Russ Hall

This article was written by Chris Rainey

Russ Hall spent 45 years in baseball, starting with semipro ball in his hometown of Shelbyville, Kentucky. During his playing days, he was a baseball rarity. He threw left-handed yet played shortstop and third base. He went on to be a manager, umpire, scout, and owner. His final job was as secretary of the Association of Professional Ball Players of America (APBPA). He was one of the group’s founding members and helped to guide it from 1924 to 1937. When he passed away in July 1937, his funeral was held at home plate at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles and was attended by 1,000 friends and acquaintances.

Robert Russell Hall was born on September 29, 1871. Shelbyville is in central Kentucky between Louisville and Frankfort. Surprisingly, a second major leaguer came from the town of just over 1,000 inhabitants. In July 1871, Dan McGann was born in Shelbyville; he went on to a 12-year major league career. Hall’s parents were John S. Hall and Olga Russell. Marriage records for the county have a nine-year gap, making verification of a wedding impossible. John worked on the family farm until he left the county when Russell was very young. Russell was left in the care of his grandmother, Mrs. Crawford Hall. He lived with her until baseball took him away from Shelbyville.

Kentucky was a hot bed for baseball. Shelbyville annually fielded a town team and Hall began playing with them in 1892.1 In 1894 Shelbyville entered the Bluegrass League and Hall was appointed captain. In July, following a 5-3 loss to the Louisville Colonels in an exhibition, the original sponsor dropped out. Hall was then acquired by the Mount Sterling franchise in the same league where he “played a phenomenal third base for them.”2 Shelbyville found a new sponsor, but soon dropped out of the league. The sponsors complained about contracts that ranged from $40-75 a month for players on the semipro team.3

In 1895 Hall joined the Maysville Rivermen in the Ohio River League. He may also have played with other teams because he appears sporadically in the Maysville box scores of June and July. The season opened in May and Hall played shortstop. Later in the year, John Heileman from Cincinnati won the shortstop job and Hall played right field. He patrolled the garden on June 28 and August 9 when Maysville defeated the Cincinnati Reds. Dan McGann was in the infield for both games.

Hall was signed by Con Strouthers of the Columbus, Georgia, Babies in the Southern Association for 1896. He played mostly shortstop with a few games at third base. In the season opener against Atlanta he batted cleanup and went 3-for-5. As the season went on, he dropped down in the batting order but hit a respectable .262 and his 17 doubles were third on the team.

The following season Hall was recruited by fellow Kentuckian John McCloskey to play for the Dallas Steers in the Texas League. Hall was now 25 and entering his prime as a ballplayer. He was listed at 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds in the Dallas papers.4 Hall batted lefty as well as throwing left-handed. A left-handed shortstop has issues throwing on balls hit to his right, but Hall developed a strong, accurate arm. His foot work and timing were also excellent; he helped turn three double plays in an August 2 game with Austin.

The Steers struggled in the first half of the schedule. Hall was batting .297 at the break, third highest on the team while splitting time between third base and shortstop. The Steers played over .500 in the second half, but league franchises slowly went out of business. Ft. Worth and Dallas claimed to be the last two franchises in action and announced they would play a series for the league title. The final game ended in wrangling over a Dallas hit that may or may not have been a home run. The umpire declared a forfeit and the teams decided to end their series in a tie.

That fall Hall was the subject of much speculation in the newspapers. Connie Mack in Milwaukee announced that he was going to sign Hall. Grand Rapids also showed interest. But the St. Louis Browns drafted him. The Browns had jettisoned nearly all their players to start with a clean slate in 1898. Meanwhile, Hall claimed that Dallas had not paid all his salary and he was therefore a free agent. While that situation was being sorted out, Charley Dooley of Montreal started negotiations with Hall. In the end, National League President Nicholas Young ruled that St. Louis had paid the $200 for draft rights to Hall and he was the property of the Browns.

Hall had little notion of what awaited him. The Browns were owned by Chris Von der Ahe. He hired former umpire Tim Hurst to manage a team with only three holdovers (Tommy Dowd, Tuck Turner, and Kid Carsay) on its roster. A 39-111 record attests to the caliber of the talent that was assembled. As if the team’s performance was not bad enough, the grandstand burned to the ground during the second game of the season. Before the season was over, Von der Ahe would be kidnapped by a business associate and eventually run out of baseball.

Hall went to spring training at West Baden, Indiana, expecting to battle Jim Donnelly for the shortstop job. Donnelly was late in arriving and Lave Cross was installed at shortstop. In the early exhibition games Hall was used as a third baseman and first baseman. When the season opened on April 15, he was at third base. The Browns dropped the opener 2-1 to Clark Griffith and the Chicago Orphans. Hall went 0-for-3 and committed an error by dropping a ball in a rundown. He handled the six balls hit to him and the Chicago Tribune writer mentioned he “played a remarkable third today.”5

He was shifted to shortstop for the third game of the season. Hall had come to St. Louis with the reputation of a stellar gloveman. But soon into the season, his performance did not meet with the expectations of the fans or the press. The writers were quick to mention each of Hall’s mistakes. Hurst came to his defense and asked for the scribes to be merciful, but his plea was met with the headline “His Shortstop is Too Sensitive.”6 Even when he played well, the compliment was backhanded, “The surprise yesterday was not only the capture of the game, but the wonderful work of Hall, who helped put out the lives of eight men.”7 Hall’s best day came May 28 against Brooklyn when he had a double, single, and four runs batted in.

After much speculation, the management brought in Germany Smith as a replacement on June 6. Hall saw action in 39 games, batted .245, and posted an anemic .839 fielding percentage. When he was replaced, he had made more errors than all the other infielders on the Browns combined. Smith fielded .904, but hit .159. Hall returned to Shelbyville and was appointed manager of the local team. He went west for three weeks in August and played with the Wichita Eagles in the Kansas State League. When they disbanded, he returned home and arranged an exhibition with the Browns for September 6.

The Browns had a break in the schedule between games in Louisville and Chicago. The Browns sent rookie John Callahan to the mound in Shelbyville. Hall tattooed his offerings for four hits, including a home run. He also fielded flawlessly leading Shelbyville to a 12-9 victory. The win undoubtedly gave Hall a sense of satisfaction.8

Early in 1899, Hall put the Kentucky University team through early season workouts. He left the collegiate diamond and joined Columbus in the Western League for the regular season. Manager Tom Loftus of Columbus was named team president of the Dubuque franchise in the Western Association in May. That franchise was struggling and Loftus sent Hall and outfielder Charles Zeitz to join the team. The league disbanded soon after. Hall rejoined Columbus and was traded to Buffalo on June 20 for Pat McCauley, Frank Eustace, and cash. Buffalo released him in August. The Spalding Baseball Guide lists him with 90 games played and a .241 batting average.

The Western League became the American League and a new collection of teams stretching from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Denver, Colorado, became the Western League in 1900. Hall signed with the St. Joseph Saints in March. He played 95 games, most of them at shortstop, and earned good reviews for his work on the diamond. He batted .284 to finish fourth on the team behind Joe Schrall, Johnny Kling, and Sammy Strang.

After the league closed he caught on with Helena in the Montana League. Helena won the first-half title, but were struggling when Hall joined them. He played 15 games at shortstop and per the Reach Baseball Guide batted .315. He teamed with Joe Tinker in the Saints infield. Great Falls and Helena staged a five-game championship series that went to Great Falls.

The Western League expanded to eight teams in 1901 and Hall rejoined St. Joseph. In mid-July, he was sent to Cleveland. He started the July 16 game versus Boston and Cy Young. Hall made two hits and scored twice. He also made three miscues in the field including two in the ninth when Boston scored five times to ice a 10-8 win. The Cleveland Plain Dealer summed up his last major-league game stating, “he proved conclusively that he is not fast enough for the company.”9 Hall returned to St. Joseph and closed out the Western League season. Then he went west and joined Los Angeles in the California League where he hit .271 in 44 games.

Hall returned to St. Joseph in 1902 played in 140 games and batted .242. The Saints swapped Hall to Western League rivals Kansas City the next spring for first baseman Bill Kemmer. Hall opted instead to stay on the West Coast to start the 1903 season. He coached the Riverside high school baseball team then played for Los Angeles in the eight-team Pacific National League, hitting .258 in 84 games. Late in the season he joined Kansas City in the American Association for 10 games at third base. He hit a robust .410.

From 1904 to 1906 Hall played for the Seattle Siwashes in the Pacific Coast League. He played 219 games in 1904 and followed up with 203 in 1905. In that season, he was also appointed manager. In 1906 he was player-manager but his on-field action was limited by a sprained ankle and then came to an end when he hurt a knee sliding into Portland’s catcher Larry McLean on a play at the plate. In September, he was involved in a deadly streetcar crash in Seattle. He suffered some injuries but made a full recovery. Hall’s injuries coupled with the loss of Johnnie Kane to injury dropped the Siwashes from contention. They finished a distant second to Portland.

Hall was the field manager in Seattle, the business manager was Jim Agnew. Agnew was also the county auditor and responsible for issuing official documents including marriage licenses. In 1905, Hall met Ada Belle Larson, a pretty lass from Ventura, California. She was the sister-in-law of pitcher Charley Hall. Despite a 15-year age difference, Hall and Ada fell in love. He managed to keep the romance quiet over the next year, although his behavior raised suspicion from his friends. In November, he waited until Agnew left his office post for lunch. Then Hall went to the office and procured a marriage certificate for himself and Ada. The couple wed quietly on November 22, 1906, and honeymooned in Victoria, Canada.10 The marriage ended in divorce in May 1916. There is no evidence that the couple ever had children.

In 1907, Hall acquired the Butte, Montana, franchise in the Class B Northwestern League. Hall served as manager of the Miners who finished in fourth place; the following year they finished fifth. In 1909 Hall became part owner of the Tacoma Tigers in the Northwestern League. They finished last, 50 games off the pace.

He was out of organized baseball temporarily in 1910. He served as manager of the Glide skating rink and fielded a semipro team on which he played shortstop. When Gene “Rasty” Wright was removed as an umpire in the Northwestern League, Hall was appointed in his place. He made his debut on June 23. In 1911 and 1912 he umpired in the Washington State League. Then he spent two seasons in the Western Tri-State League as umpire. He received good press as an arbitrator, earning a reputation for fairness and a willingness to fine or eject individuals who crossed his path. Once in a charity game in Tacoma he even fined the mayor $5 for backtalk.11

In 1915 he returned to the dugout as manager of the Tacoma Tigers in the Northwestern League. The following season he became owner/manager and held that post until 1918. Tacoma disbanded on May 26, 1918, after 22 games; many of the players then turned to the shipyards league. Hall returned to managing rinks and dance halls. In 1920 he became a scout for the Cincinnati Reds.

Eddie Householder was an outfielder who had a 13-year career on the West Coast. He became a fan favorite playing with nine teams over that time. In 1924 he was taken ill and did not have the resources to cover expenses and get the care he needed. A group of old-timers, including Hall, heard of Householder’s plight. They took up a collection to help with immediate needs. Later they met at a local café and arranged a benefit game with proceeds to go to Householder’s family.

The benefit game was a rousing success and raised $1,700 for the family. On October 24, 1924, Hall and other old-timers met in a Los Angeles restaurant and created the Association of Professional Ball Players of America (APBPA). The goal was to assist former players who had fallen on hard times. Members would pay yearly dues and an old-timers game would be held each year.

Hall was appointed director and the next year he was elected secretary, which was a full-time, paid position. It was Hall’s job to dispense relief funds. In 1927 Hall convinced Commissioner Landis that Major League Baseball should contribute to the efforts of the APBPA. At first the Commissioner’s office promised to match the dues collected. In the early years of the Depression, Hall made do the best he could with limited funds. When the Major League All-Star game was begun in 1933 the APBPA was granted a cut of the proceeds. By this time membership had climbed to 2,600 and 47 former players were receiving monthly checks to help their families.12

Hall took it upon himself to be the ultimate ambassador for the APBPA. He attended the winter meetings of both the major and minor leagues. It was not unusual for him to be on the road several weeks in the winter attending as many old-timers’ gatherings as possible. When he was not traveling, he was headquartered in Los Angeles. He claimed to have an address list of nearly all the former players, both major and minor leaguers. “Whenever I hear of a member in distress I get one of our members who lives nearby to look him up.”13 During the 1920s he remarried. His wife, the former Amelia Petry Chinn of Shelbyville, understood the commitment Hall made to the APBPA and accepted the lengthy trips and long hours in the office.

Hall claimed to know more baseball players, umpires, and owners than anyone else. He could be “gruff, but with a heart of gold.”14 His compassion and a ready supply of baseball stories made him welcome at gatherings across the country. In May 1937 Hall was afflicted with severe indigestion. The condition kept him from working for almost seven weeks. In late June, he returned to his desk at the APBPA office. He was quietly tending his garden at home on July 1, 1937, when he was stricken with a massive heart attack.15 After the funeral service, he was interred in the Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California. The Shelby Sentinel noted that he left behind Amelia, her daughter Bessie, and his best friend in baseball, August Weyhing.16

 

Notes

1 Interior Journal (Stanford, Kentucky), April 26, 1892: 1.

2 The Public Ledger (Maysville, Kentucky), May 21, 1895: 1.

3 The Shelby News (Shelbyville, Kentucky), July 11, 1894: 7.

4 “Russ Hall Signed,” Dallas Morning News, March 21, 1897: 24.

5 Chicago Tribune, April 16, 1898: 7.

6 St Louis Post-Dispatch, May 29, 1898: 15.

7 “Browns Got Game,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 4, 1898: 5.

8 Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 8, 1898: 6.

9 “Good Start, Bad Finish,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 17, 1901: 3.

10 “Russ Hall in Role of Gay Deceiver,” Seattle Daily Times, November 23, 1906: 14.

11 “Tacoma Mayor Sasses Umpire and is Fined,” Seattle Daily Times, August 11, 1911: 8.

12 Paul Zimmerman, “Indigent Ball Players Benefit from Big Game,” Evening Post (Charleston, South Carolina), August 3, 1933: 10. Additional information came from the Sporting News obituary for Hall dated July 8, 1937.

13 John Connolly, “Player’s Association Pays $80,000 in Benefits,” The Sporting News, February 23, 1933: 5.

14 J. Taylor Spink, “Hall’s Passing, Tragedy to Many,” The Sporting News, July 8, 1937: 4.

15 “Death Beckons to Russ Hall,” Los Angeles Times, July 2, 1937: 13.

16 “Died Suddenly in Los Angeles,” Shelby Sentinel (Shelbyville, Kentucky), July 9, 1937: 1&5.