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Original Issue

The invisible man on the mound

The curious case of Baltimore's Dick Hall, who is 6 feet 6½ inches tall and has the same nickname as Pancho Villa's horse, yet remains wrapped in obscurity after 10 big-league years

It is curious how certain ballplayers, entrapped in a combination of obscurities (pale names, losing teams, undistinguished records), manage to disappear from sight even while on display in the most intensely publicized sport in the country. Consider. Everyone knows about Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle and Stan Musial and Warren Spahn, but who ever heard of Dick Hall?

This question was put to one baseball fan who answered, or asked, "He's a—catcher?" Another said that Hall was a reserve first baseman with the Tigers. A third said, "Who?" and let it go at that. A fourth said, "Big tall guy? Pirates?" He was right but four years late.

Big tall Dick Hall—he is 6 feet 6½ inches and the Pirates traded him to Kansas City in 1959—played his first big-league game more than 11 years ago, and he has appeared in major-league box scores In every season since 1952, except for 1958 when he was out of action all year with hepatitis. Right now he is with the Baltimore Orioles. He is a relief pitcher and a good one. Last season he was in 43 games and had an earned-run average of 2.29; only four pitchers in the league were better than that.

This month, during Baltimore's black slump, Hall in relief won one of the three vital games that the Orioles took from the New York Yankees and saved the other two. Last week after the Yankees had gotten 10 hits in six innings off Steve Barber, Baltimore's best pitcher, Hall stopped New York with one hit over the last three innings in a 5-4 game. The one hit was Joe Pepitone's lead-off triple in the eighth inning, but the Yankee attack smothered on two infield taps and a popup and Hall kept the run from scoring. He is a good useful pitcher and a valuable man to have around, but he is almost completely unknown. And that is strange, because Dick Hall and Dick Hall's history are about as far from the stereotype of a major leaguer as it is possible to get.

He is the only baseball player who ever got a nickname from Pancho Villa's horse. He doesn't want to own a restaurant or a bowling alley when he quits baseball, he wants to be an accountant. When he first met the girl who was to become his wife, Maria Elena Nieto of Mazatlàn, Mexico, she could not speak English. So he courted her in Spanish, which he had studied in school and had relearned playing winter ball in Mazatlàn.

Mazatlàn was where he was named for Pancho Villa's horse. The horse of Villa was called Siete Leguas (Seven Leagues, as in Seven League Boots) and was also the subject of a popular Mexican song. The Mazatlàn fans, singing the song and marveling at Hall's height and long legs and great stride, shifted the name from horse to player, "Hola, Siete Leguas!" they would shout at Hall. Baltimore fans, less poetic than the Mexicans, call him Turkey.

Hall comes from a well-to-do family and went to a top eastern prep school, Mount Hermon in Massachusetts. He is a graduate of Swarthmore, a small, somewhat exclusive college near Philadelphia that is extremely proud of its academic standing and not always quite sure whether or not it has a football team. Soccer, on the other hand, is very large there. Hall had a scholarship, but it was an academic scholarship (Swarthmore does not give athletic scholarships) won in competition with other members of his incoming freshman class.

Nevertheless, he was an athlete, and at Swarthmore he played football, basketball and baseball, won varsity letters in soccer and track as well and in 1951 received a bonus of about $20,000 to sign a contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Two or three other Swarthmore men had played big league ball (George Earnshaw was one), but even so this was startling. To most Easterners a Swarthmore athlete signing a bonus contract with a major league team is roughly comparable to a student at the Union Theological Seminary landing a leading role in a Broadway musical. "'Surprised?" said one Philadelphian. "I was stunned. My prep school used to schedule Swarthmore. As a breather."

Fresh from Swarthmore, Hall joined the Pirates in spring training in 1952. He had been a pitcher and an outfielder in college, but under Branch Rickey's guidance the Pirates played him at first base. Then, just before the last game of the exhibition season, Rickey switched him to third. He had never played the position before, but three days later he opened the season as the Pirates' regular third baseman. A month later he was in the minors, playing shortstop. A year later he was back with the Pirates, playing second base. A year after that he was back as an outfielder. In 1955 he was in the minors as a pitcher, but he played the outfield between pitching assignments. His somewhat complicated record that season showed 12 victories, 13 home runs, five defeats, a .302 batting average and a 2.24 earned-run average. He was called up to Pittsburgh before the summer was over and won six ball games for the Pirates (Bob Friend won only 14 games and Vernon Law 10 that year), but he won none at all in 1956, and in 1957 he was sent back to the minor leagues again.

A good, long rest

In 1958 Hall developed hepatitis and sat out the season, which seemed to be all that he really needed—a nice long rest—for in 1959, a pitcher all the way now, he led the Pacific Coast League in victories, winning percentage and earned-run average and came back to the majors to stay.

Hall has one of the strangest and least attractive pitching motions in the major leagues, a curious tangle and twist that ends with an abrupt little flip of the arm. He looks awful when he pitches, but he is an effective competitor. Out of uniform, mild, quiet, diffident, balding, he looks and acts more like an instructor in qualitative analysis than an athlete. Last winter he gave a lecture for the Enoch Pratt Free Public Library in Baltimore on the subject of baseball and literature. He has three small daughters. His favorite magazine is Scientific American. He collects stamps and likes to take his collection along on road trips to work on it during his off-hours. When he was ill in 1958 he began to study accounting, and he works now in the off-season as a public accountant with a leading Baltimore firm.

Dick Hall is nothing at all like Bo Belinsky. A better pitcher, maybe, but then who ever heard of Dick Hall?