Arvel Odell Hale
Second Baseman/Third Baseman, 1931, 1933-1940
Height: 5'11" Weight: 175 lbs
Throws: Right Bats: Right
How Acquired: Purchased, 1929? (Alexandria - Cotton States League)
Left Via: Trade, 12-12-1940:
Born in northwestern Louisiana, Odell Hale worked for a bit for a refinery in Arkansas after graduating high school, playing also for the refinery baseball club. His play must have attracted minor-league scouts, for he signed with the Alexandria (Louisiana) Reds of the Cotton States League in 1929 (at age 20). He quickly become known for his home run prowess; he hit 23 home runs for Alexandria, and that started to attract major-league scouts.
There's two conflicting stories about Hale's next couple seasons, and how he was signed by the Indians. He did play for Decatur of the Three-I League in 1930, and in New Orleans of the Southern Association in 1931, making his major-league debut with the Indians late that season, but there's no actual transaction date for his acquisition. His SABR profile mentions that he (and future major-league pitching star Lon Warneke) were both purchased by the Cubs from Alexandria in 1929. Well, Warneke did play for the Cubs the following season, and had a very good career, but Hale would make his debut as an Indian. So somewhere between the end of the 1929 and 1931 the Indians had to have acquired Hale's contract from the Cubs, and you'd think that would show up somewhere. At that point in time, very few minor-league teams were affiliated with major-league clubs, and most of the players' contracts were owned by the minor-league teams themselves, so a minor-league club could sell players to various major-league teams.
Bill James in his Historical Baseball Abstract tells a different (and more amusing) story of how Hale ended up with the Indians. In 1929 the Indians had a deal (probably based on an earlier transaction) with Alexandria that gave them an option on either Hale or Warneke, so Cy Slapnicka (who would later discover Bob Feller) was dispatched to check out both players. But on the day he arrived, that day's game was washed out due to a terrible storm. But there were some people left in the park:
...the only people in the ballpark were one man and two boys. The three of them had a cushion, and they were sitting out at second base in the driving rain, pretending to paddle their "boat" with two barrel staves. It turned out that the comedian was Lon Warneke
Slapnicka apparently lacked a sense of humor, as he immediately removed Warneke from consideration. He didn't see Hale either at that time, but would come back later in the season to watch him play for a week. Slapnicka wasn't impressed with Hale either, and that might have been the end of it, but Alexandria owed the Indians $1500, and asked whether transferring Hale to them would cancel the debt. The Indians reluctantly agreed, and against their better judgment received one of their stars of the 1930s.
Hale would be loaned out (if James' story is correct) by the Indians to Decatur in 1930, and sent out to New Orleans in 1931. He was called up to the big-league club in August 1931, and played regularly the rest of the season at second and later third base. He hit .283/.340/.424 in his short stint with the Indians, though that line wasn't that exception in those days, as the game had by then shifted into a high-octane offense from the Deadball days of the 00s/10s. In addition, he needed to work on his defense, especially at third, so he spent the 1932 season (his age 23 season) with the Toledo Mudhens of the American Association.
He made the big-league club for good in 1933 (the Sporting News that winter highlighted him as one of the game's top young "prospects"). That season Hale would share playing time with Bill Cissell, and when the Indians dealt Cissell to Boston that winter, Hale became the everyday player in 1934. He was an offense-first infielder, and luckily for him, that era called for offensive players and all positions, including the middle infield.
Those early 1930s clubs had plenty of good offensive players, starting with Earl Averill, who at the time Hale arrived was in his prime. In addition, the Indians were bringing up outfielder Joe Vosmik, first baseman Hal Trosky, shortstop Bill Knickerbocker, and catcher Frankie Pytlak, all in their early 20s. In 1934 (Hale's first full season) the Indians teamed the four young players up with established star Earl Averill, and finished the season in third place at 85-69. The Indians would have good teams the rest of the decade, finishing in the first division almost every year during the 1930s, but could never capture a pennant.
Hale would be a big contributor to the mid-30s clubs, slugging .471 in 1934 (2B), .486 in 1935 (3B), and .506 in 1936 (3B). He'd shift back and forth between second and third during his career, depending on team needs. He would move back to second base in 1938 when Ken Keltner broke in to the big leagues. 1939 was Hale's last good year; he hit .312/.374/.439, though he played in just 108 games. That season would be Averill's last good year with the Indians, and the offensive core group of Averill, Trosky, and Hale from the beginning of the decade was about to be broken up: Averill was dealt to Detroit in June of 1939, Trosky would come down with the migraines that would cut short his career, and Hale would be dealt after the 1940 season.
The Indians had brought up Ray Mack in 1940, and the 23-year-old second baseman had a decent rookie year, so the Indians included Hale after the season in a package (along with Pytlak and to Boston that would net them RHP Jim Bagby, Jr. and LF Gee Walker. By that time, though Hale was just a throw-in to the deal. He would play sparingly with the Red Sox before being placed on waivers. The Brooklyn Dodgers claimed him, and after he hit .196/.317/.225 in 41 games, he was sold in September to the minor-league Milwaukee Brewers. He would play 60 games for the Brewers in 1942 before calling it a career.
After retiring from baseball, he moved back to Arkansas, where he worked at defense plant until his retirement. He died in 1980 at the age of 71.
Hale could play both second and third, with scouts believing that he was better at second, but he personally preferred third base. He ended his career with an almost 50-50 split between the two positions.
The New Bill James Historical Abstract
"Odell Hale" , SABR Baseball Biography Project
Indians Career Stats
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