Time short, Hall gets in O's swing in hurry Versatile 30-ish rookie makes presence known

February 29, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- When you're pushing 30 and you've got 43 major-league at-bats, you take every opportunity, no matter how small, and treat it as if it's your last.

That's why nonroster utility player Joe Hall couldn't dismiss his two-hit performance in the Orioles' first intrasquad game yesterday at Fort Lauderdale Stadium. He tried to act as if it were just another spring workout. But he knows that in a crowded camp, as in life, you never get a second chance to make a good first impression.

Hall hit the ball hard twice, reached base on an error and caught manager Davey Johnson's eye with a nice running catch in the outfield. The manager probably was looking closer at the successful spring debuts of rehabbing pitchers Alan Mills and Arthur Rhodes, but yesterday may have been more important to Hall.

"You always want to make a good impression . . . that's what we're all here for," said Hall. "If you get an opportunity, you've got to take advantage of it."

The Orioles signed him as a free agent in November, after Hall batted .320 at Triple-A Toledo and made a brief appearance in the majors with the Detroit Tigers. He was signed before Pat Gillick arrived and embarked on an ambitious off-season rebuilding program, but his combination of skills makes him a crossover candidate for one of the infield or outfield utility roles.

Johnson likes guys who can play everywhere. He said at the start of training camp he would put a premium on versatility, and Hall has made it his mission to prove he's the most versatile player in camp. He can play the infield. He can play the outfield, if yesterday's performance is any indication, and -- a special plus -- he can work behind the plate in an emergency.

"He's doing everything we have asked of him," Johnson said. "He normally works as a first baseman and catcher, but when he came in he said, 'I can play anywhere.' That's been his attitude all spring. I'm very pleased with him."

Of course, there's a long way to go and a lot of mitigating factors involved. The Orioles figure to carry two out of the Bill Ripken-Manny Alexander-Jeff Huson trio as extra infielders, so Hall probably would have to beat out reserve outfield candidates Sherman Obando, Mark Smith and Rule 5 draftee Kimera Bartee to make the club. He may be a long shot, but he isn't discounting his chances and neither is the club.

"I would think that they are pretty good, or I wouldn't be here," Hall said. "The reason I'm here is to try and help out this ballclub. If I couldn't do that, I wouldn't be here and they wouldn't want me to be here."

Maybe he deserves a second chance. Hall made the 1994 Chicago White Sox Opening Day roster after six years in the minors and looked like he might stick until a severe leg injury sabotaged his season. He was batting .393 in 17 games when he crashed into a wall in Texas and tore his right hamstring. He came back to play 41 minor-league games and came to spring training with the White Sox last year, but was released four days before Opening Day.

"That was tough to go through," he said. "It took nearly a year to get over that. You find out how much you take normal things for granted, when everything you do, it hurts. There were times it hurt so bad I wanted to cry."

It wasn't completely healed when he rejoined the White Sox last spring, and there wasn't much time to rehab with spring training shortened to 3 1/2 weeks by the players strike.

"I couldn't blame the White Sox," Hall said. "In that short spring, you've got to look at players in a hurry and my leg was not quite ready."

Now it is. He played nearly a full minor-league season on it last year and feels ready to play a full major-league season on it in 1996. Time is not on his side, but he said yesterday that he'll keep going as long as there's a chance to make a living in the major leagues.

"I know I'm almost 30, but I still feel like I'm 25," Hall said. "I'll quit when my body says, 'That's enough.' "

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