For Hall, Minors stint was step in happy life

Righty posted 2.93 ERA in Eastern Shore League during lone season

Richard Hall went 16-4 in 24 games for the 1948 Milford Red Sox. (Photo courtesy of Becki Hall)

By Josh Jackson / MiLB.com | November 17, 2015 12:30 PM ET

A month into 1948, Richard Hall had every reason to believe he had a bright future.

"When I went to Spring Training, I was just 18 years old, and I got on a train and it was 12 below zero in February in Maine," he said. "I had my laundry with me and everything."

And Hall was right about that bright future -- it just wasn't the one that seemed apparent as he boarded the train. An injury limited his time in pro baseball to one standout season in the Minor Leagues, but he feels that was all he needed.

"It was quite an era, and as I look back on it, it's hard to explain the feelings of what you got out of being there, on the pro field, and to get out of it when I did in a normal life span, I'm so blessed in what I had done," Hall said. "[If I'd] had the right combination of things [happen to get to the big leagues], I might not have gone on to be as blessed in the rest of my life."

At the time, though, baseball was his focus. After four remarkable years as a pitcher for Deering High School in Portland, Maine, Hall went on several Major League tryouts in the Northeast the year he graduated.

"I was all set to go to Bowdoin College on a scholarship, and my father decided it might be a good idea to try out for some different teams," he recalled. "My father signed me up with the Red Sox, and it was the era of Ted Williams and that group."

It wasn't long before Hall met Williams and the rest of the team. Although he knew he wouldn't play in the big leagues that year, he remembers traveling with Boston for a stint at the end of the season, and throwing batting practice to the men whom he hoped would soon be his teammates.

"Birdie Tebbetts was the catcher then, and he said, 'Don't go out there and try to strike them all out,'" Hall said. "The bottom line is, I learned that if I ever let up on my fastball, it moved around an awful lot. I was throwing it soft, and the softer I threw, none of them could hit it.

"Ted Williams was in the outfield shouting, 'Get that sore-arm kid out of there!' So I looked at Tebbetts and I started throwing harder, and the more I tried, the more they started hitting the ball all over the field."

With that experience under his belt, Hall was ready to face pro competition at his own level the next season. Out of the sub-zero temperatures of Maine and into a power car train, Hall met fellow rookie Jim Piersall in Waterbury, Connecticut, en route to Sarasota, Florida, where he spent Spring Training with the American Association Louisville Colonels before being assigned to the Milford (Delaware) Red Sox of the Class D Eastern Shore League.

"It was unusual, because John Murphy and the people who signed me all moved up," Hall said, "so I was in a good position to move up in the organization very rapidly."

Murphy, who pitched for 13 years in the big leagues before retiring following the 1947 season, was picked by Tom Yawkey as the Red Sox's director of Minor League operations during Hall's first year, and the young righty had the attention of the new guard in development. When he joined the Milford club, he showed that he deserved it.

"The first six games I pitched were shutouts, because it was a very low league at the time," he remembered. "Then, whenever I gave up a run or had to come out of a game, people used to holler at me. They'd say, 'Put a fork in him! He's done!'"

But Hall went 16-4 with a 2.93 ERA over 184 innings across 24 games that year, relying on his fastball and his curveball.

"I was very blessed -- it was a natural gift I had," he said. "I threw the ball hard, but when I threw the ball above the belt, it would rise automatically. When I threw it below the belt, it would sink automatically. I never knew why. That was just the way I delivered it.

"The biggest thing was the control. When I was 14 or 15 years old, I'd had older friends come into the backyard and work with me. They were catchers, and they would work with me on pitching -- tell me how to throw it, where to throw it, and I'd always try to hit their mitts exactly where they put them. My biggest passion became having control of what pitches I threw."

As Hall continued to rack up wins, he enjoyed an atmosphere that might sound familiar to some current Minor Leaguers.

"We bussed around [Delaware and Maryland], although we might have taken a train once in a while." he said. "It was so interesting, because we were all so young and we were all trying to move up and get ahead in the organization, but we were all trying to help each other move along at the same time."

All the while, Hall battled worsening bursitis in his right shoulder.

"That really stunted my development," he said. "It bothered me the complete [1948] season, but they were giving me cortizone shots. I didn't have the most pain, but I developed a lump in my back, and I played with it during that season."

Along with future big leaguers Ray Jablonski, Norm Zauchin and Frank Malzone -- one of Hall's roommates -- Hall was part of the Milford club's only Eastern Shore League championship, and he was one of four hurlers in the league to finish that year with a sub-3.00 ERA and at least 15 wins. 

"I was all set to move on. Apparently, I had the highest ranking of any of the Red Sox Minor League players at the time -- that's what they told me, and I was all set to move through the organization rapidly," he said.

Over the offseason, though, his shoulder bursitis didn't subside.

"I wasn't sure [what the bursitis would mean]," he said. "I went down to Spring Training again the next year, and they really felt I wasn't going to be able to go much further because of the injury. I was sad at the time, of course, but I understood that these things happen."

He returned home and took a position as an automobile salesman and eventually became the chief financial officer of a trucking company. While some might have seen Hall's story as a sad one, he never has, because he's been enjoying life as a businessman and a family man. He married a Maine woman named Beverly Murch in 1949. They had three children, and, eventually, six grandchildren.

His wife passed away at the age of 76 in 2006, but four and a half years later he was remarried to a woman he'd known for a long time -- JoAnne Thomas (now JoAnne Thomas Hall), the sister of one of the catchers who'd helped Hall work on his accuracy in the backyard when he was 14.

"We both lost our spouses after 57 years, and we met in high school. We got married a few years ago," he said. "It's been absotuley wonderful for our families and for us."

And while he and his wife follow the Red Sox avidly and he's occasionally gone to Double-A Portland Sea Dogs games at Hadlock Field, Hall didn't miss playing the game he excelled at as a young man.

"Not really, because I was so involved in what I was doing, and I was married and I had children, and I was very happy in the business I was in," he said. "It was a great time in my life to have gone through that. It's not that I try to stay away from it; it's just that I went on with my life."

Hall was elected to the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983, and at his induction he expressed his gratitude not only for the honor, but for getting to play pro ball and still live a normal, happy life.

"That's the message, if I had anything to say: it was a fantastic era to go through and be able to do what I did, but it was blessing that I didn't make it, because I ended up with a very happy life," he said. "That's what life's about, in my opinion. [My friends] are all very generous, good-hearted, family-oriented people. At 86, it's a different thought process looking back and looking ahead than you go through when you're [younger], and to me, what life's about is being a happy person."

Josh Jackson is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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