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Mudville: December 3, 2022 12:44 pm PDT
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Queen City Hall

Tom Hall probably isn’t first name that comes to mind when discussing the important pitchers of the late 1960s and early 1970s. That era, like any generation, had its all-time greats that dominated the headlines but standing behind those all-time greats, more often than not, were pitchers like Hall.

The North Carolina native spent 10 years in the Major Leagues, pitching in the postseason in half of them at a time when only two teams from each league made the playoffs. His work ethic, not to mention his versatility, made him invaluable in Minnesota, Cincinnati and Kansas City. And, along the way, he had the opportunity to play for three of the greatest managers the game has ever seen – Billy Martin, Sparky Anderson and Whitey Herzog.

Hall, 74, was a swingman in Minnesota and proved to be an integral part of the Twins’ teams that won West Division titles in 1969 and 1970 under Martin and Bill Rigney. He went to Cincinnati and joined the Big Red Machine, helping them to a World Series appearance in 1972 and second consecutive West Division title a year later under Anderson. Afterwards, he made his final stop in Kansas City, helping the Royals win the American League West title in 1976 while playing for Herzog.

The slight and slender left-hander, whose nickname was The Blade, finished with a 52-33 career record and a 3.27 ERA in 358 career games. While he made significant contributions during his four seasons in Minnesota, his best year came in 1972 with the Reds, when he went 10-1 with nine saves and a 2.61 ERA in 47 games [seven starts].

It all made for an incredible though largely unheralded ride at a time when the game was expanding and changing. While Hall was never able to claim the ultimate prize – winning a World Series title – he proved for a decade that he made every team for which he pitched better. His journey began on the east coast and ultimately ended on the west coast – but during his time in middle America, few were as capable as Hall.

“I think I weighed maybe 135-140 pounds and they gave me a jersey with the number one on it. The jersey was a 44 short and the pants were a 46 and I felt like a balloon trying to pitch, especially when the wind blew.”

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA TO FLORIDA AND THE UPPER MIDWEST

Hall and his family moved from North Carolina to California when he was very young and by the time he reached his teenage years, Hall realized that baseball was his game. He could throw better than most kids his age and was even pushed by some at Ramona High School to showcase his arm even further by trying out for the football team.

His size – he was 5-foot-10 and didn’t come close to 150 pounds at the time – made the decision an easy one, at least for him.

“They wanted me to play football because I could throw but that’s not my game,” Hall said. “Those guys are big. They could hit me in my side and hurt me so I just stayed with baseball.”

Hall, who grew up watching Sandy Koufax dominate with the Dodgers, had a strong high school career but his size proved to be a detriment for some and he was not signed coming out of high school. So, he headed to Riverside City College for the 1965 season and was impressive enough there that Minnesota grabbed him in the third round of the January Phase of the 1966 First-Year Player Draft.

“I think it was because of my size; I was a smaller guy,” Hall said. “The weight that some players had would be looked at but I was the MVP at Riverside City College when I went there. I got drafted in third round and the money aspect of it at that time wasn’t great but it [baseball] was still something I wanted to do.”

The Twins promptly sent Hall to Florida that season where he spent 1966 splitting time between the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and the Class-A Florida State League. Hall excelled in the GCL. He tied for the league lead with six victories, was first with four shutouts and topped the circuit with 100 strikeouts in in 79 innings. Hall, who made the GCL All-Star team, was the only pitcher to reach triple digits in strikeouts, outdistancing his nearest competitor by 48.

His effort earned him some media attention in the local papers as well as a few paragraphs in The Sporting News, which discussed in detail shutouts he recorded in the July 16 and Aug. 27 editions.

That earned Hall a bump to Orlando, where he went 1-0 in three games [two starts], while striking out 22 in 17 innings. Overall, he had a splendid season, combining to go 7-4 with a 1.97 ERA in 14 games [12 starts].

Tom Hall #21 of the Cincinnati Reds looks on from the dugout against the Oakland Athletics during the World Series in October 1972 at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Athletics won the series 4-3. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

“That was my first time going away,” Hall said. “I went to Melbourne for Spring Training and I was facing other hitters now who were the best hitters in the U.S. who had also been drafted. It was a great change from facing the same people in our area here at home. I just kept doing what I was doing, being a pitcher and working to develop other pitches because I knew the guys I was facing now could hit any particular pitch.

“We had over 200 guys there [in camp]. [Former Major Leaguer] Fred Waters was the manager and he told me you made, the cut, you made the team and you’re starting our first game. We ended up winning. That particular [GCL] team was pretty good. We had a couple of guys there who did go to the Major Leagues.”

The good times continued for Hall in 1967. He spent the entire season with Wisconsin Rapids of the Class-A Midwest League, going 14-5 with a 2.16 ERA in 23 games, 21 starts. He was second in the league in victories and strikeouts [177].

Hall took a big step forward in 1968, making his Major League debut as a 20-year-old. He split the season between Charlotte of the Double-A Southern League, Denver of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League and Minnesota, for whom he appeared in eight games [four starts], going 2-1 with a 2.43 ERA over 29 2/3 innings. He made his big-league debut on June 9 by pitching two scoreless innings at Washington before being sent back to the minors.

He returned two months later and made his first career start on Aug. 9 at Yankee Stadium and didn’t make it out of the first inning. Hall failed to record an out, allowing three runs on two hits and three walks.

“I pitched my first game [start] against the Yankees after I had just gotten called up and they didn’t have a uniform for me,” Hall said. “I think I weighed maybe 135-140 pounds and they gave me a jersey with the number one on it. The jersey was a 44 short and the pants were a 46 and I felt like a balloon trying to pitch, especially when the wind blew.”

Hall rebounded in his next start four days later, earning his first career victory by going 7 2/3 innings against Washington, allowing four runs on 11 hits. He started two more games and picked up his second victory in his final appearance of the season on Sept. 22 against Oakland, a 6 1/3-inning stint in which he allowed only an unearned run.

Tom Hall 1972 Topps card.

BILLY AND THE BIG LEAGUES

While Hall reached the Major Leagues, the most important time of his 1968 season may have come during his stretch in Denver, where he went 4-1 with a 2.81 ERA in seven games [six starts]. It was here that he first played for Martin, who had taken over managerial duties from Johnny Goryl after the Bears began the season 8-22.

“In Denver they kept telling me how the ball would travel because of the thin air,” Hall said. “But I enjoyed pitching there.”

Hall appreciated Martin and Martin relied on Hall when he arrived from Charlotte, where he had gone 6-3 with a 1.36 ERA in 11 games [10 starts]. His experience with Martin, combined with his effort to close out the 1968 season, afforded Hall the opportunity to begin the 1969 season in Minnesota. Martin had been named manager and because he knew what Hall could do, kept him with the Twins.

“Billy Martin was the kind of manager that when you did something wrong, he let you know it right then and there,” Hall said. “Then he let it go and allowed you to become the pitcher you were. I respected that. When you did something wrong he told you and gained respect because of that. The players liked that.”

Hall went 8-7 with a 3.33 ERA in 31 games [18 starts] in ’69, helping the Twins to the newly formed West Division title. He was particularly effective against left-handed hitters, holding them to a .168 batting average. His finest moment came on April 18 when he pitched a complete-game, two-hit shutout against the Angels.

“1969 was very exciting being there and winning something like that [the division title],” said Hall, who pitched 2/3 of a scoreless inning in Minnesota’s three-game loss to Baltimore in the American League championship series.

Hall built on his performance that season in 1970, when he won a career-high 11 games while pitching to a 2.55 ERA in 52 games [11 starts]. He recorded four saves and tossed a career-high 155 1/3 innings but did so under Bill Rigney, who had replaced Martin. The Twins had gotten swept by Baltimore in the 1969 ALCS, and would suffer the same fate in 1970, and Martin butted heads with owner Calvin Griffith over who should start the third game of the series. Griffith wanted Jim Kaat but Martin went with Bob Miller. That combined with Martin’s desire for a multi-year deal led to Griffith’s decision to let him go.

“Rigney was alright but he wasn’t as forceful as Billy Martin,” Hall said. “Martin let you know what you did good and what you did bad and it made you a better player managed alright but I didn’t play for him that much to give a truthful enough answer.”

The Twins dropped to fifth in 1971 under Rigney and Hall, who went 4-7 with nine saves and a 3.33 ERA in 48 games [11 starts], was shipped to Cincinnati following the season for Wayne Granger. Hall said the trade came as a surprise but it also afforded him the opportunity to move to a franchise that was busy establishing itself as one baseball’s most dominant teams.

Tom Hall #21 of the Cincinnati Reds pitches against the New York Mets during The National League Championship Series October 1973 at Shea Stadium in the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets won the series 3-2. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

TO THE QUEEN CITY

Hall became an important cog in what was a dominant bullpen and had a career year as Cincinnati won a West Division title before defeating Pittsburgh in the NLCS. It was during the post-season that Hall had his best moments as a Red and perhaps of his entire career. He allowed one run and struck out 15 in 15 2/3 innings of work, pitching to a 0.57 ERA. He picked up his lone post-season victory in Game Two of the NLCS, going 4 1/3 innings and allowing one run in relief of starter Jack Billingham.

Pittsburgh was rallying and had two men on with two outs in the fifth and Willie Stargell at the plate. Hall came in and struck out the future Hall-of-Famer looking.

“The moment that stands out to me is pitching against Stargell,” Hall said. “He was imposing, hell yea. He was tremendous. He was 6-foot-4, 6-foot-5 and he weighed a deuce or more. That bat looked like a toothpick in his hands. You had to be spot-on with your pitches.

“That was a good series and I learned a lot that series. I went in to pitch in certain situations and I learned that I had to have command and not be all over the place, hoping something wouldn’t happen. The Pirates were one of the better hitting clubs and if you made a mistake, you could get hurt really bad.”

Hall added three innings of one-hit ball in the deciding fifth game, striking out four. He was also on the mound for the final at-bat of Roberto Clemente’s career, issuing the future Hall-of-Famer an eight-inning intentional walk.

“Clemente could hit any pitch,” Hall said. “Trying to get him out was amazing.”

Hall pitched 8 1/3 scoreless innings in the World Series, including two scoreless in Game Seven. Oakland, however, won the first of three consecutive World Series titles.

“Oakland had a tremendous lineup at that time but Reggie Jackson wasn’t playing because he was hurt,” Hall said. “But Sal Bando and the rest of them were swinging pretty good bats. I didn’t give up any runs in four games, though, and had a pretty good series because I pitched against a lot of them in Minnesota and had a better idea of how to pitch them.”

He embraced his role of swingman again in 1973, starting in seven of his 54 appearances. He had a 3.47 ERA with eight saves and eight wins but got pounded in the NLCS against the Mets, allowing four runs on three hits and three walks in 2/3 of an inning over the course of three games. That included a three-run homer to Rusty Staub in New York’s 9-2 Game Three victory.

Tom Hall #21 of the Cincinnati Reds pitches against the Oakland Athletics during the World Series in October 1972 at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Athletics won the series 4-3. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

“I came in to pitch that particular time against Rusty Staub,” Hall said. “Manuel Mota had said once that I threw a hard slider and I threw him [Staub] that slider and he hit it out to right field. When I [later] got traded to the Mets we would laugh about it. The Mets had a good hitting team with Cleon Jones, John Milner, all of them.”

While Hall largely enjoyed success with the Reds, he noticed a difference between manager Sparky Anderson and Martin.

“Billy Martin was a team manager and would get along with everyone whereas Sparky would have his guys that he would get along with like [Pete] Rose, [Johnny] Bench, [Joe] Morgan and [Dave] Concepcion,” Hall said. “He was kind of an individualist with the team. Sparky also had his bullpen crew with guys like Clay Carroll and Pedro Borbon and I had to fit into that but I ended up going 10-1 so I got approval in certain ways.”

Hall suffered an injury in Pittsburgh the following year, cutting his finger on a soap dish in the visiting clubhouse shower. It hampered him for much of the year and he finished the year by going 3-1 with a 4.08 ERA.

“That year I was out a couple times and having to come back don’t think my stuff was as good,” Hall said. “The cut was on the index finger on throwing hand and I think maybe I had a little concern with that.”

NEW YORK, KANSAS CITY AND SAYING GOODBYE

The Reds traded Hall to the Mets for Mac Scarce after two appearances in 1975. He went 4-3 with a 4.75 ERA in 34 games, four of which were starts. He appeared in five games for the Mets in 1975 before he was traded to Kansas City for Bryan Jones.

“I liked my time in New York,” Hall said. “The fans were very committed to the game. They knew exactly what was happening as much as we did on the field. They respected their players to the utmost. I thought we had a good team. We definitely had good hitting and with Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman pitching, I thought we had a good team.

Tom Hall #21 of the Cincinnati Reds bats against the Oakland Athletics during the World Series in October 1972 at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Athletics won the series 4-3. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

“Going in behind Tom Seaver was a chore. He threw a lot harder than I did and me going in there behind him was like throwing batting practice. He’s throwing in the mid-90s and I’m throwing in the mid-80s to low 90s. There was a lot of contrast following him like that.”

Hall pitched 30 1/3 innings over 31 appearances for the Royals, who won the American League West title under Herzog before dropping a thrilling ALCS to the Yankees. He pitched a scoreless third of an inning against the Yankees.

He appeared in seven games the following season before getting released in June. He signed with the Twins and after a brief run with their PCL affiliate in Tacoma, called it a career. Hall began to experience shoulder problems as well. That and not seeing eye-to-eye with Herzog helped bring his career to an end.

“At the end with Kansas City, some things happened that didn’t sit well with me,” Hall said. “One time against the White Sox, Lamar Johnson came to bat and he [Herzog] told me to throw him nothing but fastballs. I threw him all fastballs and struck him out and he took me out of the game even though the next hitter was a lefty.

“And, usually in spring training my elbow would swell a little, go up and then go down and I started to have shoulder problems compensate for that. When I got to Kansas City, my arm was in pretty good shape but maybe I didn’t have the velocity on my fastball.”

Hall would go to Anaheim Stadium and San Diego/Jack Murphy Stadium and occasionally throw batting practice for the Angels and Padres after retiring but he never got back into baseball on a fulltime basis. Instead, he went on to spend more than 20 years working for the U.S. Postal Service.

He still watches some baseball and has no regrets about his playing days.

“Being in the Major Leagues, you don’t ever want to leave,” Hall said. “It was something I wanted to do throughout my whole life. I enjoyed playing the whole time. Whether you have a good year or a bad year, you just try to make it better the next year. I enjoyed playing in the Major Leagues.”

Covered a Mets-Astros doubleheader in 1987 and never looked back. Spent eight years at MLB.com, more than half of that as the Mets beat writer. Had one beat writer from another newspaper threaten to kill him in an elevator at the winter meetings. The other half was as MiLB.com’s staff historian. Worked three years in Philly at Comcast covering the Phillies’ minor leagues and doing weekly TV spots. Author of the popular blog The Bobblist, which covers everything A to Z in the world of bobbleheads. Really.

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