Dick Hall had a long and remarkable career, and at 90 years young, his memory remains strong. There’s a lot for him to reminisce about. Originally an infielder/outfielder with the Pittsburgh Pirates — he debuted in 1952 — Hall converted to the mound in 1955 and went on to pitch for 16 big-league seasons.
A right-hander who both started and relieved, Hall had his best years with the Baltimore Orioles, with whom he had 65 wins, 60 saves, and a 2.89 ERA over two stints and nine seasons. His career culminated with three consecutive Fall Classics, the middle of which saw Baltimore beat the Cincinnati Reds in the 1970 World Series. All told, Hall pitched eight-and-two-thirds postseason innings without allowing an earned run.
Hall discussed his career shortly before becoming a nonagenarian in late September.
David Laurila: You pitched for a long time, but only after starting your career as a position player. How did that come about?
Dick Hall: “Well, there was no draft when I signed with the Pirates in the fall of 1951. I then started playing in their minor league system in 1952, and after my
second season — after the 1953 season — they sent me down to Mazatlán, Mexico
to get further experience. I was a second baseman/outfielder in those days. Mazatlán almost sent me home, but then I changed the grip on my bat and started hitting home runs. Mazatlán calls Pittsburgh and said, ‘We’ll keep him after all.’
“I set the league home run record, so they welcomed me back the next year. I told the manager, ‘Look, I pitched all the time in high school, college, and semi-pro,’ so if he wanted, I could pitch. One Sunday we were up in Hermosillo, which is a few hours from Arizona, and we played a four-game series which included a doubleheader on Sunday. We carried four pitchers. We had a Cuban pitcher, a Mexican pitcher, and two from the United States. Anyway, on Sunday they scored a couple runs early. Our starting pitcher ran into huge trouble, so the manager called me in from center field. I ended up pitching six-and-a-third innings and gave up one single.
“It just happened that Howie Haak, who was the super scout for Pittsburgh, was at that game. He went to the winter leagues to check out all the players. Howie sees me pitch the six-and-a-third innings, throwing strikes, and throwing pretty hard. So he tells Pittsburgh, ‘Hey, I think we’ve got to make this guy a pitcher for 1955. We should also try to make him a switch-hitter.’ The switch-hitting didn’t work out, but they did send me to Lincoln, and I did very well there. Pittsburgh called me up in July, and I went into the starting rotation. I finished the season with a 6-6 record, and have been a pitcher ever since.”
Laurila: You’re known to have had an atypical delivery. How would you describe it?
Hall: “I was sort of bent over, like I was going to throw sidearm, but my release point was actually up by my ear. I threw a riding, up-and-in, sneaky fastball from a low short-arm delivery. It looked like the ball came out of my uniform, and batters didn’t really pick it up very well. So I was sneaky, and I had really good control.
“I started out throwing most of my pitches on the outside, and for the last seven years I pitched, I threw every single one… excluding my changeup, which Baltimore showed me when I got traded there in 1961. I didn’t control it very well, so I just tried to throw my changeup down the middle. But the fastball, I would nibble on the outside corner every time. I also threw a hard slider, and I got to where I could throw that on the corner almost as good as the fastball.
“My theory for throwing outside was that they would probably hit the ball, but
if I was going good, they would hit a lot of pop-ups and fly balls to center field. There was a whole lot more room in center field. Today there are tons of hitters that can hit it over the fence, but back in those days there weren’t nearly as many. It was [Mickey] Mantle, and guys like that.”
Laurila: You had some pretty good seasons with the bat, including in 1956 when you had an injury and weren’t pitching very well. Did that have you wondering if maybe you should go back to being a position player?
Hall: “No. In 1954, I’d platooned in left field with Jerry Lynch and got over 300 at-bats, but I hit .239 with a grand total of two home runs. So the Pirates figured, ‘Maybe this is a bad idea; we should try him as a pitcher.’ They were right. I was a lot better as a pitcher.
“Most of the clubs had preferred me as a pitcher. Again, they didn’t have a draft back then — you’d go around and visit all the clubs — and not many envisioned me as a position player. Branch Rickey was semi-convinced that I could be an everyday player — that I could hit — and he gave me a shot the first few years.”
Laurila: You made your big-league debut as a third baseman, hitting in the five-hole behind Ralph Kiner…
Hall: Gerry Staley was the pitcher. In my first at-bat… Staley threw sidearm, and it was a snake, but I was full of adrenaline and hit the ball really hard. [Stan] Musial was playing left field, and he kind of took a half step in, then had to go back. It almost got over his head, but he caught the ball.
“I played the next five or six games at third base, and never hit a ball hard. I think I broke the bat once and got the ball over the shortstop’s head, and another time I hit a roller that I beat out. Then I played in a Sunday doubleheader and struck out five times, so they benched me. Back then you could carry five extra players for the first 30 days of the season, and come cut-down day they sent me down to Burlington, North Carolina. I played shortstops that year and led the league in one department: errors.”
Laurila: Is it true that Branch Rickey later tried to convince you to throw a knuckleball?
Hall: “He was trying to get all of his pitchers to throw one as their third pitch. He thought that a knuckleball would be very useful, but not many guys could develop one. Bob Purkey got one that was halfway decent, and Ron Kline’s wasn’t bad. I tried it, and ended up getting one batter out with a knuckleball my whole life.
“I threw one to Eddie Mathews, and he popped it up straight over his head, about 15 feet in the air. The catcher caught it. That was the only one, because I couldn’t throw the pitch for a strike.”
Laurila: Do you remember how you did against Mathews overall?
Hall: “I don’t, but I kept track of Ted Williams. In 1960, when I was a starter for Kansas City, I faced Boston a couple of times. He was so famous… I remember one time, I threw him a changeup and he just stood there, dumbfounded, and watched it for a strike. I figured, ‘Well, that worked.’ A couple pitches later I threw it again, and he hit a little dribbler toward the dugout. A few fastballs later, I threw another one. Zoom! A line single into right field.”
Laurila: Williams hit a home run off you at Fenway Park…
Hall: “I remember thinking, ‘He’s 40 years old and not as quick with the bat anymore, so I’ll throw him high fastballs.’ Nobody really paid any attention to me — I was just a halfway decent sneaky pitcher — but he actually studied all of the pitchers. I started him with a high fastball, up around his chin, and he chased it. Williams was famous for never swinging at bad pitches, but he chased this one. Problem. He hit it into the bullpen.”
Laurila: In 1960, you gave up a three-run homer and a grand slam to Jim Gentile in back-to-back innings…
Hall: “I don’t remember that, but I do remember him hitting two grand slams when we played together in Baltimore. This was in 1961. We were up in Minnesota, he hit a grand slam, and his next at-bat, Paul Giel was pitching. Giel had been a football player at [the University of] Minnesota. Anyway, he throws Jim a sidearm, slow curveball. We’re sitting on the bench and we go, ‘Oh my god; he doesn’t know that Gentile is a good off-speed hitter. If he throws him another one we might see consecutive grand slam home runs.’ Sure enough, he throws him another one. Bam! Grand slam.”
Laurila: A few years before that, you didn’t play at all. You were in graduate school in 1958.
Hall: “In 1957, I pitched something like 10 innings and gave up 10 or 12 runs.Walker Cooper hit one about three quarters of the way up the flag pole against me in one game. Then they sent me down to Columbus, and I finished the season there. My arm wasn’t great, although at times I pitched OK. In Havana… Montreal, Toronto, and Havana were all in the [International] league at the time, and I pitched a two-hitter in Havana. But then I faced them again in Columbus. They had a five-foot-five shortstop, and he hit a grand slam off me. That was kind of the year I had.
“I’d gotten married to a woman I met in Mazatlán — this December 31st we’ll have been married 65 years — and I had my degree from Swarthmore [College]. In the winter of ’57-’58, the arm issue I’d been dealing with had cleared up, but then in spring training I came down with hepatitis. That didn’t clear up until October, so not being able to do any exercise, I thought I might as well go back to school. I figured, ‘I’ve been playing ball for seven years, and I’m back in the minors, so maybe I should start looking around for something else to do.’ I was in Salt Lake City, so I went to the University of Utah and studied accounting. I took a lot of graduate courses there.”
Laurila: You came back to pitch in 1959, and had a good season for Triple-A Salt Lake City (18-5 with a 1.87 ERA). Then the Pirates traded you that winter.
Hall: “Yes. I’d been the Pacific Coast League MVP, and I thought I’d set myself up to be a starter for Pittsburgh in 1960. That winter I called Salt Lake’s general manager for some reason, and he said, ‘Have you heard the news?’ I said, ‘What news?’ He said, ‘You’ve been traded to Kansas City.’ That was the year that Bill Mazeroski hit the home run and the Pirates beat the Yankees in the World Series. Kansas City came in last. Talk about an inopportune trade.”
Laurila: The guy you were traded for hit a huge home run that preceded Mazeroski’s.
Hall: “Yes, the Pirates needed another catcher, so they traded for Hal Smith. Along with me they sent a guy named [Ken] Hamlin — I forget his first name — to Kansas City. I had arm trouble there, although I did start out pretty well. I was 5-1, then after my second loss I woke up with my arm hurting. The place where the tendon was went bad on me again. I think I ended that season 8-14, or something like that.
“Th next year, Kansas City traded Dick Williams to Baltimore for Jerry Walker. There were [PTBNLs] agreed to, as well. About halfway through spring training, I pitched for Kansas City against Baltimore. Normally a starter might go four or five innings in the spring, but they left me in for the whole game. I pitched a nine-inning, one-hit shutout. It never dawned on me that I was being showcased. A few days into the season I was traded to Baltimore.”
Laurila: You ended up playing in three World Series with the Orioles, but first spent two years with the Phillies. You went from Baltimore to Philadelphia, and then back to Baltimore (in April 1969).
Hall: “The Orioles had moved me to the bullpen, and in 1966 the Phillies were looking for relief pitchers. Turk Farrell is one of the guys they picked up for late innings, and then they got me from the Orioles for a PTBNL. They didn’t bother with that until the end of the next season.
“In 1967, they used me and Farrell as closers, and we both pitched pretty well. But then in 1968 my arm went pretty bad again. At the end of the season I was 38 years old, so they figured I was done. They gave me an outright release.
“That winter I threw in my basement, and my arm felt pretty good, so I called [Orioles GM] Harry Dalton in spring training and told him I thought I could still pitch. He told me to come on down, and they’d give me a look. When your job is safe, spring training can be like a vacation, but I was pitching for my life. Earl Weaver was the manager by then, and I made the club.”
Laurila: You were on one World Series-winning team. Where does that rate among your biggest thrills?
Hall: “It was up there, but there were actually two. The first one was against the Dodgers in 1966. I was on the club, but my arm was bad, so I probably wasn’t going to pitch unless we were 10 runs behind. As it was, we ended up only using four guys [in a four-game sweep].
“In 1969 is when they started the playoffs. It was a five-game East-versus-West thing. Minnesota won the West, and we won the East. The first playoff game went extra innings. I came in with the bases loaded and one out [in the 12th inning], and struck out the Cuban shortstop — I’m forgetting his name [Leo Cardenas] — on a pitch in the dirt. Then I got John Roseboro on a fly ball. In the bottom half, [Mark] Belanger got on, made it to third, and with two outs, [Paul] Blair beat out a bunt. Game over. Belanger scored the winning run. That was the first playoff game in baseball history, and it’s maybe my favorite memory.”
Laurila: What else stands out from your postseason experiences?
Hall: “Well, we played Cincinnati in the 1970 World Series, and had a one-run lead [in the seventh inning of Game 2]. [Moe] Drabowsky was pitching for us — he’d come in for [Mike] Cuellar — and a couple of guys got on base. One of them was on a walk, and Weaver just hated walks. So he brings in a lefty — I think it was [Marcelino] Lopez — to face a lefty. Then he brings me in to face Tony Perez. I got him out, then went on to finish the game. That was a big thrill. There were a lot of thrills over the years, although I can’t remember all of them. Those games were a long time ago.”