, Kittle had asked the Mariners to take him off their payroll, but the team refused.
"He didn't feel like he was earning his keep," Looper said, "but we had guys who were still calling him for advice and I would call him from time to time. We wanted him to stay a Mariner."
As he had stayed a Yakiman.
"Hub loved Yakima as much as anybody I've ever known," said Jim Scoggins, a close friend of Kittle's and sports editor of the Herald-Republic from 1971-98. "Yakima has lost a great ambassador."
Said Yakima Mayor Paul George, who preceded Scoggins at the Herald-Republic, "I've known Hub for 40-some years. He was a great guy, a lot of fun, great for Yakima and great for baseball. We have got to find some way to memorialize him in this community."
Hubert Milton Kittle was born Feb. 19, 1917, in Los Angeles, where he grew up. His professional baseball career began in 1936, when he pitched for the Santa Catalina Angels.
Kittle's climb through the Pacific Coast League was interrupted by World War II, and his hopes of pitching in the major leagues apparently ended with his service in the Army from 1943-46.
Nonetheless he spent his next 25 years in the minor leagues as a pitcher, manager and general manager. He managed the Yakima Bears from 1955-59 and the former Yakima Braves from 1964-65, winning Northwest League titles in 1956, 1958, 1959 and 1964.
As the team's general manager in 1960, Kittle was named The Sporting News Minor League Executive of the Year for arranging big-league affiliations for some of the NWL's struggling teams.
Kittle managed winter league teams in Mexico, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico for 17 years, helping the likes of J.R. Richard and Cesar Cedeno to success with the Houston Astros. Fluent in Spanish, Kittle was especially helpful to Latin players throughout his career.
Never was his assistance more notable than in 1982, when as the Cardinals pitching coach Kittle tutored a talented but volatile right-hander named Joaquin Andujar. Though Andujar experienced spectacular ups and downs during his career, he was at his best during Game 7 of the World Series against Milwaukee, which St. Louis won 6-3.
Prior to his working for the Cardinals from 1981-83, Kittle had been the Astros pitching coach from 1971-75. He remained a pitching instructor with St. Louis until 1997, when his late wife June's illness prompted him to stay closer to home as an instructor for the Mariners.
Among Kittle's other notable achievements was pitching a perfect exhibition inning for a Class AAA team in 1980 at age 63, thereby becoming the only man to pitch in six decades.
And last September, Kittle was inducted into the Washington Sports Hall of Fame in a pregame ceremony at Seattle's Safeco Field.
"Baseball was his life," said George. "You think of all of the big names in baseball — Durocher, all of them — they all knew Hub."
Kittle is survived by two sons, Chuck Kittle of Edgewood, Wash., and Eddy Kittle of Packwood, Wash.; a daughter, Diana Harris of Yakima; and stepchildren Connie Berger and Steve Breum of Vancouver, Wash.; Kay Parton of Scottsdale, Ariz., and Kerry Breum of Naches, plus 18 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
The funeral has been scheduled for Saturday, although a time and place have not been announced.
Keith & Keith Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.