Monday, August 1, 2011

Cards' Smith was hillbilly entertainer

Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

In an article in the May 4, 1960, Sporting News, Ralph Ray reviewed the off-field “talents” of various members of the St. Louis Cardinals whom he characterized as manager Solly Hemus’ “Rollicking Redbirds.”

The article was evidently an attempt to distract fans from the Cardinals 7th place finish in 1959 and questionable prospects for 1960, amid speculation that Stan Musial, who had batted a career low .255 in 1959, was through as a ballplayer. Musial rebounded some, to .275 in 1960, and the Cards finished third in the National League.

Among the hidden talents that Ray revealed was that catcher Hal R. Smith (not to be confused with Hal W. Smith, also a catcher, for the Pirates), “the club’s No. 1 entertainer, plays a mean boogie-woogie piano.”

Labeling Smith as a “bench wit . . . sharp with repartee,” Ray said that Smith was a writer of western songs, with two dozen titles among his credits.

Noting that none of Smith’s songs would, “threaten the hit parade,” Ray listed some of the titles as “Robot Romp,” “”Sittin’, Spittin and Whittlin’,” “Pretty Near But Not Plumb,” “30 Yards of Petticoat and a Nickel’s Worth of Gum,” and “I’ve Got a Churnful of Chitlins and a Belly Full of You.” Hal wrote the lyrics, his brother Ronald, a former minor leaguer, wrote the music.

Ray reported that Smith’s music had been performed on the network live network TV program “Ozark Jubilee,” and that his “30 Yards of Petticoat . . .” had been recorded by a C&W group called the Baraga Brothers, though a google-search of that name comes up empty.

Early Sunday mornings, Smith appeared on KMOX radio as a “hillbilly disc jockey.” He told the reporter disc jockeying was something he would pursue after baseball.

Mindful of the need to maintain fan interest, the team hired Smith to work the off-season as a speaker. He appeared before more than 100 groups after the 1959 season, entertaining the fans with baseball story and introducing Cardinals films played for the audiences.

Smith had debuted with St. Louis in 1956. He'd been an All-Star in 1959, batting .270 with 13 home runs. He played with the Cardinals into the 1961 season, when her was diagnosed with a heart condition that ended his playing career. He coached with the Cardinals, Pirates, Reds and Brewers after his playing days. He had a four-game "comeback" with Pittsburgh in 1965, and was 0-for-3.

Tim Flannery, an infielder with the San Diego Padres 1979-1989, is Smith's nephew.

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