Who is the only Dayton Dragons pitcher ever to lead the Midwest League in earned run average for a season? The same pitcher held the Dragons club record for single-game strikeouts for 10 years until his 14-strikeout performance was matched by the Dragons Daniel Renken in 2011. His time in the Major Leagues was brief due to injuries, but in 2003, he became the seventh Dragons player to play in the big leagues. The answer: Josh Hall.
Hall was just 17 years old when he was drafted and signed by the Reds in the seventh round out of high school in Lynchburg, Virginia in 1998. He made 14 starts in the Reds organization that summer, but a shoulder injury that required major surgery shut him down for most of the next two seasons. He returned to action in 2001 with the Dragons, part of an outstanding team that went 82-57 and reached the second round of the playoffs. Hall stayed in extended spring training until the end of April that year and then joined the Dragons for the rest of the season.
His first start came against an outstanding South Bend team that would go all the way to the league championship series. Coming back from shoulder surgery, Hall was exceptional that day. Seven scoreless innings, no walks, only four hits allowed, and four strikeouts. Three more times with the Dragons that season, Hall would fire seven shutout innings in a start. Beginning June 25th, he made four straight starts without allowing a single earned run covering 28 innings. Twice that season, he threw nine innings in a start, a rare occurrence in the minor leagues.
His shining moment with the Dragons came on August 7th against Cedar Rapids when he fanned 14 batters and walked only one in eight innings to establish the club record. The record was approached many times, but not until Renken struck out 14 Lansing batters in 2011 was Hall's effort matched. He finished the year with 11 wins and five losses. His 2.65 ERA led the league and stands as the second best in Dragons history. His career was back on track.
Hall moved up to Stockton in the California League the next season and a 4-0 record led to a quick promotion to Double-A Chattanooga. Despite missing two years with the injury, he was still only 21 years old with a very promising future. Baseball America rated him as a top-10 prospect in the Reds organization.
In 2003, he started the year back in Chattanooga. On August 2, with Reds starting pitcher Ryan Dempster out with an injury, he was called to the big leagues to start against Barry Bonds and the Giants. The results were encouraging for a 22-year-old rookie. He did give up a solo homer to Bonds, one of 45 that Bonds would hit that season on his way to the MVP award, but otherwise, Hall pitched well. His final line showed five innings, two runs allowed, only four hits and just two walks. The Reds won 5-4, although Hall did not get the win. It was a one-start opportunity and he headed back to Chattanooga, but a month later, Hall took the place of the injured Paul Wilson and was back in the Reds rotation for four more starts. His best came against Sammy Sosa and the Cubs on September 15th when he fired seven shutout innings and struck out eight as the Reds won 1-0. He spoke to the Cincinnati Enquirer after the game.
"What can I say? It was a great game," Hall said. "I felt good. I was hitting my spots. That's what it's all about: 40,000 people at Wrigley Field, pitching against the Cubs."
Unfortunately, his final start in 2003 would be the last of his major league career. He reinjured his shoulder, underwent another surgery, and never got back to the big leagues. He missed the entire 2004 season, pitched in the Reds minor leagues in 2005 and '06, and then left the organization as a free agent. He spent the 2007 season in the Washington Nationals organization and then spent most of the next three seasons in independent baseball. His career ended as a member of the independent Lancaster Barnstormers, managed by former Cardinal Tommy Herr, in 2010 at the age of 29.
Hall admitted in 2004 that the impact of the first surgery before he even arrived in Dayton was significant, never allowing him to pitch completely pain-free, as he told the Enquirer.
"I would have good days and bad days," Hall said. "Some days were worse than others....I don't think I was quite 100 percent after that."
Marc Katz, who covered the Dragons for the Dayton Daily News, recalls a conversation he had about Hall with Dr. Timothy Kremchek, the Reds Medical Director, on the day of Hall's first start in Dayton.
"I remember walking down Monument Avenue and talking to Dr. Kremchek on the phone right after Josh Hall's first start with the Dragons in 2001, his first start after the first surgery. When I told Dr. Kremchek that Josh had gone seven scoreless innings, I still remember how excited he was. He told me that Josh's shoulder was really bad when they performed the surgery. It was a great thing that he was able to come back from that and pitch in the big leagues."
Josh Hall was able to come back from one shoulder surgery but not two. Eleven years after he played in Dayton, Hall's name still appears multiple times in the Dragons record book. His big league career totaled just five starts and one relief appearance, enough to make him the seventh Dragons player to play in the Major Leagues. Next up: Stephen Smitherman.
Click Here for Josh Hall's Major League statistics.
Click Here for Josh Hall's Minor League statistics.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.