Born in Nashville, Tennessee, but raised in Detroit, Michigan, Cullenbine was a switch-hitter and one of the most prolific recipients of bases on balls in major league history. In his ten year career, he collected almost as many walks (853) as he did hits (1072). Cullenbine was among the American League leaders in walks for seven consecutive seasons from 1941-1947. He was once walked four times in the same game by Lefty Gomez in August 1941. In another odd statistic created by Cullenbine's ability to draw walks, he scored 5 runs in a game in July 1941 in which he had only 2 official at bats.
Driven largely by his ability to draw walks, he had a career on-base percentage of .408, which was 132 points higher than his career batting average of .276. His .408 career on base percentage ranks 42nd best in the history of Major League baseball, higher than many Hall of Fame legends, including Honus Wagner, Nap Lajoie, Joe DiMaggio, George Sisler, Goose Goslin, Arky Vaughan, Paul Waner, Charlie Gehringer, and Al Simmons.
Cullenbine grew up in Detroit where he played football at Eastern High School. He served as a batboy for the Detroit Tigers in 1930. In 1932, legendary scout Wish Egan saw Cullenbine working out at Navin Field and signed him. Between 1932 and 1937, Cullenbine played in the minor legues in Shreveport, Louisiana, Greenwood, Mississippi, Springfield, Illinois, Beaumont, Texas, and Toledo, Ohio. (David Porter, "Biographical Dictionary of American Sports: Baseball, A-F" (Greenwood 2000), p. 330.)
After beginning his major league career playing the 1938 and 1939 seasons for his home town Detroit Tigers, Cullenbine was among several major league players declared free agents in January 1940 by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Cullenbine received a $25,000 bonus to sign with the Brooklyn Dodgers the following month.
In 1941, Cullenbine had a tremendous season for the Browns. He had a .317 batting average, and walked 121 times for a .452 on base percentage -- 2nd best in the American League behind Ted Williams. Cullenbine also collected 98 RBIs, was named to the 1941 American League All Star team, and finished 10th in the American League Most Valuable Player voting.
After a great year with the Browns in 1941, the 1942 season saw Cullenbine bounced to three different teams. He started the season with the Browns, but was traded to the Washington Senators on June 1. He was then selected off waivers by the New York Yankees on August 31, 1942. This was a stroke of luck for Cullenbine, as the Yankees won the American League pennant, enabling Cullenbine to play in the 1942 World Series, where he had a .300 on base percentage and scored 3 runs in a losing effort to the St. Louis Cardinals.
After the end of the 1942 season, Cullenbine was traded on December 17, 1942 to the Cleveland Indians, marking the 4th major league team Cullenbine was assigned to in 1942.
Cullenbine played the complete 1943 and 1944 seasons for the Indians, putting up solid numbers both years. He batted .289 and .284 with on base percentages of .407 and .380. He was named to the All Star team for a second time in 1944.
Shortly after the start of the 1945 season, Cullenbine was traded by the Indians to the Detroit Tigers, the team with which he began his career. As was the case in 1942, Cullenbine had the good fortune of being traded in 1945 to a team that went on to win the American League pennant.
The 1945 season saw Cullenbine's best numbers in many offensive categories. He led the American League with 113 walks and was 2nd in the AL with a .402 on base percentage. Cullenbine also hit for power in 1945, with 18 home runs (2nd in the AL), 93 RBIs (2nd in the AL), 51 extra base hits (4th in the AL), and a .444 slugging percentage (3rd in the AL).
After leading the Tigers to the pennant, Cullenbine helped the Tigers defeat the Chicago Cubs in the 1945 World Series. Despite batting only .227 in the Series, Cullenbine walked 8 times for a .433 on base percentage and scored five runs.
Cullenbine continued to have solid seasons for the Tigers in 1946 and 1947. In 1946 he had a .335 batting average with a .477 on base percentage (both career highs). In 1947, he hit a career high 24 home runs and a Detroit Tigers record of 137 walks, and his on base percentage of .407 was 3rd best in the American League. From July 2-22, 1947, Cullenbine drew walks in 22 consecutive games, breaking the major league record of 19 consecutive games set by Ted Williams in 1941. Cullenbine's 22-game streak remains the major league record. List of Major League Baseball individual streaks However, Cullenbine's batting average dropped to .224 in 1947, as he collected more walks (137) than hits (104).
Despite having the 3rd best on base percentage in the league, Cullenbine was released by the Tigers after the 1947 season. He was picked up briefly by the Philadelphia Phillies, then released by them on April 19, 1948 -- marking the end of Cullenbine's career in Major League Baseball.