I will be honest here. Before I started this book I knew very little about Hal Smith. I did know he spent most of his career with the St Louis Cardinals. I also knew he was a serviceable catcher with a solid major league career. Finally, I knew he shared his namesake with another player in the league at the same time. All of these things I already knew. But what did I learn after I read…..
The Barling Darling – Hal Smith in American Baseball
By Billy D. Higgins – 2009 – The Butler Center for Arkansas Studies
I am sad to report I learned less about the man Hal Smith than I expected. Hal Smith is never a person I have heard much about. So I was hoping to learn more about his personality, family life, growing up and life after baseball. The book does give a somewhat detailed explanation of his childhood but then Hal Smith the man, tends to get lost.
This book gives a very detailed description of St. Louis Cardinal baseball during Hal Smith’s career. At some points in the book it gives game by game details for certain years. What disappoints me about this book is that Hal Smith gets lost in the shuffle. You don’t get any real feel as to who he was or what he wanted to accomplish in his career. You learn more about his teammates and team accomplishments, rather than the person the book is named after. Please do not get me wrong, the book was written very well. It just tends to veer off course from the expectations I had from the title.
The one good thing this book did for me is show me some statistics for Hal Smith. It was, according to these numbers, a very underrated career. Smith was in the top 5 of several categories in Major League Baseball at the time for his position. It did lead me to the conclusion that playing on the team he played with Stan Musial, it did keep some of the spotlight off of Hal. The book never actually says that, this is just my feeling based on his numbers. If his career wasn’t cut short by his heart condition, he may have, in the end, obtained some of the fame he deserved after moving on from St Louis.
With his playing days behind him and learning the coaching trade, he seems to have made a real impact on some players. To me, that is a real skill; Being a talented player and then being able to switch it around and be a teacher as well. As I stated above, I would have liked some more personal information about Hal but overall it was a good book. I sensed that Hal had taken some part in the writing of this book, which is why I found myself disappointed by the lack of personal information.
If you are a Cardinals fan you will love this book overall. If you are looking for a book that is a detailed glimpse into a certain period of time in baseball, you will like it as well. If you are looking for a detailed biography on a player that you wanted to know more about off the field, you may be disappointed. Overall, it is a good book that was well written. I think I was possibly expecting something totally different from what I got and it hindered my enjoyment of the book.
This book is a little hard to find but can still be picked up by contacting the folks at:
The Butler Center for Arkansas Studies