Hal Smith spent six seasons as the St, Louis Cardinals’ regular catcher, 1956-1961 and might have spent another five or six years in the same role if a heart ailment hadn't ended his playing career in June 1961.
Years ago an interviewer asked Smith if he believed the health-care advances of the past 40 years would have enabled him to go on medication and continue playing. "There's no question in my mind," Smith said. As minor-league manager and major-league coach, he "pitched batting practice almost every day and did everything physical on the field except actually play,"
In 1965, while he was working as a Pittsburgh Pirates Coach, injuries created a catching shortage that prompted the Pirates to activate Smith. He caught in four games without ill effect before returning to the retired list.
Born at Barling, AR near Fort Smith, AR in 1931, Smith was signed by the Cardinals out of the Fort Smith American Legion baseball program. A six-year climb through the St. Louis farm system (sandwiched around a stint of military duty in 1951) landed him with the parent club in 1956.
He was part of a generation of Cardinals that included Ken Boyer, Bill White, Wally Moon, Don Blasingame, Lindy McDaniel. and Vinegar Bend Mizell. They came closest to a National League pennant in 1957, when they finished second in a close race with the Milwaukee Braves.
At the end of his playing days, Smith ranked in the all-time top four among St, Louis catchers for lifetime fielding percentage (.989, second to Tim McCarver's .990), chances per game (third, 5.7), putouts per game (third, 5.1) and total chances (fourth 3,077).
In 1959, his most productive offensive season, Smith batted .270 with 13 home runs and 50 RBI. Overall, he hit .258 in 570 big-league games.
He finished his baseball career as a longtime Cardinals scout, based in Houston.