"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Observations From Cooperstown: Bill Hall, Mel Hall, and Jimmie Hall

The Yankees’ rumored interest in free agent utility man Bill Hall is a bit puzzling. Should we interpret that interest as a sign that the Yankees do not believe that Eduardo Nunez can handle the defensive responsibilities of being a utility infielder. Alternatively, is it a signal that the Yankees would like to trade Nunez, perhaps in a deal for a left-handed bat who can fill part of the DH role? To be honest, I’m not sure which of those thought processes are running through the mind of Brian Cashman.

Still, Hall is an interesting player. In 2006, he hit 35 home runs as a starting shortstop and looked like a budding star at the age of 26. Stardom never happened. In 2010, he was a reasonably productive utility man for the Red Sox, filling in around the infield and outfield. Then he signed a free agent contract with the Astros, where he flopped as the team’s everyday second baseman. After being released by the ‘Stros, the Giants took a flier on him, but watched him hit a mere .158 in 38 late-season at-bats.

Now 32 years old, Hall will never be a 30-home run man again, that’s for sure. But if he can revert back to the player of 2010, a versatile player who can play three infield positions and all three outfield positions while hitting with some pop, he’s be a useful guy to have. If not, if his 2011 numbers are an indication of his true current ability, then the Yankees will have to tread lightly here. If they sign Hall and trade Nunez, there may not be a safety net available in the event of a Hall breakdown.

When you’re a baseball fan, it’s funny how the mind works. When I hear the name “Hall,” I think of the Hall of Fame, and I think of past Yankees with the same last name. The Yankees have not had a player named Hall since the now-infamous Mel Hall, who was one of the team’s bright spots during the fallow years of the early 1990s. Hall played hard, pounded right-handed pitching, and delivered his fair share of clutch hits, but then he took some “hazing” of a young Bernie Williams to ridiculous extremes, driving the young outfielder to the verge of tears. He repeatedly referred to Williams as “Zero.” When Williams began talking in Hall’s presence, the veteran outfielder chided him by yelling, “Shut up, Zero.” Why this treatment was allowed to go on unchecked remains one of the great mysteries in Yankee history.

Hall also failed to make friends with the front office when he brought his two pet cougars–yes, a pair of pet cougars–into the Yankee clubhouse without warning, creating a mild panic in the process.

Yet, the hazing and the cougar incident pale in comparison to Hall’s post-career problems. Hall is currently sitting in a federal prison, where he will remain until he is old and gray because of his repulsive relationship with two underage girls. Hall was convicted of sexual assault; he essentially raped the girls, one of whom was 12 at the time of the relationship. Sentenced in 2009, he will have to serve a minimum of 22 years, or the year 2031, before he is eligible for parole. If he does not gain parole, the total sentence will run 45 years, putting him behind bars until 2054. Hall is 51 now, so that would put him at a ripe old 93 years. So who knows if he’ll even live that long.

There is one other “Hall” that I remember playing for the Yankees. He was Jimmie Hall, a left-handed power hitter of the 1960s. He began his career with a flourish, putting up OPS numbers of better than .800 in his three major league seasons with the Twins. As a rookie, he set a record for most home runs by a first-year player in the American League, busting the mark set by Ted Williams in 1939. He also had the ability to play all three outfield spots, making him particularly valuable toMinnesota.

Apparently on the verge of stardom, Hall then fell off the map. He struggled so badly in 1966 that the Twins traded him to the Angels. Some say his early decline was the result of being hit in the head with a pitch. Others pointed to his inability to handle left-handed pitching. And then there were those who felt that he was done in by the changes to the strike zone that hurt so many hitters during the mid-to-late sixties, when the second deadball era set in.

By the time that Jimmie Hall joined the Yankees, he was a fragment of the player who had once torn through the American League. The Yankees acquired him early in the 1969 season, picking him up from the Indians in a straight cash deal. Hall came to the plate 233 times for the Yankees, but hit just three home runs and reached base only 29 per cent of the time. Even in a deadball era, those numbers didn’t suffice.

Hall didn’t last the season in theBronx. On September 11, the Yankees dealt Hall to the Cubs for two players with wonderfully opposite names, minor league pitcher Terry Bongiovanni and outfielder Rick Bladt. If you remember either of those players, give yourself a cigar.

So that’s it for the Yankees’ legacy of Halls. Mel and Jimmie. If the Yankees end up signing Bill Hall, we can only hope that he’ll be a better player than Jimmie and a better man than Mel.

Bruce Markusen writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for The Hardball Times.


1 monkeypants   ~  Feb 6, 2012 3:22 pm

Should we interpret that interest as a sign that the Yankees do not believe that Eduardo Nunez can handle the defensive responsibilities of being a utility infielder?

The Yankees should always look to improve the bench when possible. That said. I'm not sure why the organization should have any confidence in Nuñez offensively or defensively. Yeah, he showed some pop last year, but he posted nearly identical OPS+ for the yankees the last two seasons (82, 84) and his MiL offensive numbers were sort of dreadful: .687 OPS in more than 650 games. I know he's only 24, but there is nothing in his track record to suggest that he will ever improve with the stick.

And as for defense, we saw with our eyes what that was like last year.

So, with Nuñez, the Yankees have a poor hitting, poor fielding UIF with speed. That's not the worst thing, of course, but certainly they should kick a few tires and look under a few rocks to see if someone better can be found.

2 monkeypants   ~  Feb 6, 2012 3:23 pm

Uh-oh, forgot to close my italics tag.

3 Chyll Will   ~  Feb 6, 2012 4:17 pm

[1],[2] MP always with the monkeyshines... >;)

Regarding Mel, one would have to ask Stump Merrill why he didn't come down on him or protect Bernie from him; I don't believe it was widely unknown at the time. Not for nothing, but Stump never got to manage or coach in the majors after that season (he also instigated the Haircut Controversy with Mattingly that didn't go over too well with the public unless you were a comedy writer) (note: that aired a week before the incident began; life imitating art?).

I'm not totally blaming Merrill for Mel Hall's behavior (just his ability to get away with it to that extent), but the question was asked and I bet if he and the rest of the clubhouse had stepped up and put an end to Hall's bullying or calmed him the eff down, it wouldn't even be a matter of public record. But then, if you read Buster Olney's NYT article from 1999, it's somewhat shocking and rather sad that Bernie was an unlikely target of disrespect within the organization throughout his career and perhaps explains the awkward parting at the end as well.

4 Chyll Will   ~  Feb 6, 2012 4:25 pm

test test

5 Chyll Will   ~  Feb 6, 2012 4:26 pm

[1] MP, it's not your fault! Something buggy is happening on the page...

6 Alex Belth   ~  Feb 6, 2012 4:27 pm

Should be okay now.

7 Chyll Will   ~  Feb 6, 2012 4:29 pm

Everything I say now is significant! A La Peanut Butter Sandwiches!!

8 Chyll Will   ~  Feb 6, 2012 4:30 pm

[6] ...dangit.

9 Chyll Will   ~  Feb 6, 2012 4:32 pm

Just one of those days I guess...

10 monkeypants   ~  Feb 6, 2012 4:46 pm

So, now is everything in bold?

11 monkeypants   ~  Feb 6, 2012 4:46 pm

[8] Yep!

Yay...it really wasn't my fault, for a change!

12 randym77   ~  Feb 6, 2012 6:56 pm

Hal McCoy, longtime Reds beat writer (before the Dayton Daily News decided they couldn't afford a baseball beat writer - sigh) has posted some spring training stories on his blog.

Scroll down on that link to find out what happened when Paul O'Neill found out he was being sent down.

13 Mrs. Peterson-Kekich   ~  Feb 6, 2012 7:05 pm

I do remember Rick Bladt from his time with the International League Syracuse Chiefs in their games vs. my hometown Rochester Red Wings. It seemed like he got a big hit in every Wings-Chiefs game I went to. I always thought he'd be a decent MLBer, but it didn't work out.

14 Chris in Sydney   ~  Feb 6, 2012 8:43 pm

Wow, Mel Hall is an a***ole.

I agree it's good that the Yankees get a little competition going at the utility position, especially if it's going to be a part-time thing with the rotating DH rather than a straight bench position. That's clearly what they were trying to do by posting for the Japanese infielder (whose name escapes me right now).

But I think it's too negative to characterize Nunez as a "poor" hitter and fielder with little or no chance of improvement. Mediocre yes, but poor is a bit strong. He has good range and a decent glove, but the yips have to be a one-time thing. At 24 with something to prove this year, I think there's a decent chance we will see better defense if not a big jump in offensive production. And if not, I'm sure we will see him replaced mid-season. Hopefully, there will at least be some competition by the start of camp and that will come with the added bonus of AJ leaving. Fingers crossed, anyway.

15 monkeypants   ~  Feb 7, 2012 2:22 am

[12] Chris, in what way could a low 80s OPS+ be considered a "mediocre" hitter? That's simply not good, no way around it. And his minor league career gives no indication whatsoever that he is a better hitter than what he's shown in the bigs.

Can he improve? Of course, anything can happen. But looking at it objectively, he's just not very promising.

Now, for a back up IF who can play all the positions more or less credibly, he's not the worst thing. And he can run, which is also a bonus.

16 Chris in Sydney   ~  Feb 7, 2012 7:02 am

Well, you say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to. I don't like the idea that "x OPS = poor hitter" for a 24-year old, part-time player with limited MLB experience. It's reductionist. But it's fair to say that Nunez' OPS is poor. And as we've said, the bottom line here is that the Yanks are looking around for a replacement or at least competition, which is the right call.

If Girardi buys into the concept that guys in their late(r) 30s play much better later in the season with regular rest, Nunez (or whoever gets the job he appears to have right now) could turn out to be fairly important. Does he get more playing time than last year if he has a decent spring?

17 monkeypants   ~  Feb 7, 2012 7:52 am

[14] It's not just one stat. Look at his MiL numbers: there is no objective evidence to suggest that he will develop into a not-poor MLB hitter. When Jeter hit somewhat better than Nunez two seasons ago,during his fairly awful 2010 campaign, when plenty of voices were calling for him to be dropped to the #9 spot in the lineup. Last year, Nunez had a .313 OBP. That's bad.

I'm not being reductionist at all. Look at his entire corpus of work in the ML and MiL. The man has simply not demonstrated at any level over seven professional seasons, 900 games and 3200 plate appearances that he is anything else than not good at the hitting part of baseball.

He is, however, better than Ramiro Pena.And the fact that he can run makes him valuable off the bench, too.

As to your question about whether he will get more playing time this season, I have to imagine the answer is probably yes, especially if Girardi finally starts to give jeter more regular rest, though last season he did play in 112 games and amassed almost 350 PAs. If he starts any more than that, he will be have become essentially a starter. Add to that 30 or so starts by Cervelli, and the two combine to be potentially a pretty big, black hole.

18 Chris in Sydney   ~  Feb 7, 2012 7:20 pm

I got your point the first time (in [1]) on what you think the numbers mean. Maybe the Hall signing (is he signed?) and Romaine's development will render the black hole, ahem, mute. Or at least make it smaller.

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