This Day in Baseball History: February 15th, 1964

One of the many players who have died in plane crashes.

On February 15, 1964:

Chicago Cubs second baseman and former Rookie of the Year Ken Hubbs died in a plane crash.

In 1961, Don Zimmer and Jerry Kindal weren’t getting the job done at second (even though Zimmer made the All-Star team that season), and by September, the Cubs had enough. They called up the 19-year old Hubbs and gave him a few opportunities. Apparently convinced he was the future second baseman, they allowed Zimmer to be drafted to the new New York Mets in the expansion draft and traded Kindall. Hubbs was handed the reins from Day 1 of 1962.

He made the most of it by winning the Rookie of the Year Award. However, his line of .260/.299/.346 and OPS+ of 70 weren’t impressive, but he played stellar defense at the keystone. Donn Clendenton, the runner-up, had a good season but only played in 80 games against Hubbs’ 160. The next season, Hubbs batting average went down 25 points, but he was better at taking walks, not striking out, and hitting for some more power. His OPS+ actually went up, though marginally maybe even nominally, to 71. He was still an excellent defensive player, and at age 21, the belief was that he had a bright future ahead of him, and the bat would soon follow.

None of that was to be as Hubbs would die in a plane crash the following off-season. Hubbs originally had a strong fear of flying, but determined to beat it, he took flying lessons. In January of 1964, Hubbs earned his pilot’s license. His friend and he decided to take a trip to Provo, Utah to surprise his friend’s wife. That night, the two decided to make the return trip to Colton, California, but there was a storm approaching. Hubbs thought he could make it, and the two headed for Colton. They never made radio contact, and they never made it back. A search party was organized, and they found the crashed airplane in Utah Lake. The funeral occurred a few days later. Cubs players such as Ron Santo and Ernie Banks attended the funeral and still remember the young man fondly. Hubbs number 16 wasn’t retired, but no one was allowed to wear it for three years.

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