Glancing Back, and Remembering Hal Smith
When Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski blasted the first walk-off home run in World Series history in 1960, his lead-off solo home run in the bottom of the ninth was possible because of what happened in the eighth inning … thanks to a reserve catcher named Hal Smith.
A catcher and sometime third baseman, Smith was originally signed by the New York Yankees in 1949 but never played for New York. After five years in the Yankees’ farm system, Smith was traded (with Gus Triandos and Gene Woodling, among others) to the Baltimore Orioles for players to be named later plus Billy Hunter, Don Larsen and Bob Turley. Smith made his major league debut with the Orioles in 1955, batting .271 as a 24-year-old rookie with four home runs and 52 RBIs. He led the team in doubles that season with 23.
Smith was hitting .262 for the Orioles when he was traded to the Kansas City Athletics in 1956. He hit .303 for the A’s in 1957 with 13 home runs and 41 RBIs. He batted .273 in 1958 and .288 in 1959, only to be traded again, this time to the Pittsburgh Pirates in a deal that brought Dick Hall and Ken Hamlin to the A’s.
As the team’s backup to Smoky Burgess, Smith batted .295 in 1960 with 11 home runs and 45 RBIs. His lone home run in the 1960 World Series was particularly timely. In the seventh game of the Series, the Pirates trailed the Yankees 7-4 going into the last half of the eighth inning. Four Pirate hits produced two runs, including RBI singles from Dick Groat and Roberto Clemente. With two outs and two runners on base, Smith came to bat after having been inserted as a defensive replacement in the top of the eighth. He promptly homered off Yankee right-hander Jim Coates to put the Pirates ahead 9-7.
Smith should have been the World Series hero, but the Yankees scored two runs in the ninth inning to tie the game and set the stage for Mazeroski’s dramatic game-winner in the ninth.
From 1957 through 1960, Smith hit for a combined batting average of .290. He would never reach that batting average again. He batted .223 for the Pirates in 1961, and was selected by the Houston Colt .45s in the 1961 expansion draft. As Houston’s starting catcher, Smith batted .235 in 1962 with 12 home runs and 35 RBIs. It would be his last season as a starter.
Smith appeared in 31 games in 1963 as the backup to John Bateman, hitting .241. His last season in the major leagues was with the Cincinnati Reds in 1964, when he batted .121 as a reserve catcher and pinch hitter.
Smith’s big league career lasted 10 seasons. He retired with 715 career hits and a batting average of .267.