Football season hasn’t begun yet, but in a way it’s always football season in America. By now, late August, it has already begun to dominate the sports landscape. This depresses and oppresses me. I followed football when I was a kid, loving it as a fan more than any other sport besides baseball, but when I started playing basketball in junior high, football moved into second place, and it’s been falling ever since.
Maybe I gravitated toward baseball and away from football because I have been a skinny weakling most of my life (though a little less skinny now), and whenever I tried to play football, well, I sucked at it and it hurt, so much so that it took away the possibility of even imagining myself into the game, which was, after all, my main port of entry into any sport. There was no place for the likes of me in football.
But baseball? In baseball, you can be short or tall, muscular or doughy, downright fat or so thin that if you pose on a baseball card as if looking in for a sign, your Afro-elongated head tilted forward, you look like a human bobble-head doll. Even I was never quite as thin as the player enacting this pose, Tom Hall (6’0″, 158 pounds, according to the back of the card), and yet here he is, an established major leaguer, so strangely emaciated that he seems to have cleared the stadium of onlookers perhaps frightened away by his habit of turning sideways and disappearing.
Hall, who must be the left-handed relief ace on the All-Time All-Emaciated-Guy team, comes up in Nice Guys Finish Last, Leo Durocher’s 1975 autobiography. While manager of the Cubs, Durocher chafed against the makeup of the club, specifically its over-reliance on aging, plodding sluggers. He couldn’t get permission from club owner Phil Wrigley to even mention the man he most wanted to jettison, Ernie Banks, in trade talks, but after the 1971 season he apparently got very close to dealing the second-most beloved Cub of the time (and of all time), Ron Santo. Durocher rejected the first package put on the table by the Twins, who offered Tom Hall (“a skinny colored relief pitcher,” according to Durocher) straight up for the Cubs’ perennial All-Star third baseman. Durocher turned the deal down, and then for a moment, until the Twins, without warning, went in a different direction (“a man’s word doesn’t mean what it used to,” Durocher grumbled), it looked as if a deal of Santo and pitcher Joe Decker for Cesar Tovar and Tom Hall had been worked out.
Perhaps Durocher should have taken the first offer: In 1972 Tom Hall climaxed a three-year run of bullpen excellence (513 innings pitched, 349 hits, and 551 strikeouts in that span) by helping the Reds to the pennant with a 10–1 record and a 2.61 ERA in the hitter’s haven of Riverfront Stadium.
He stuck around for a few more years after that, but seems to have lost something. (The sponsor of his page on baseball-reference.com, The Human Karaoke Experience, mentions injuries.) This decline would have certainly been more difficult for him had it occurred in Chicago, where every time he surrendered a shot onto Waveland the fans would look at him and feel the gnawing absence of Santo. (Then again, Santo went into his own decline and was shipped south a few miles, to the White Sox, for his final season in 1974.)
But back to this notion of an All-Time All-Emaciated Guy team. Can we put together a squad in honor of Tom Hall and all skinny weaklings everywhere? Who are the greatest ectomorphs in baseball history?