If he’d managed the most unlikeliest of comebacks, Hal Schacker would have become one of the Anniston Rams’ ultimate success stories. But he didn’t. All because of what transpired on a long-forgotten fall evening in Springfield, Illinois.
Schacker was an Anniston pitcher for only a month early in the 1948 season, released after appearing in 11 games. His resume included a six-game stint with the National League’s Boston Braves during the war season of 1945, which gave him the hint of MLB patina. But a broken foot sidelined him for all of 1947, which meant his arrival in Anniston the following spring was both financially cheap and athletically run-of-the-mill.
In other words, he was perfect for the Rams — until Anniston released him a month into the ’48 campaign after he refused assignment to Savannah. That same day he signed with the St. Petersburg Saints of the Florida International League and went 20-7 in 30 starts. The Saints in September sold him to the American League’s Philadelphia Athletics, opening the door to this glorious possibility: a pitcher released by the Class B Rams rehabilitating his career in Class C and pitching in the same season in the Major Leagues.
The unlikeliness of such good fortunate wasn’t lost on him. “I was a million miles from the Majors,” Schacker told The Tampa Bay Times.
A week later, Manager Connie Mack took his Athletics to Springfield for an exhibition game against a college all-star team pulled together by the Illinois Amateur Association. The Philadelphia Inquirer admitted that the exhibition was scheduled as a test for Schacker and catcher Earle Brucker Jr., who Philadelphia had signed for $30,000.
The Athletics won, 19-3. Brucker caught all nine innings and had a hit and an RBI. Schacker earned the win but gave up five runs and nine hits in five innings. The Tampa newspaper reported that Philadelphia’s coaches frowned over the tepidness of Schacker’s fastball.
The Athletics released him Oct. 4, ending his improbable Anniston-to-MLB season, from Johnston Field to Shibe Park. So, too, was his big league career. He’d never get that close again.
Nevertheless, Schacker did pitch in the Majors during World War II, and he did offer the Rams a glimmer of hope when they signed him. Neither of those stints — in big-city Boston and or small-town Anniston — turned out as he would have wished.
Born in Brooklyn in 1925, Schacker grew into a tall, lanky right-hander who could flip a curve ball that drew scouts’ attention. In 1943 he tried out for the Braves, who signed him and sent him to Class A Hartford the following spring. It was there that Red Rolfe, a former New York Yankee who was then coaching at Yale, noticed the young right-hander’s breaking ball.
“How do you throw that curve,” Rolfe asked Schacker during an April workout in Wallingford, Connecticut.
“Like this,” Schacker said.
“Across the seams, eh! Which finger do you put the pressure on?” Rolfe asked.
“The first one,” Schacker said.
Rolfe, according to The Boston Globe, was nonetheless impressed. “What a great curve that fellow has,” he told another coach. “You won’t see many better.”
Schacker’s 18-7 record (in 36 starts) in Hartford forced Boston to consider him for ’45 — if he could make the monumental jump in classification. The team’s war-depleted roster made it happen.
He was 20 years old when he made his MLB debut May 9 in a ninth-inning relief appearance against Pittsburgh. He faced a single batter — Bob Elliott — and struck him out. The Pirates won, 9-5.
Over a month that spring Schacker pitched 15.1 innings, took a loss when he allowed 3 runs in relief against the St. Louis Cardinals, and made his final MLB appearance June 14 in a 13-8 home loss to the Philadelphia Phillies in which he allowed three runs in two innings. The Braves optioned him the next morning to where he’d started his professional career, Class A Hartford.
By the spring of ’48, Schacker was a middling pitcher who’d enjoyed a cup of coffee in the Majors, received a medical discharge from the Army during the war and sat out a full season with a bum foot. The Rams must have been sold on Schacker’s comeback after hearing he’d posted an 11-4 record that winter in the Panama Canal Zone League.
The former Boston pitcher started the Rams’ season opener, a 22-8 win over Gadsden at Johnston Field, though he allowed six runs on five hits in just three innings. Since he didn’t last long in the first game he was available the next night at Gadsden, and the Pilots touched him for three more runs in 2 1/3 innings of relief. But he steadied himself in mid-April and caught the eye of the local press.
“The new Ram righthander, who finished a season in the Panama Winter League recently, allowed the only Opelika run to score but he looked like a real find for (Manager) Charlie Barron’s mound staff during his brief stay on the hill,” The Anniston Star newspaper reported April 11. “His deceptive side-arm delivery had the Opelika batters guessing more than once in the two innings he pitched.”
At Selma on April 28 he threw his best game in an Anniston uniform, scattering 11 hits in a 2-0 complete-game loss. “Schacker’s control was really impressive,” The Star wrote, “as he gave up only one free pass, that to (Bob) Talbot, the first batsman to face the Ram hurler.”
Anniston won 10-7 at Pensacola on May 8, with Schacher allowing a run on one hit in a third of an inning in relief. The Rams, though, had seen enough. When he refused assignment to Savannah, they released him only hours before they were contractually obligated to give him a hefty bonus, The Tampa Tribune reported. The Star, though, wrote that he “had trouble getting started. Given what transpired later that summer and fall, both the Rams and The Star may have prematurely judged the Brooklynite’s potential.
By the time he retired following the 1951 season, Schacker had won 63 games in seven seasons of professional baseball, including a final stint in the Manitoba-Dakota independent league. He’s also a member of the Jewish Baseball Museum. He and his family settled in Tampa, where he died at age 90 in 2015.