Obituary: Hal Raether (1932-2020)

RIP to Hal Raether, who was one of the last surviving members of the Philadelphia Athletics. He died on September 26 at the age of 87. Per Baseball Reference, there are now six surviving Philadelphia A’s alumni. Raether pitched for the Philadelphia A’s in 1954 and Kansas City Athletics in 1957.

Harold Herman Raether was born on October 10, 1932, in Lake Mills, Wis. He was a star athlete at Lake Mills High School in baseball (pitcher/outfielder), basketball (guard) and football (an All-State back). After he graduated from high school, Raether took part in an epic pitcher’s duel in the semipro Central Wisconsin League. He pitched a 16-inning shutout, striking out 11 batters to lead Lake Mills to a 2-0 win over Waterloo. His opponent in that game, Gene Radke, died earlier this year and was a popular baseball coach in Wisconsin. His grandson, Travis Radke, is a pitcher in the Diamondbacks system.

Raether had received some scholarship offers to play football in college, but he ultimately decided to stick with baseball. “Connie Mack, among others, strongly advised me that if I was serious about pro baseball not to play college football,” he recalled years later. He said that he had worked out for Mack’s Philadelphia A’s while in high school, and the team kept an eye on him over the next few years.

Raether would be a mainstay of the Central Wisconsin League in the summers, when he wasn’t attending the University of Wisconsin. He threw a 2-1 no-hitter for West Mills in 1951. As a Badger, Raether featured excellent control. Early on in his college career, he may not have attracted the full attention of pro scouts, because they were too focused on his teammate, shortstop Harvey Kuenn.

Kuenn had graduated and gone to the majors by 1952, and Raether had become one of the Badgers’ top pitchers. He was also a pretty fair hitter and helped win some ballgames with timely hits. He graduated from Wisconsin in 1954 and signed a contract with the Philadelphia Athletics in June. The A’s were on their way to a 103-loss season and featured the worst pitching staff in the American League, so the team put the young college grad right on the big-league roster.

Hal Raether, shown here as part of an All-State Football Team collage, was talked out of college football by the legendary Connie Mack. Source: The Journal Times (Racine, Wis.), November 30, 1949.

Raether’s first taste of major-league baseball came in an exhibition game against the crosstown Phillies on June 28, 1954. He started the game for the A’s and was yanked in the third inning, after the Phillies took a 3-0 lead.

Raether made his official MLB debut on July 4 against the Red Sox. He came into the game in the bottom of the seventh inning, with Boston leading 7-0. He retired Sammy White on a pop fly to second base and allowed a single to Ted Lepcio. Raether balked Lepcio to second base and then walked Grady Hatton, Leo Liely and Milt Bolling in succession, forcing in a run. He got out of the inning when Billy Goodman hit into a 1-2-3 double play. Raether walked Ted Williams to lead off the eighth inning, but Jim Piersall hit into a 6-4-3 double play, and Karl Olson grounded to shortstop. That would be the only game Raether pitched in the majors in ’54, as he was sent to Savannah of the South Atlantic League soon after.

Raether won his first professional start against Columbia on July 19. but the limited stats and box scores that are available indicate that he struggled the rest of the season. Raether joined the newly relocated Kansas City A’s at their spring training camp in 1955, but he failed to make the team. Raether pitched briefly for Savannah and Lancaster before getting drafted into the Army in May of ’55. He was stationed in Virginia for much of his time, and while he stayed in competitive shape by playing baseball and basketball, he was out of professional baseball for almost two years.

Raether was released from the armed forces in 1957 and rejoined the Athletics. The team was still terrible and brought the 24-year-old pitcher from the military to the majors with no stops in between. The rules of baseball at the time stated that a team could carry a ballplayer who had been discharged from the service and not have him count against their roster limit, so he was the 26th player on the 25-man roster. Raether worked the final two innings of a 10-2 loss to Baltimore on May 19. He was welcomed back to the majors with a triple by Al Pilarcik and a 2-run homer by George Kell. After that, Raether settled down and retired the next six batters he faced. Despite the nice recovery, the A’s did not pitch him again and sent him to the minors in early June. He did not return to the major leagues, leaving him with a career ERA of 6.75 over two games. He walked 4 in 4 innings and did not strike out a batter.

Source: The Capitol Times (Madison, Wis.), June 15, 1954.

Raether went 2-2 with a 3.91 ERA for the Columbia Gems for the rest of 1957, working mainly in relief. He pitched one more season in professional baseball, appearing in 29 games for Albany and Rochester in 1958 before coming down with a sore arm. The A’s released him, and Raether ended his professional baseball career.

Raether returned to Wisconsin, where he became a teacher and coach in the Milwaukee-Madison area. In 1975, he and his family (wife Louise and children Heidi, Rick and Pete) moved to Edina, Minn., where he worked as the athletic director of the Minneapolis Athletic Club. He retired from that job after 20 years. Rick had a brief career as a reliever in the Texas and Montreal organizations in the 1980s and was at one time the NCAA career leader in saves after playing for the University of Miami.

Hal Raether wasn’t upset about his cup of coffee in the majors, as he was left with many memories. He marveled at Ted Williams’ perfect vision and recalled the story that Lou Boudreau told him, that Williams could read a movie theater marquee from three blocks away. He recalled that when Williams took batting practice, both teams stopped to watch.

“My greatest thrill was getting in my first major league game, when I pitched against Ted Williams. I did the safest thing I could, I walked him,” he joked.

More information: Minneapolis Star-Tribune

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