SABR

Hal Smith

This article was written by Dick Rosen.

Andy Warhol once suggested that “In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” Hal Smith was no exception, even though he had only about 13 minutes of fame, or even less.

Smith could have been the hero of the 1960 World Series were it not for several events that occurred shortly after his heroics in Game Seven. The catcher had entered the game in the top half of the eighth inning after Smoky Burgess had been removed for a pinch-runner in the seventh. Smith donned the hero’s mantle – for Pittsburgh Pirates fans, at least – when he hit a three-run home run in the bottom of the eighth that gave the Pirates the lead over the New York Yankees, 9-7.

But Smith’s heroics were overshadowed by one of the most remarkable World Series endings ever. Thanks to an inspired bit of baserunning by Mickey Mantle, the Yankees proceeded to tie the game in the top of the ninth inning. Then, as the leadoff batter in the bottom of the ninth, Bill Mazeroski lived out the fantasy of nearly every American kid who has baseball in his or her blood. Perhaps there weren’t two out and maybe the count wasn’t 3-2 as we all had fantasized, but it was Game Seven of the World Series and the score was tied in the bottom of the ninth. With one swing of the bat, Mazeroski’s new reputation was launched, and Hal Smith, the hero for a moment, had to make room for him in the limelight.

The eighth inning had been remarkable as well. The Pirates scored five runs in the inning, which featured some of the most memorable plays in World Series history. With the Pirates trailing 7-4, Gino Cimoli led off with a single, and left-handed-hitting Bill Virdon sent what appeared to be a routine grounder toward Yankee shortstop Tony Kubek. It was tailor-made to produce a shortstop-to-second-to-first double play, but not that day. On the Forbes Field infield, which was often called the Pirates’ “secret weapon” because of its flinty surface,1 the ball took a crazy bounce, hit Kubek in the throat, and caused him to gag and almost lose his breath. Kubek had to be removed from the game. New York Times sports columnist Arthur Daley said of this ground ball that it was “spitefully steered by Dame Fortune.”2 The Pirates now had men on first and second with nobody out.

Shortstop Dick Groat singled, sending Cimoli home. Bob Skinner was out on a sacrifice that sent Groat to second and Virdon to third. After Rocky Nelson flied to right, Roberto Clemente hit a ground ball to first base. The removal of pitcher Bobby Shantz after Groat’s hit was felt on this play because his replacement, Jim Coates, did not cover first base as Shantz, an eight-time Gold Glover, might have done. Clemente was safe; Virdon scored; and Groat went to third. The stage was set for Hal Smith. With the score 7-6 in favor of the Yankees and two runners on base, Smith was looking for something that would enable him to drive in the run that was only 90 feet away. Smith knew the Yanks pitching staff well; he had handled most of them coming up through the Yankees’ farm system and catching for the Kansas City Athletics. “They didn’t scare me,” he said.3

Smith fell behind in the count, 0-and-2, on two fastballs from Jim Coates. (The second strike was a swing and miss.) On the third pitch, he checked his swing to stay alive. Then Coates threw another fastball that Smith did not miss. He met the pitch and drove it deep into the left-field stands as his former teammate Yogi Berra, playing left field that day, watched it sail into the seats.4 As Smith rounded the bases, he recalled feeling little emotion (“just another home run”) until he came around second and could see fans along the third-base line standing on the dugout, cheering, screaming, jumping. Only then did he realize the import of that hit. Dick Groat called it “the most forgotten home run in baseball history.”5 Perhaps not so forgotten as just put on the back burners of people’s memories. Joe L. Brown, the Pirates general manager, called this shot “the single most memorable play of my life.” And play-by-play announcer Chuck Thompson, who was calling the game on the radio, said of the homer, “We have seen and shared in one of baseball’s greatest moments.”6

But the Yankees were not finished. Bob Friend was sent into the game to close out the game but he could not; he put two Yankees on base in the ninth and Harvey Haddix allowed them to score the tying runs. That set the stage for Mazeroski’s Series-winning blast. But if not for Hal Smith’s three-run bomb in the eighth inning, who knows what might have happened?

Harold Wayne Smith was born on December 7, 1930, in West Frankfort, Illinois, to Earl and Ruth Smith.7 His father, who wanted to get out of the Southern Illinois coal mines, moved the family to Detroit when he was 11, and became a house painter. Harold played football and baseball in high school. His father insisted that he concentrate on baseball, and Harold became a competent sandlot third baseman. He signed with the Yankees out of high school, and began his professional career in 1949 at Ventura of the Class C California league (ten games) and then Twin Falls (seven games) in the Class C Pioneer league. The following year, still a teenager, he found himself at Newark in the Class D Ohio-Indiana league.

From this point on, Smith made steady progress toward the major leagues. After hitting .363 at Newark he moved up to Quincy of the Class B Three-I League. He progressed through the Yankee system to Beaumont of the Texas League, and Birmingham of the Southern Association, where he hit a healthy .311 in 1953. By this time, Smith was just behind Yogi Berra in the Yankees’ table of organization. His mentor was Bill Dickey, soon to be elected to the Hall of Fame, who had been a mentor to Berra as well. After spring training in 1954, manager Casey Stengel chose Smith to catch the final exhibition game against the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field. But Smith didn’t play in the game, and in fact never played a single inning for the Bronx Bombers. He contracted infectious mononucleosis (often referred to as glandular fever), had a fever as high as 107 degrees, and was hospitalized for ten days. He lost 13 pounds. When he left the hospital he had to do spring training all over again.8 The Yankees optioned him to Columbus, a St. Louis Cardinals farm team in the Triple-A American Association. There he made a remarkable recovery, winning the league batting crown with a.350 average.

Still blocked by Berra, Smith was involved in a 17-player deal between the Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles after the 1954 season.9 The next year, 1955, he was with Baltimore and remained in the majors for ten years. (One of the Baltimore players in the massive deal was Don Larsen who had led the American League with 21 losses in 1954 but two years later pitched a perfect game in the 1956 World Series.

Smith played in 135 games as the Orioles’ regular catcher in 1955 and batted .271. Then in August of 1956 he was traded to the Kansas City Athletics for catcher Joe Ginsberg. In 1957 Smith batted.303 with 26 doubles and 13 home runs, both career highs (good enough to get him a $2,500 raise after a holdout). He was with the Athletics through 1959, even spending a half-season at his sandlot position, third base, and spending some time at first base. In later years he said he felt the Athletics fostered a losing mentality, always trading away their good players. “In spring training the manager would say, “Let’s look good losing this year. Let’s do things right.”10

After the 1959 season Smith was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for three players, catcher Hank Foiles and two farmhands, pitcher Dick Hall and shortstop Ken Hamlin. The A’s had tried to convert Smith into a third baseman, but the Pirates were looking for a catcher to platoon with left-handed batting Smoky Burgess and beef up the hitting of the catcher corps. Smith succeeded, catching in about half the team’s games in 1960 and batting .295. The team of Smith and Burgess (who batted .294) made the Pirates’ catching a serious one-two punch. Smith often seemed to provide the final punch in many victories that year. He was especially lethal against the Dodgers, hitting several of his own “Moon shots” (named for the Dodgers’ Wally Moon) at the Coliseum. In Los Angeles he hit more home runs in 1960 that he had hit the entire previous year with Kansas City. In two consecutive games in Los Angeles in July, he hit four home runs.

Smith slumped in 1961, batting only .223 in 67 games. When the National League expanded from eight to ten teams after the season, Smith was made available in the expansion draft, and was picked up by the Houston Colt .45s. He was Houston’s starting catcher when the 1962 season began, and hit a double and a home run in the team’s first game. But by season’s end Smith had caught in only 92 games and batted a weak.235 with 12 home runs.

In 1963 Smith broke a finger in spring training and wound up spending half the season at Triple-A Oklahoma City. Recalled at the end of July, he backed up 23-year-old catcher John Bateman. At the end of the season he was released by the Colt .45s. “But I wasn’t out of a job long,” he said.11 Within about two months he had joined the Cincinnati Reds, who were looking for an experienced catcher to play a backup role and help the team’s young pitchers develop. Smith had a good reputation for handling pitchers. (He said a former Kansas City teammate, pitcher Ned Garver, had tutored him well. Still, his tenure with the Reds was short-lived and he was released at the end of July. In his last major-league at-bat, on July 22, he faced Mets left-hander Willard Hunter and popped out to the second baseman. He stayed on for a few weeks as a batting practice catcher, but in September was sent to the Reds’ Triple-A team at San Diego, played in a few games, and retired as a player at the end of the season.

Smith returned to Houston, where he became a salesman for Jessop Steel, a Pittsburgh company for whom he worked in Houston during much of his post-baseball career.

Hal Smith: rounds the bases after his home run gave the Pirates the lead in Game Seven of the 1960 World Series.Hal Smith: rounds the bases after his home run gave the Pirates the lead in Game Seven of the 1960 World Series.Outside of baseball and steel sales, Smith was a man of many talents, and being a World Series hero had opened several doors. After the 1960 World Series he sang on the Ed Sullivan Show with teammate Roy Face. (Casey Stengel grunted in the background.)12 He once made $2,500 a month for four months playing the guitar and singing in nightclubs, in a routine with Roy Face.13 When he was with the Reds in 1964, he was a part of a trio including Johnny Temple (guitar) and coach Dick Sisler (harmonica), and sometimes his wife, Ann. Smith’s wife was a welcome addition to the group when she consented to sing with them. Ms. Smith had “a professional voice,” according to Temple.14 They were married on February 4, 1960, and had three children, daughter Debby and sons Danny and Mike. They were later divorced and Hal married the former Ann Shannon in 1979.

An amateur cook, Smith owned a Houston eatery, K-Bobs. Running a restaurant turned out to be a great chore, and that venture ended after about seven years.

In 2012 Smith lived with his second wife in Columbus, Texas, and enjoyed golfing and fishing. In 2010 he had heart bypass surgery, which forced him to miss the 50th-anniversary reunion of the 1960 Pirates.

Speaking of his career, he called his era a “great time for baseball,” and said, “I got to play against some of the greatest that ever played … like Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, and Bob Gibson.”15 Smith’s nephew, Tim Flannery, a former San Diego Padres infielder and as of 2012 the third-base coach for the San Francisco Giants, told him that if he had “played in my era, you’d have been a multimillionaire.”16 Smith expressed no resentment at the thought that he may have been overshadowed by other players during his career. He said he and Mazeroski have become better friends over the 50-plus years since those two famous home runs. Every time “we see each other, Maz thanks me,” Smith said. Other baseball experts also appreciated him. Paul Richards, who managed Smith at Baltimore, called him “a blood-and-guts ballplayer; he goes all out to win and delivers the winning hit.”17

After the 1960 World Series, Smith’s father, Earl, brimming with pride, said something that Hal said he still carried with him: “I saw my son play in the major leagues, and I saw him help win a World Series. If I bowl a 300 game now, my life will be complete.”18 We can only hope that Mr. Smith “hit for his cycle,” but even if he never bowled his perfect game, 2-for-3 is great in baseball.

Last revised: September 17, 2014

 

This biography is included in the book "Sweet '60: The 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates" (SABR, 2013), edited by Clifton Blue Parker and Bill Nowlin. For more information or to purchase the book in e-book or paperback form, click here.

 

Related link 

Hal Smith participated in the Houston Colt .45s Panel at SABR 44 in Houston. Click here to watch or listen to highlights from the panel. (July 31, 2014)

 

Notes

1 Joe Williams, “Adam’s Apple Is Achilles Heel in Yankee Tragedy,” New York World Telegram and Sun, October 14, 1960.

2 Jim O’Brien, Maz and the ’60 Bucs: When Pittsburgh and Its Pirates Went All the Way (Pittsburgh: James P. O’Brien Publishing, 1993), 280.

3 3Jennifer Langosch, “Smith Reflects on 1960 World Series,” MLB.com, June 14, 2008.

4 Chris Hottensen, “Hal Smith: History’s Footnote,” The Southern Illinoisan, Carbondale, Illinois, July 5, 2011.

5 Jim O’Brien, op. cit.

6 Jim O’Brien, op. cit.

7 It should be noted that there were two catchers named Hal Smith playing in the major leagues at roughly the same time. The subject of this biography is Harold Wayne Smith. Harold Raymond Smith, born six months earlier than Harold Wayne Smith, played from 1956 to 1961 with the St. Louis Cardinals, and played briefly with the Pirates in 1964. He was born in Barling, Arizona, and was sometimes known as the Barling Darling.

8 Neal Russo, “Smith Yankee in 1953, Laid Low by Illness,” St Louis Post-Dispatch, October 14, 1960.

9 Traded by the Yankees: Hal Smith, Harry Byrd, Jim McDonald, Willy Miranda, Gus Triandos, Bill Miller, Kal Segrist, Don Leppert, Ted Del Guercio, and Gene Woodling. Traded by the Orioles: Billy Hunter, Don Larsen, Bob Turley, Mike Blyzka, Darrell Johnson, Jim Fridley, and Dick Kryhoski. (Some of the players were unidentified at the time of trade, and were named on December 1.

10 Norman Macht, “Hal Smith Was a World Series Hero – for 15 Minutes,” Rogers Hornsby SABR Chapter website, posted September 14, 2009.

11 Lou Smith, “Hal Smith Wants a Job,” Cincinnati Enquirer, March 3, 1964.

12 Oscar Fraley, “Song and Chatter by Casey,” October 27, 1960, United Press International article in Hal Smith file at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

13 Pat Harmon, “Newest Red Gets Around,” Cincinnati Post and Times Star, December 12, 1963.

14 Earl Lawson, “Hutch’s Hootenanny Makes Lips Quiver, Hearts Ache, Tears Flow,” Cincinnati Post, March 21, 1964.

15 Hottensen, op. cit.

16 Hottensen, op. cit.

17 Pat Harmon, op. cit.

18 Jim O’Brien, op. cit., 283.

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