Obituary: Hal Dues (1954-2020)

RIP to Hal Dues, who pitched for three seasons with the Expos in 1970s. He died on October 20 in Dickinson, Texas, at the age of 66. Dues pitched for the Montreal Expos from 1977-78 and 1980.

Hal Joseph Dues was born in La Marque, Texas, on September 22, 1954. He was one of six children in the family, and according to his obituary, he got his love of baseball from his grandfather, who was a sandlot baseball player and once a teammate of Monty Stratton. Dues went to Dickinson High School, where he played football and baseball. He also played American Legion ball with League City and racked up gaudy strikeout totals, including 20 against a team from Brazosport. He was scouted by “Red” Murff of the Expos, and he signed a contract with Montreal — though it took a little while.

“I told him I came from a small town and had never even been in a hotel before and that I wasn’t about to go off some strange place and play baseball,” Dues said of his early conversations with the scout. “But Murff was also the baseball coach at Mary Hardin-Baylor and asked me to come up there. I didn’t know anything about the place, but I went anyway.”

What did Dues discover about Mary Hardin-Baylor University in Belton, Texas? “It’s a school of 2,000 girls and about 60 guys,” he said. “I didn’t go to any classes, but they got me through just to keep me eligible for baseball. But after my first and only year there I told Murff that he’d better sign me to the Expos then or he’d never get me out of there.”

Source: The Gazette (Montreal, QC), June 23, 1978.

Dues debuted for the Kinston Expos of the Carolina League in 1974. He made 16 starts in 18 appearances and had a 4-7 record and 3.27 ERA, with 7 complete games. The Expos kept him in the low minors for a few years, as Dues had signed as a 19 year old. But he was pretty excellent as a starter. He had a 9-7 record and 2.97 ERA for West Palm Beach in 1975. The following season, he returned to the team and dropped his ERA all the way to 2.06, while winning 12 games. His 12-10 record was more of an indictment against the team’s poor offense than anything Dues did wrong. His on-field highlight was a rain-shortened, 6-inning no-hitter against the Pompano Beach Cubs on August 1. His off-field highlight was marrying the former Harriet Ann Bishop on February 28 in Dickinson. They had two children, daughter Jennifer and son Tyler.

Dues was promoted to AA Quebec in 1977 and got off to a rough start, losing 6 of his first 7 decisions. He was bothered by a sore elbow that left him throwing sidearm to get by. When he was able to return to his overhand delivery without any pain, he put together a winning streak to even his record at 6-6. Still, it was a rough year, and Dues was just looking for it to end… when he was told he had been promoted to the majors.

It was a memorable day when he learned of his promotion. He was on the mound when an announcement over the speaker had all the fans cheering. The announcement was in French, so Dues assumed the cheers were for his pitching. Actually, it was announced that his wife had given birth to his daughter Jennifer. Dues won the game, became a father and made the major leagues, all on August 25, 1977.

Dues made his debut in a start against the Pittsburgh Pirates on September 9. Andre Dawson hit a 2-run double in the top of the third inning, and that was all Dues needed. He worked 6 innings, struck out 5 and allowed just 1 run in a 2-1 Expos win.

“I was kind of scared,” Dues said about his debut. “But when I got on the mound I figured it was too late to be scared. I’d better go out there and do the job.”

Montreal had only brought him to the majors because he had been in the minors long enough that the team had to either put him on the roster or risk losing him, so they decided to see what he could do in the big leagues. He impressed the team enough that he was given 4 starts and a couple of relief appearances that September, ending the year with a 1-1 record and 4.30 ERA. He had 9 walks and 9 strikeouts in 23 innings.

Dues had a great spring with the Expos in 1978, but he was a longshot to make the roster. The Expos had Steve Rogers and Wayne Twitchell in the rotation and added Ross Grimsley and Rudy May in the offseason. The team didn’t need another starter, and Dues had no experience pitching as a reliever.

In spite of the odds against him, Dues made the team as a swingman. He relieved in 13 games, and when the Expos needed a fifth starter or one of the starting pitchers underperformed, Dues made 12 starts, too. He had a 9-inning scoreless streak as a reliever in May and picked up his only career save with a 4-inning outing against the Dodgers on June 17. He won his first game of the season on June 22 by throwing 6 scoreless innings against the Mets, before manager Dick Williams lifted him for a pinch-hitter. And he wasn’t happy about that.

“Why don’t they teach us how to hit in the minor leagues,” Dues complained afterwards. “They don’t even teach us how to bunt. I understand him [Williams] taking me out. I can’t hit, damn it.”

Dues pitched much better than his 5-6 record would indicate. He had a 2.36 ERA in 99 innings of work, with a WHIP of 1.283. He just didn’t always get the support he needed. He threw 8 innings of 2-hit ball to the Phillies on June 27 and still lost 1-0 because one of the hits was a Greg Luzinski home run. Though there were some frustrations along the way, Dues also got to pitch in the Houston Astrodome with many of his family and friends in attendance to cheer him on. He threw 6 scoreless innings against the Astros, even though Houston put runners on base in every inning.

For everything that went right in 1978, it went all wrong in 1979. He had offseason elbow surgery, and the Expos had a batch of young, healthy pitchers like Scott Sanderson, David Palmer and Dan Schatzeder who earned their spots on the roster. Dues was supposed to report to AA Memphis, get a few starts to show that his fastball and curveball were ready for big-league hitting and return to the majors. Instead, Dues struggled through a dozen games between Memphis and AAA Denver and was shut down for the season.

Source: The Gazette (Montreal QC), March 31, 1978.

Dues’ 1980 season was similarly snake-bit. Well, dog-bit may be more appropriate. His suffered a gash in his knee while jogging near his home in Dickinson, Texas, thanks to an angry dog. That delayed his pitching a little, and continued arm problems limited his appearances for the AAA Denver Bears once the season started. Dues was very effective when he was able to pitch, though. He won 7 games in 16 starts, including a 2-hit shutout of Iowa in May. The Expos called Dues back to the major leagues in August when Bill Lee went on the disabled list. In his first MLB appearance in almost two years, he lasted 4-1/3 innings in a start against the Cubs on August 9, allowing 6 hits and 3 runs. He was roughed up in three relief outings and sent back to Denver with an 8.68 ERA at the end of August. Dues was recalled near the end of the season and threw 3 scoreless innings in relief, leaving him with an 0-1 record and 6.57 ERA for the Expos.

Dues never returned to the major leagues. He was in the hunt for a roster spot in spring training in 1981, but he was eventually sent back to Denver. His arm was never able to stay healthy, and he wasn’t able to regain his form long enough for the Expos to bring him back. He underwent Tommy John surgery, but he was not able to recover from it and resume his baseball career.

In parts of three seasons, Dues had a 6-8 record and a 3.08 ERA. He appeared in 37 games, with 17 starts, and he had a complete game and a save. Over 134-1/3 innings, he had 47 strikeouts and 55 walks. He also had a 52-54 record and a 3.94 ERA in 8 seasons in the minor leagues.

Dues was involved in a number of businesses back in Texas, following his retirement from baseball. He ran a neighborhood bar in Dickinson called “The Dugout” and then worked for 25 years for Dienst Distributing as a beer and wine sales representative. He later purchased a Pepperidge Farm franchise that included multiple stores in and around Dickinson. Dues was inducted into the Dickinson High School Athletics Hall of Fame in 2002.

For more information: Crowder Funeral Home

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