Four years and multiple position changes removed from a season in which he hit .270/.345/.553 with 35 home runs, Bill Hall is trying to recapture the magic. A shortstop with the Brewers when he had his breakout 2006 campaign, Hall is now a utility infielder/outfielder for the Red Sox after tumultuous tours of center field, third base, the trainer‘s room, Nashville, Seattle, and the land of declining production. Hall sat down to talk about his roller coaster ride, and his hopes of a resurrection, during spring training.
David Laurila: How would you characterize your career thus far?
Bill Hall: Definitely filled with a lot of ups and downs, I guess. Some injuries, some setbacks, some great times. Obviously some times I wish I could erase, but that’s just a part of life. Baseball is about learning yourself and learning how to grow up, and being able to take the good with the bad. I’ve definitely had my fair share of both.
DL: What kind of player are you today?
BH: I’m a healthy player today. I feel like that’s been a problem the last few years. It’s gotten me off to starts I didn’t want, or seasons I didn’t want to have, but I’m healthy now and more mature. I’m still in my prime. I feel like 30 years old is a pretty good age to be a professional baseball player. I feel like I still have a lot to give. I’m making some changes and they’re actually going pretty well—offensively—and everybody knows what kind of player I can be defensively.
DL: And what are some of those changes?
BH: When I had the injury in 2007, I hurt my back ankle and came back from the injury probably way too fast. I kind of changed how I hit. I had to change some things in my swing to compensate for the pain that I was having in my ankle. So I just kind of changed my swing and it consistently got worse and worse with bad habits. I went into this offseason to try to fix it. Every offseason I’ve tried to fix it, but I didn’t know what it was. Then I kind of figured out what it was, that I had stopped driving down with my legs. I stopped using my legs and was more spinning on the ball, and that didn’t allow me to stay back and hit the ball to right field, which makes me good as a hitter.
DL: The adjustments essentially have to do with your legs and timing?
BH: Not so much timing. If you’ve ever seen me hit, you know I had an open stance with my hands kind of rested, but I have a more conventional stance now to make everything easier to get to. It was just the bad ankle and being able to drive down through the ball and not spin off it, and just keep my bat in the zone a lot longer.
DL: You had the one monster year offensively. Where are you mechanically compared to 2006?
BH: Mechanically, maybe the setup is a little different. Like I said, it’s more conventional now—just a conventional batting stance and not as open as I used to be, if at all. It just kind of makes everything easier to get to—to get to the great hitting position that you want to be in to be a good hitter. I just kind of took some things out to make that easier. Mechanically, I feel like I’m getting back to where I was in ‘05 and ‘06 when I had the good years.
DL: Is there anything that differentiates Dave Magadan from other hitting coaches you’ve worked with?
BH: I feel like every hitting coach is different. I feel like a lot of guys know what it takes to hit. Everybody knows the mechanics of hitting, but when you’re trying to teach it to somebody, or tell them about something that is wrong—it’s all in the choice of words that you use. A lot of guys can say one thing and it can be like they’re speaking another language. Then [another] guy can say the same thing in a different way and it clicks and you understand it. That’s the thing about being a good hitting coach, to me. It’s about how guys understand what you’re trying to say. Dave’s good. Obviously, this is a patient team and it’s something that he concentrates on. It’s something he doesn’t talk about, but as a team you walk in here and it’s kind of like: lead by example. One guy sees guys taking pitches and giving out a good at-bat—not swinging just to be swinging—and that just kind of trickles down the lineup and into the clubhouse. And guys understand that you want to make the pitchers work and maybe tire them out—get in good hitters’ counts and take advantage of it then.
Butch Wynegar was my hitting coach in Milwaukee. Back when I was a lot younger—and I think everybody does this—I would tend to get a little big at times during at-bats, swinging a little harder than you need to. Butch came up with this saying: "Don’t try to show your pop, just let your pop show," which means don’t try to hit home runs, just kind of let them happen. You’ve got all the strength, you’ve got all the power, so just try to put the barrel on the ball as much as possible and those things will work out.
DL: How have the position changes impacted your career?
BH: Ah, who’s to say? But honestly, right now, if I couldn’t play as many positions as I can—with the past three seasons I’ve had—I’d probably be looking for a job still. So it’s kind of been a gift and a curse. I feel like everybody that plays this game wants to be an everyday player and wants to show that they can play a position and be really good at it. With me moving around to a few positions over my career, whether it has hurt things or helped things—obviously it is helping things right now because it makes me pretty valuable to a team to be a guy that can play as many positions as I can. But everybody wants that shot to be at one position, so like I said, it’s kind of a gift and a curse. A younger guy comes up and he plays a certain position, and he has a chance to be a star, and I was the guy that got moved because they knew that I was athletic enough to make the adjustments. But, like I said, maybe it has extended my career as well.
DL: Your bat is more valuable in the middle of the infield than it is on a corner or in the outfield. What are your thoughts on that?
BH: It depends on what kind of year I’m having offensively. Obviously, if I’m having my ‘05 or ‘06 year—if you’re counting those numbers—my bat can play anywhere and be in the top numbers of anybody. But they haven’t been that way and my numbers don’t even compare to, probably, really, minor leaguers of the past three years due to whatever the case may be—injuries or whatever. But it definitely takes on a bigger part when I am in the middle of the field and can do the things that I can do.
DL: There are a lot of advanced stats in today’s game. Do you ever step back and try to gauge just who you are as a player, using some of those numbers?
BH: No. I’m always asking people what some of these things mean, like OPS and all the other stuff. I mean, I know what OPS is now, but I didn’t probably before a year ago. I feel like a lot of the game is played on the field for us, but however the people off the field look at it, and how you want to try to make your team better, obviously that comes into play. But for us the game is played on the field, whether we’re facing a pitcher who’s a ground-ball pitcher and you’re a fly-ball hitter, there are certain managers that will want to reverse that, or whatever. But it’s all about how you’re feeling on that given day. If he throws you a pitch down the middle, you’re supposed to take advantage of it, no matter if he’s a ground-ball pitcher or not, and drive it into the gap or hit it out of the ballpark. So it’s all about how you’re feeling on that particular day. I feel like sometimes the numbers games go too far.
DL: To close, what should people know about you? Who is Bill Hall?
BH: Who is Bill Hall? Bill Hall is a person that really loves baseball and probably loves it too much at times, to where he tries to be really, really good and sometimes that gets in the way of him being really, really good. That’s with effort. But I was brought up as a person who gave a lot of effort, at all times, and never gave up. And I never give up. But again, sometimes that might get in the way. Sometimes it’s OK to back off in order to just let things work.