"People from Baltimore are always different," Jack Hubbar was saying yesterday from the St. Louis Cardinals' clubhouse in Busch Stadium.
Maybe Baltimoreans are different, and maybe we're not. In Jack Hubbard's case, there's no question. He is different.
More significantly, the route he took to baseball's big leagues was not just different. It was unique.
Hubbard, who grew up in Hamilton, played for coach Ed Baublitz at City College, then at the University of Baltimore under Otts Bosley. He tried out for the Leone's-Johnny's amateur team, but was cut every year by manager Walter Youse.
Hubbard became the J.V. coach at Loyola High when the late Ed Hargaden was coaching the varsity. He was a volunteer assistant basketball coach under Paul Baker at the University of Baltimore. When Baker moved on to Wheeling College, Hubbard became head coach -- until the school dropped the sport.
He moved on to coach baseball at Calvert Hall, where, he says, "I was fired by Augie Miceli."
That's hardly the kind of background that leads to what Jack Hubbard is today -- the first-base coach for manager Joe Torre in St. Louis.
How did he get from here to there -- without having played a single game of professional baseball?
"Hey, look," he said, "they treat me like a mystery man around here. Before the game, the PA announcer says, 'Coaching third base for the Cardinals, Bucky Dent.' And there's a cheer. Then he says, 'Coaching first base, Jack Hubbard.' And everybody says, 'Who?'"
In Jack's hometown of Baltimore, people are asking not who but how.
"Jack Hubbard -- in the major leagues?" TV-radio sportscaster Howard Mash asked incredulously. "The same Jack Hubbard I played ball with at City 30 years ago? That's hard to believe.
"Jack was a good athlete, but I never dreamed he'd wind up in the big leagues in any capacity."
Hubbard did dream, though. He loved baseball and he chased the dream to Florida 10 years ago. He and his wife, the former Terry DiLiello of Little Italy, sold their house in Parkton and, with their two children, moved to the Sunshine State.
"I got a big break," Hubbard said, "from a guy who I didn't think even liked me -- Walter Youse. He called me one day and said he wanted to have lunch. I didn't know if I wanted to have lunch with him or not. He never liked me as a player.
"Walter was Milwaukee's scouting supervisor and he said he needed a guy to be a full-time scout in Florida. I jumped at the chance."
Hubbard spent a couple years scouting for the Brewers, then four years with the Yankees. He was a Yankees minor-league coach under Clete Boyer.
Dent recommended Hubbard to the Cardinals and they signed him as an advance scout. Last year he worked for the Cards in their instructional league, pitching batting practice to rookies.
"I thought I'd be the advance guy this year," Hubbard said, "but during spring training the Cardinals' first-base coach, Dave Collins, told the club he needed to spend more time with his family.
"One day they told me to see Dal Maxvill [Cardinals general manager]. I thought, 'What'd I do wrong?' Dal asked, 'I've got bad news for you, Jack. You're not going to work for me any more. Joe wants you as his first-base coach.' "
These days Hubbard is like the proverbial guy who thinks he's died and gone to heaven.
"To anybody in baseball," he said, "there's only one place to be and that's here, in the big leagues. For years I was the guy carrying his bags and racing for a cab. Here, that's all done for you."
Hubbard revels in big-league life. He calls Joe Torre "a totally big-league guy." In the National League, he sees a lot of ex-Orioles: in Houston, Steve Finley. "He can play center field," .. Hubbard says. In Philadelphia, Curt Schilling. Hubbard again: "He's outstanding, probably the best on their staff."
In New York, Eddie Murray was on first for the Mets. Two steps away in the coaching box was Jack Hubbard.
"Eddie told me the best years of his career were in Baltimore," Hubbard says.
Hubbard's wife is executive secretary to Yankees owner George Steinbrenner in Tampa. Says Jack: "We've got both leagues covered."
Meanwhile, Hubbard's former coaching pals here are happy to see the local boy make good. Says Paul Baker: "This is a great story -- the story of a guy who wouldn't give up on his dream. Jack Hubbard is a down-to-earth, meat-and-potatoes guy. A man's man. But he's different."
Of course. People from Baltimore are different. Ask Jack Hubbard.