Hal Smith, Catcher: A Tale of Two Smittys!

smith hal rsmith hal wHouston Baseball”s two Hal Smths were always being confused for one another. It didn’t help clarity much that they played ball in the same era and, worse, that they played the same position and both batted right handed. I’ve forgotten how often the same statement would come up from different friends at games during the 1962 first seson of the Colt .45s: “Oh yeah,” they’d say, “I remember that guy at catcher, that Hal Smith. He played for the Buffs a few years back.”

“No,” I’d have to answer, “this is not the same Hal Smith. This is the other Hal Smith, the one that got one of the big home runs for Pittsburgh in the 1960 World Series!”

“Oh,” they’d usually reply. “You mean that guy for the Pirates wasn’t the same Hal Smith who used to play for the Buffs?”

If this conversation had been part of an Abbott and Costello routine, this would have ben the point where I went to the big question of the day, “Who’s on first?”

Instead of going the Abbott and Costello way, let’s just try to get these two Hal Smith straight and apart for whom they each actually were. To that end, we’ll go the use of middle name initials to help keep their two identities separate and apart:

Hal R. Smith (Harold Raymond Smith) (BR/TR, 5’10.5″, 185 lbs.) was born June 1, 1931 in Barling Arkansas. – Hal W. Smith (Harold Wayne Smith) (BR/TR, 6’0″, 195 lbs.) was born December 7, 1930 in West Frankfort, Illinois. Both were catchers.

Hal R. Smith played for the Houston Buffs of the Texas League over the course of two seasons (1954-55). He batted .259 with 5 homers and 39 runs batted in for the ’54 Buffs and .299 with 8 HR and 67 RBI for the ’55 Buffs. 1955 concluded Hal R. Smith’s six season minor league career (1949-50, 1952-55). Hal R. Smith the next six seasons catching for the St. Louis Cardinals (1956-61), returning briefly with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1965 for three hitless times at bat.

Hal R. Smith’s little time as a Pirate in 1965 didn’t help keep him straight from Hal W. Smith in the public mind. The Pirates were Hal W. Smith’s old team during the 1960 World Series – and that was the season in which Hal W. Smith’s home run in Game Seven kept Pittsburgh alive for Bill Mazeroski’s winning walk-off homer against the New York Yankees.

Hal R. Smith never played for Houston’s major league Colt. 45s or Astros. His career major league record with St. Louis (and three at bats with Pittsburgh) included a batting average of .258, 23 home runs, and 172 RBI. Hal R. Smith also maintains a website that includes much more information about his personal life and career. Here’s the link:

http://halsmithcards.com/bio.html

Hal W. Smith was an original 1962 original club Houston Colt .45! In fact, he caught the first pitch ever thrown in a Houston major league game and it happened at Colt Stadium on April 10, 1962. Bobby Shantz was the Houston pitcher in that landmark moment; future Hall of Famer Lou Brock was the Chicago Cubs lead-off batter.

Hal W. Smith batted .235 with 12 HR and 35 RBI for Houston during the first big league season. He returned to the Colt .45s in 1963 for limited duty action, batting .241 with 0 homers and 2 RBI. Over a 17-season professional baseball career (1949-64), Hal W. Smith played all or parts of 10 seasons as a major leaguer for Baltimore, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Houston, and Cincinnati. His career major league totals include a batting average of .267, 58 HR, and 323 RBI.

Hal W. Smith came to Houston in the 1961 first player draft stocking of the New York Mets and Houston Colt .45s, but he never really went away from the place in Texas that became his home, even though he played two final seasons of pro ball beyond his stay in Houston after the 1963 season. Hal W. Smith and his wife now live in retirement near Houston in Columbus, Texas.

Like most good catchers and pitchers, Hal W. Smith had a memory for hitters’ weaknesses, even among those foes he had faced many years ago. I ran into Hal W. Smith at a 2004 baseball banquet in which I was signng “A Kid From St. Louis,” the book I had written with the late Jerry Witte, a slugging first baseman for the 1950-52 Houston Buffs. Hal W. Smith had played for Beaumont of the same Texas League in 1952 and he remembered Jerry Witte’s weak spot.

“I knew how to get him out,” Hal W. Smith offered, “You threw him a high inside fastball. He’d swing at it and miss just about every time. Couldn’t lay off of it. – You never threw him the same pitch low and outside. He had these long arms that allowed him to go out there and get those low ones out of the zone and send ’em on a long golf ball ride, far over the left field wall.”

Amazing! Almost as amazing as the hope that this little article will now help people keep the identities of Houston baseball’s two “Hal Smith catchers” separate and apart.

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One Response to “Hal Smith, Catcher: A Tale of Two Smittys!”

  1. wade Says:

    good article, especially for those of us who collected baseball cards in those days. There was also a White Sox outfielder then named Al Smith

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