Dick “Siete Leguas” Hall—Part I: Swarthmore College, Minors, Mexico’s “Liga de la Costa del Pacífico,” Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City A’s

Spring Training, Ft. Myers, Florida, 1955. Kneeling, L to R: Curt Roberts, Román Mejías, Dick Hall and Roberto Clemente. Standing, L to R: Felipe Montemayor, Gair Allie, unidentified, Lino Donoso and Carlos Bernier. Courtesy of Dr. Miguel A. Torres Bernier, a nephew of Carlos Bernier.

What a great combination to have humility, a sense of humor, physical talent, a solid work ethic and superb math/reading skills. Dick Hall, age 88, has these attributes and much more. I became interested in Dick Hall’s MLB career when he was a valuable reliever for the Baltimore Orioles, 1961-to-1966 and 1969-to-1971; and the 1967-68 Philadelphia Phillies (in Part II). One day I read an article about him in a Swarthmore College Alumni Magazine, my mom’s (Class of 1939) alma mater. Swarthmore had rigorous academic standards and true student-athletes. They might, occasionally, have a talented student-athlete. Dick Hall, Swarthmore Class of 1952, was just that.

Five Swarthmore College alums played MLB prior to Richard “Dick” Wallace Hall, four RHP and one IF. Twink Twining pitched one game for the 1916 Cincinnati Reds; Jack Ogden, 25-34, spent five seasons with the New York Giants (1918), 1928-29 SL Browns and 1931-32 Reds; Curley Ogden, 18-19, pitched five seasons with the 1922-24 Philadelphia A’s and 1924-26 Washington Senators; Henry Baldwin, 3B-SS, had five hits/16 AB for the 1927 Philadelphia Phillies; and George Earnshaw—a 3x 20+ game winner, 1929-to-1931 Philadelphia A’s—was 127-93 in nine seasons with the A’s, White Sox, Dodgers and Cardinals.

So how was Dick Hall, six feet, six inches tall, with an MLB playing weight of 200 pounds, able to pitch in the majors until age 41, be part of four AL pennant winners and two World Series champions, lead the 1953-54 Mexican Pacific Coast (Winter) League in homers; then, in ERA, four years later? He became fluent in Spanish, marrying the love of his life, María Elena Nieto—a native of Mazatlán, Mexico—on December 31, 1955. In 1958, after being diagnosed with hepatitis, he spent that season on the voluntarily retired list, and prepared for a post-baseball career by taking accounting courses at the University of Utah’s Graduate School of Business.  

Hall’s SABR bio by Nelson ‘Chip’ Greene is at https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/0cfab8b4. This blog used the bio, articles, Swarthmore College publications, Mexican Pacific Coast League data, a letter from/book by Lee MacPhail, and phone conversations with Hall, April 29 and May 3, 2019. Ed Bauta, Hall’s 1959 teammate with the Salt Lake City Bees, provided insights. Swarthmore, 14 miles southwest of Philadelphia, is a good starting point/foundation for Hall.

At Swarthmore, one of 11 current private colleges in the Centennial Conference, Hall earned 11 varsity letters in five sports: baseball, football, basketball, track and field, and soccer. He was All-League in football and basketball. His long jump mark of 23 feet, three inches still stands. Hall is the college’s all-time leader in ERA (1.69) and strikeouts (281), and tied for third with 13 wins and 213.1 IP. Swarthmore played a 13-game schedule, 1949-to-1951, his three seasons. The top three single-season strikeout marks are Hall’s 108 (1950), 87 (1951) and 86 (1949). His 1.01 ERA in 1950 and 1.08 ERA in 1951 rank one-two all-time. Hall’s 1951 hitting stats show a .510/.587/.962/1.549 slash line, best in school history! His six HR in 1951 (13 games) were tied by RF Jimmy Gill and 3B Spencer Ross in 2010, a 38-game season. Hall’s .412 career BA is Swarthmore’s best, with Jeff Clark (1989-to-1992) next at .398.

Hall played summer baseball (1949/1950) in Worcester, Massachusetts and Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Pittsburgh gave him a late summer 1951 tryout at Forbes Field, watched by Branch Rickey Sr., Pittsburgh’s executive vice-president and GM. Hall stayed at Rickey’s house a full week, prior to Hall’s 1951 Fall semester. Hall did well in his Pittsburgh tryout, as evidenced by Branch Rickey Jr.—Pittsburgh’s farm system director—visiting Swarthmore in September 1951, to offer him a four-year $16,000 bonus ($4,000/year for four years), plus a guaranteed $5,000 salary for 1952 and 1953, the MLB minimum then. Total value of this deal was $26,000. For comparison’s sake, Sandy Koufax received a $14,000 bonus from Brooklyn in 1954, plus a guaranteed $6,000 salary for both 1955 and 1956, when he was kept on the Dodgers roster as a bonus baby. Its total value was $26,000.

“Mr. Rickey was very comfortable with me and my Swarthmore background,” said Hall. “He had a daughter [Alice Rickey Jakle] educated at Swarthmore. Another daughter [Elizabeth Rickey] married Lindsay Wolfe.” Wolfe earned a 1942 engineering degree from Swarthmore. In 1951—at his father-in-law’s urging and support—Wolfe and other investors, including Branch Rickey, Sr., founded American Baseball Cap in Media, Pennsylvania (PA), dedicated to making batting helmets. They opened a factory in Somerset County, PA, just over an hour’s drive, southeast of Pittsburgh. Wolfe, captain of the Swarthmore football team and an All-American in lacrosse, eventually became the owner of this company after Rickey’s departure from Pittsburgh.

Branch Rickey Sr. became vice-president, GM and limited partner of the Pittsburgh Pirates in November 1950. One of his Pirates innovations was proposing that hitters wear head protection. He saw hitters suffer career-ending injuries from 90+ MPH fastballs to the head. Ralph Davia, a Pittsburgh engineer, came up with the idea of making plastic batting helmets. Davia and Rickey joined forces with Ed Crick, a designer for Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company, to make batting helmets. In 1953, Rickey required his Pirates team to wear helmets when batting. By 1956, every batter in the AL/NL had to wear a helmet. Charley Muse, a Pittsburgh Pirates executive, worked with Rickey Sr. in running American Baseball Cap and designing a suitable batting helmet.

Both Rickeys (father-and-son) thought Dick Hall was a “can’t-miss” prospect, destined to be a fine MLB hitter. But Hall hit .138, 17 strikeouts in 80 AB, the first month of the 1952 NL season. Joe Garagiola gave him the nickname of “Turkey” in San Bernardino, California, during spring training 1952. Hall, in 2009, told Mike Klingaman of the Baltimore Sun he was in the team’s cafeteria at [1952] spring training, “shoveling food in my mouth” when Garagiola “saw me and shouted, ‘Look at that turkey gobbler eat!’” Hall had a long neck, so the Turkey nickname stuck. He was sent to Class B Burlington, Carolina League, where he hit .242 playing mostly SS. In 1953 he started at Burlington and then went to Waco, Texas, Class B Big State League (.246 BA, six HR), before a September call-up with Pittsburgh—four singles in 24 AB. Hall’s 1953 tenure in Burlington included a 4-F military classification after being summoned by the Draft Board. Hall started to take his shoes off but according to him, “the nurse said no, we always do this with shoes on. You are 6’7.” Anyone 6’7” or taller was classified 4-F.

Hall experienced Havana, Cuba, in spring training 1953. Rickey had Pittsburgh do their spring training there, away from U.S. reporters, who might pester him about the Pirates 42-112 record in 1952. Pittsburgh’s spring training headquarters were at the Marbella Yacht Club, 23 miles from downtown Havana. Fifty sleeping rooms were provided in the Yacht Club, plus 25 cottages for Pirates officials, two blocks from the yacht club. The Cuban government and the Sports Commission covered the $300,000 cost of these facilities. Training quarters included a new baseball diamond and concrete grandstand with capacity for 5,000 fans. Exhibition games were held at night, at Havana’s Grand Stadium, site of Winter League games. Hall liked Havana; speaking and hearing Spanish was more useful than one semester of Spanish at Swarthmore and three years in high school. Carlos Bernier (via Juana Díaz, Puerto Rico) and Felipe Montemayor (from Monterrey, Mexico), were the only native Spanish-speaking Pirates. Cuban fans were disappointed in manager Fred Haney and the Pirates, during games against the Philadelphia A’s and a Cuban All-Star team. They bet on games but were frustrated when Haney removed starting players early. Rickey had the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers train in Havana, and the 1948 Dodgers do likewise in the Dominican Republic. An outcome of 1953 spring training and Hall’s relatively weak hitting in 1953, was that Branch Rickey felt Hall could benefit from winter ball.

Pittsburgh sent Hall to Mazatlán, Mexico, to improve his hitting, in the 1953-54 six-team, 80-game “Liga de la Costa del Pacífico” (Mexican Pacific Coast League]. He was the league’s top HR hitter with 20.  The season began October 2, 1953 and ended on Valentine’s Day 1954. Teams played 20 four-game series, Friday-Saturday-Sunday double header (10 a.m. and 4 p.m.). Hall picked up Spanish fairly quickly. Venados (Deer) de Mazatlán (48-32) edged the 47-33 Mayos de Navojoa by one game, with no post-season. Guillermo “Memo” Garibay was Hall’s manager. League teams were allowed five imported players on their roster.

Mazatlán teammate Procopio “Bobby” Herrera gave Hall a special nickname—“Siete Leguas”—in honor of the white horse ridden by Pancho Villa (José Doroteo Aranga Arámbula) in Mexico’s 1910 – 1920 Revolution. “I had a smooth gait when I ran,” said Hall. “Bobby pitched (briefly) for the 1951 St. Louis Browns.” Seven leguas is roughly 24 miles, or 38.6 kilometers, the distance Pancho Villa’s horse covered in one day. This compared to the average of 30 kilometers (18.64 miles)/day covered by most horses during Mexico’s Revolution. Singers such as Libertad Lamarque, Miguel Aceves Mejía and Pedro Infante, a native of Mazatlán, memorialized Siete Leguas, via a song. Infante’s version is at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNhhARRxB_Q.

Hall and Carlos Bernier competed for Pittsburgh’s last roster spot in spring training 1954, in Fort Pierce, Florida. The Pirates stayed at the Shamrock Village, ex-Navy training base, converted into 150 efficiency apartments and 44 motel rooms. The Pirates were charged $10 per person/per day: $3.75 for lodging and $6.25 for meals. A Fort Pierce, Florida group met with Branch Rickey Sr., in Pittsburgh, to make their 1954 spring training case, June 4, 1953, the same day Ralph Kiner was traded to the Chicago Cubs in a ten-player deal. Hall made the Pirates and Bernier was assigned to the Hollywood Stars. Hall, who platooned with Jerry Lynch in LF most of 1954, played 112 games with a .239/.304/.310/.614 slash line for the 51-103 Pirates.

Rickey Sr. called Hall into his office, in 1954, to talk about Jackie Robinson. “Rickey had a dual purpose for signing Jackie: Religious-moral reasons; and, ‘if Jackie comes in, then other guys—Campanella, Newcombe, Black, and Gilliam—will follow,” noted Hall, who fondly recalled the time he picked Jackie Robinson off second base (1955) but Robinson was “aggressive, very quick and agile…made it back to base. Then Gilliam homered.” After the 1954 season ended, Rickey sent Howie Haak, Pittsburgh’s best scout, to check on players in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba and Venezuela, in the 1954-55 winter season. Rickey Sr. and Rickey Jr. were interested in Roberto Clemente’s play with the 1954-55 Santurce Crabbers in Puerto Rico. The Rickeys monitored their own players/prospects with 1954-55 Mazatlán, including Hall, pitchers Ron Kline—in the military most of 1953 and 1954—and Lino Dinoso, shortstop Gair Allie and OF Felipe Montemayor.

The course of Hall’s career changed in a December 17-19, 1954 series against Hermosillo, when Memo Garibay summoned him from the OF to replace Procopio Herrera, suffering from back pain. Hall blanked Hermosillo over the last six innings, to win, 3-to-1, and put the Venados in first-place. “We won that one,” said Hall. “Howie Haak was at this game; he sent word back to Pittsburgh to make a pitcher out of me.”  Mazatlán ((47-33) repeated as league champ, with a three-game lead over the Naranjeros (Orange Growers) de Hermosillo, with Luke Easter, league MVP who hit 20 HR, and LHP Gene Bearden, who once pitched for the Cleveland Indians. Mazatlán defeated the Poza Rica Petroleros in the “Little World Series,” three games-to-one. Kline saved games two and four for Mazatlán; Montemayor hit a HR in a game one loss. The series had to end by February 17, 1955, so players could make it to spring training. Two Mazatlán players played in the Negro Leagues—LHP Lino Dinoso (1947 New York Cubans, League champs) and IF Barney Serrell (Kansas City Monarchs). Hall’s most special moment happened off-the-field one Sunday night in Mazatlán. Ron Kline had danced with a lovely lady at a dance hall near the Pacific Ocean. He asked Hall to walk her home because he (Kline) couldn’t speak Spanish. “I married her—María Elena Nieto—on December 31, 1955,” said Hall. “This way, we could file our taxes jointly.”

Hall became a full-time MLB pitcher in 1955. Roberto Clemente, the first hitter he faced in an intersquad game in spring training at Ft. Myers, Florida, cracked his fastball over the 380-foot marker in LF. This began a friendship between Hall, the only Pirates Stateside player fluent in Spanish, and Clemente.

 “Part of 1955-57, I was the only Pirates player, other than Clemente, who spoke Spanish,” noted Hall. He recalled that Montemayor, Donoso, Bernier, Román Mejías and Luis Arroyo were on the Pirates roster at different junctures during that period.

Hall was assigned to Class A Lincoln Chiefs, Western League the first few months of 1955, where he went 12-5, with a league-leading 2.24 ERA in 18 starts and one relief appearance. His .706 win PCT was best in the league. He played LF on days he did not pitch, hitting .302, with 100 hits/331 AB, the team’s top BA. Cholly Naranjo, a Cuban pitcher, and Joe Christopher, an OF from St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, were two teammates he spoke Spanish with. Pittsburgh recalled him on July 21, 1955, and he made his first MLB start, July 24, at home versus the Cubs. Hall fanned 11 in a 12-5 win, and was surprised to find out the team record was 12 strikeouts by Babe Adams during Pittsburgh’s 1909 championship season. Hall was 6-6, 3.91 ERA, after 13 starts and two relief efforts, for the 60-94 last-place Pirates. Bob Friend (14-9) and Vern Law (10-10) were the only other Pirate pitchers with a .500 or higher W-L PCT.

One day in August 1955, Hall was sitting in the visitor’s dugout at Philadelphia’s Connie Mack Stadium when a reporter asked him what had prompted his switch from the batter’s box to the mound. “Simple,” Hall responded. “I couldn’t hit.” Later that [1955] season, the Pirates wanted to send Hall to Puerto Rico, a Winter League better than Triple-A; just below the MLB level back then. Hall told Rickey Sr.: “If I go to Mazatlán, I can work on other pitches…and it’s better for my development to go to Mazatlán. Went there and got married, December 31, 1955.” Hall had fallen in love with María Elena Nieto (the main reason he wished to return to Mexico), and proposed to her right after arriving in Mexico, November 20, 1955—Mexico’s Revolution Day, commemorating the November 20, 1910 start of their Revolution.

Hall’s wedding took place at the Cathedral in Mazatlán, Sunday, December 31, 1955, followed by a brief honeymoon in Guadalajara. “There were apartments by the ocean in Mazatlán,” recalled Hall. “I arranged to rent an apartment; drive back to Mazatlán; and pitch the Friday night [January 5, 1956] game, a 3-1 win—lasted one hour and 14 minutes. My teammates kidded me; that was a quick game!”

On the down side, Hall experimented with a knuckle ball that (1955-56) winter, at Rickey’s urging to throw another pitch to supplement his fastball. Hall injured his arm throwing the pitch. He was 0-7 with Pittsburgh in 1956 and registered no decisions with them in 1957. The Pirates assigned him to Columbus (Ohio) on June 17, 1957. Hall started 12 of his 14 games, going 4-7, with a 4.15 ERA, in 91 innings. His 65 strikeouts to 32 walks were a decent ratio for the 69-85 Jets, who finished seventh of eight teams in the International League. Hall, Lino Donoso and Cholly Naranjo were three of 20 pitchers used by Columbus.

Hall pitched the 1957-58 winter season with Mazatlán, leading the league with a 1.20 ERA, and pitching a one-hit shutout. He did not play in Mexico during 1956-57. Mazatlán (41-21-1) finished first by seven games over 35-29 Navojoa-Guaymas. Hermosillo and Ciudad Obregón dropped out of the league after 10 weeks, leaving four clubs to finish the 64-game season. Mazatlán bested Poza Rica, four games-to-two, in the February 4-10, 1958 “Little World Series,” thanks to the pitching of Bob Miller, a Stateside import, and Geo Lines, a Canadian. This marked the end of this Winter League. It transitioned to the Sonora Winter League, 1958-59 to 1964-65; Sonora-Sinaloa, 1965-66 to 1969-70; and, Mexican Pacific League, 1970-71 through 2018-19.

Hepatitis caused Hall to miss the entire 1958 MLB and minor-league season. He contracted hepatitis in

spring training, prior to being transferred to the Salt Lake City Bees, Pittsburgh’s affiliate in the Pacific Coast League (PCL). “Pittsburgh stopped paying me two months into the [1958] season and put me on voluntary retirement,” said Hall. “I used savings and took accounting (101-102-103) classes at the University of Utah, on the quarter system; took the Case Law Methods course at Utah Law School, too.”

Hall was raring to pitch in 1959 with a clean bill of health. He rewarded Larry Shepard, Salt Lake City’s manager, with an 18-5 mark, league-leading .783 win PCT, six shutouts and the PCL’s best ERA—1.87! He completed 19 of 27 starts in throwing 217 innings, most single-season IP of his pro career; fanned 128 hitters; and issued 28 walks, a 4.57-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio. His Walks plus Hits-to-IP (WHIP) was 0.87. Hall’s completion of accounting classes at the University of Utah, plus his fluency in Spanish, enabled him to prepare the tax returns of Ed Bauta and Carlos Bernier, two Salt Lake City teammates.

“Hall was a big help to me and other Latin American players with our 1959 tax returns,” Bauta told the author. “He was fluent in Spanish from playing winter ball in Mexico and marrying a lady from Mazatlán. I was not going back to Cuba after the government [later] cut our [1960-61] Winter League salaries in half, claiming their half would go to revolutionary causes.”

Pittsburgh called up Hall in September 1959, and he responded with 8.2 solid innings in two games, including one start. His 3.12 ERA was solid. Ditto for his three strikeouts-to-one walk. Then Pittsburgh traded him, IF Ken Hamlin and a player to be named later to the Kansas City A’s for catcher Hal Smith, on December 9, 1959. The 29-year old Hall was shocked and disappointed. He planned on being a starter for the 1960 Buccos, World Champions after defeating the New York Yankees in the World Series, Instead, we toiled for the 58-96 Kansas City A’s, who finished last in the AL.

Hall didn’t know anyone on the 1960 A’s. He started 28 games and relieved one time, sporting an 8-13 record with a 4.05 ERA. He allowed 183 hits in 182.1 innings; had a 79-to-38 strikeout to walk ratio; pitched nine complete games, including one shutout. A few of his best performances, per research done by Mike García—a Kansas City A’s and Royals aficionado from Puerto Rico—included five strikeouts and four hits allowed in a 2-1 win over Detroit, April 28, 1960; a 5-2 complete-game (CG) win over the Washington Senators and young LHP Jim Kaat, May 21; and another CG win 10 days later over Detroit, 2-1, allowing three hits, including a HR by Sandy Amorós. On May 4, Hall and Marty Kutyna combined for a 5-3 win over Boston. Prior to this game, Kansas City reliever John Tsitouris suffered a fractured jaw when hit by a batted ball during pre-game practice—“on his birthday, no less,” per Mike García.

On April 12, 1961, Hall and OF Dick Williams—future Hall of Fame manager—were traded from the A’s to the Baltimore Orioles, for RHP Jerry Walker—an Ada, Oklahoma native—and OF/PH Chuck Essegian. “We were in Boston when [we] got word of this trade,” said Hall. “Williams and Walker were the primary players,” noted Hall. “Essegian and I were secondary.” Hank Bauer, an A’s OF, later managed Hall in Baltimore, 1964-to-1968. Lee MacPhail, Baltimore’s President and GM in 1961, stated: “Objective is not to outsmart someone or even gain an advantage, but rather to give up something you could spare for something you need more…Dick Hall was a Swarthmore College graduate so you might say that I was prejudiced.” Lee MacPhail was a Swarthmore College classmate of my mother, class of 1939. Part I ends here. Part II will focus on Hall’s pitching for Baltimore (1961-66 and 1969-71) and the 1967-68 Phillies.

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