The Twitter says the Yankees have signed Bill Hall to a minor league deal (Erik Boland of Newsday got their first).
Last week, Steven Goldman explained why Hall won’t cut it.
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.
Over at the Pinstriped Bible, Jay writes about Bill Hall:
At some point, Hall began working out in the offseason with Yankee hitting coach and noted resurrectionist Kevin Long, who’s done a magnificent job of straightening out both Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson over the past couple of years. Traded to Boston for Casey Kotchman, Hall found plenty of playing time in left field, at second base and in spot duty at five other positions (including an inning on the mound!) for the injury-wracked Sox, and he turned in a season whose overall line is almost a dead ringer for his career numbers, hitting .247/.316/.456 with 18 homers in 382 PA. Underneath the hood, he had a strong rebound against righties at the expense of a brutal year against lefties, some of which may have had to do with habits developed to succeed in Fenway; he took advantage of his natural pull tendency and hit a lot of fly balls off of and over the Green Monster.
In all, Hall would bring an intriguing skill set to the Yankees, as well as liabilities. Unlike Peña, he can competently fill in at six positions (second, short, third, and the outfield) for weeks at a time in the event another player hits the DL, and he can pop a ball out of the yard every now and then. But he’s got a history of contact woes and widely variable performances; anyone who’d be surprised if he were to be suddenly released in June while hitting .141 in minimal playing time because he’s suddenly forgotten how to hit to the opposite field hasn’t been paying attention. Still, for a few million dollars — and particularly with Long on hand to monitor his swing — he’d be a big upgrade on what the Yankees had on the bench last year.
Upton is one of the most talented young players in baseball. The first overall pick of the 2005 draft, he tore the cover off the ball at two levels at 19 and made his major-league debut that same year. His age-20 season wasn’t great by the standards of right fielders, but was fantastic given his age. In 2009, he followed with one of the better seasons ever produced by a 21-year-old. His hitting .300/.366/.532 in the majors when most players his age were in Single- or Double-A compared favorably with any number of current or future Hall of Famers, a list stretching from Ted Williams and Jimmie Foxx to Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols.
This season was a different story. Like his older brother B.J., who had a big season at 22 and then went backwards, Upton disappointed with a .273/.356/.442 season in 2010. Ironically, if he had been a 22-year-old rookie, we might look at the season and say, “Not bad. A little inadequate for a right fielder, but he’s only 22 and maybe he builds on this.” Upton had already set a higher bar for himself, so his season was inevitably seen as a letdown.
It is difficult to pinpoint is the reason why Upton had such an off year, but at 23 it is far too soon to give up on him. He has speed, power, good speed in the outfield, and is probably still several years from the center of his prime. He is also right-handed, and though he didn’t hit lefties very well in 2010, in 2009 he murdered them, hitting .377/.445/.762. In games started by left-handers, the Yankees were 31-27 (.534) versus 64-40 against right-handers (.615).