One of the great things about the start-up of a new league is that everyone is a rookie (sorta). Another great thing about it is that no matter who it is or what it is, the guy who finishes first in a category is automatically the all-time league record holder. The next season he may be relegated to the scrap heap, but for one year he is the greatest who ever was. Such is the story of George Hall.
George W. Hall was born in March 1849 in Great Britain and came to the United States with his parents. He was good at baseball and by 1871 was considered good enough to be picked up by the Washington Olympics of the newly formed National Association of Professional Base Ball Players. He was a left-handed outfielder who also hit left-handed. He was a better than average fielder for the era, leading the Association in putouts and double plays while finishing in the upper half of the league in range and fielding percentage. But he was also a fine hitter. In 32 games he had 40 hits, three of them doubles, three triples, and two homers. He scored 31 runs and knocked in 17. His OPS+ was 114, the lowest he would have for his entire career.
The Olympics finished 15-15 (with two ties) and folded nine games into the next season. Hall, meanwhile moved to Baltimore where he played for the Canaries in both 1872 and 1873. Baltimore finished second and third those two seasons, with Hall being one of their best players. In 1874 he moved to champion Boston where he won his only pennant. The next year he was with Philadelphia. Again he did well enough with the Athletics to be considered an excellent player, but he was not in the absolute upper tier of Association players.
After the 1875 season the Association folded. At that point Hall was a career .311 hitter with an OPB of .321, a slugging percentage of .431, and OPS of .753 and an OPS+ of 133. He had 353 hits in 244 games with 273 runs scored and 181 RBIs. He amassed 489 total bases, including 46 doubles, 33 triples, and 8 home runs.
In 1876 the National League was formed. Hall and the Athletics joined. It was here that he made his mark. He hit .366, slugged .545, had an OPS of .929, and OPS+ of 204. He also set the NL record with five home runs, none after July. No one else on the team had more than one. Charley Jones (the subject of the post just below) was second with four homers. A number of players tied for third with two home runs (including Hall of Fame players Cap Anson and Jim O’Rourke). It was the only offensive category in which he led the league.
Philadelphia had failed to finish the last Western road swing of the season and was tossed from the league. Without a team, Hall was picked up by Louisville for the 1877 season. He hit well enough (.323), but didn’t come close to his five homer total. There is some dispute about whether he had one or zero home runs in 1877, but he didn’t repeat as home run champion (Baseball Reference lists no home runs).
But Hall had a bigger problem than his lack of power. Late in the 1877 season the Grays were in contention for the pennant, then collapsed. Boston ultimately won the championship with Louisville finishing second. An investigation determined that at least four Grays players, including Hall, were paid $25 a game to throw games down the stretch. Hall admitted to throwing exhibition games, but not league games. Nonetheless other information implicated him in throwing league games. He was thrown off the team and later banned from Major League baseball for life.
It’s very hard to track Hall after 1877. He asked Harry Wright for a chance and was turned down, but beyond that he seems to have stayed away from baseball. He died in New Jersey in 1923 and is buried in Brooklyn.
How good was Hall? As usual with mid-19th Century players, it’s hard to determine. He plays seven seasons but only appears in 365 games. That’s just over two modern seasons. It’s also a much different game; a game where a power hitter can win a home run title with five home runs. He is 28 when he is banned. In current baseball that’s just entering a player’s prime. In the 1870s he was already getting old. He seems to have been a good enough player, but not a true star. Because he threw games in 1877, we’ll never know how much better he might have been with a full career.