Walter Kirby Higbe
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As a player, Kirby Higbe finished his career with a respectable 118-101 record and a 3.69 earned run average. It some things that happened both on and off the field, however, that define Higbe's participation in the game of baseball.
His book, "The High Hard One," was his autobiography and served as a description of his pitching style. On the field, that style translated into brilliance and disaster. Higbe led the National League in walks four times (39-41, 47) and he also led the league in strikeouts with 137 in 1940. Off the field, his hard-living antics would lead to both fame and trouble.
Higbe's career started in 1931 when he was part of a South Carolina team that went to play in the Little World Series. The South Carolina team fell short when Higbe lost his last pitching effort 1-0 in 14 innings.
He signed with the Pirates organization in 1932 for $300 a month and a $500 bonus. He was sent to Tulsa of the Old Texas League. Higbe pitched in one game for Tulsa that season and was considered to be too wild.
He returned to Columbia and played for a team in Barnwell and, later, for a textile league team in Anderson. He returned to Tulsa for spring training in 1933. However, after working some more with Higbe, it was determined that he was just too wild. Higbe was released from Tulsa and returned to South Carolina where he pitched for a textile league team in Laurens. A former major leaguer and Laurens County native, Chick Galloway, scouted Higbe while he was pitching in Laurens. Higbe was signed to the Atlanta Crackers.
In Atlanta, Higbe started both games of a double header and the management thought he was a wild pitcher. So, he was converted to outfielder. At the end of spring training the next season, he was sent to Portsmouth and was converted back to pitcher. He finished 10-13 at Portsmouth that season. He fell sick in the offseason and was loaned to Columbia of the Sally League to help him return to form.
At the end of the 1936 season, Higbe's contract was purchased by the Chicago Cubs organization. He was sent to AAA Moline in 1937 and finished the season with a 21-5 record. In 1938, he pitched again for Moline and was called up by the Cubs at the end of the season.
At the start of the 1939 season, Higbe said he got homesick and asked the Chicago Cubs to send him to Birmingham. He pitched the season there and was called up by the Cubs at the end of the season. He pitched 10 innings in 2 games before learning the news that his father had died. The Cubs traded Higbe to Philadelphia.
In 1940, Higbe finished with a 14-19 record for the last place Philadelphia Phillies and other teams were interested in acquiring the pitcher. Larry MacPhail of the Brooklyn Dodgers sent $100,000 and three players to the Phillies for Higbe. In 1941, Higbe and Dodgers' teammate Whit Wyatt tied for the National League lead with 22 wins each. Higbe led the league with 39 starts. He pitched in one game during the 1941 World Series, surrendering three earned runs in 3.2 innings pitched.
He joined the All-Star team during the 1940 and 1946 seasons. In 1941, he led the league with appearances in 48 games.
In 1947, Higbe found himself on the outside looking in with the Dodgers. That season, Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier by becoming a member of the Dodgers. While growing up in South Carolina, Higbe had spent hours involved in rock-throwing battles with neighboring black children. Higbe was one of the original five players to approach the team and tell them they didn't want to play with a black player. He was traded to Pittsburgh on May 3, 1947.