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Macho Low, Part 4: How Donn Pall helped save baseball

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Donn Pall joined the Phillies for eight games in September of 1993. He went on to become a part of baseball history.

Donn Pall winds up Photo by: Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

There were some big personalities on the 1993 Phillies. But they weren’t the only ones. As part of a commemoration of the team’s 25th anniversary, we’re taking a look at the back-ups, drop-ins, and less-remembered Phillies who didn’t make it into a lot of the archival footage.

Donn Pall, RHP

Position: September getter-in-trade

Age: 31

Stats: 2.55 ERA, 17.2 IP, 11 SO, 3 BB, 8 G

To anyone watching, Donn Pall was living the dream.

Chicago wasn’t just where he was from. It was the blood in his veins.

He was born there. He went to high school slightly southwest of there. He got as far as Champaign, Illinois for college. Growing up in Evergreen Park, his biggest rival on the mound was future three-time Stanley Cup champion Chris Chelios, who in his biography blames Pall’s father, their coach, for smothering his baseball dreams.

Chris Chelios: Made in America, by Chris Chelios and Kevin Allen

And when Pall went in the 1985 MLB Amateur Draft, you better believe it was the Chicago White Sox—his favorite team—who took him.

His mom called him “Donn” (She liked the name “Don” but not the name “Donald,” so this new spelling was the compromise). But his baseball nickname became “The Pope.” Why? Because “Pope Donn Pall” sounded like “Pope John Paul,” who was the pope at the time. And, well, that’s about as much thought as Hawk Harrelson puts into a nickname.

Pall remained as much of a fan of the White Sox as he was a player, and that was reflected in the kindness with which he treated the employees and fans, as well as in the reverence he showed Old Comiskey Park. Before the White Sox’ stadium was demolished in 1991, he walked through the empty seats, sitting at various viewpoints and taking in the gentle quiewt, until a camera crew from This Week in Baseball spotted him and had him give them an impromptu tour. Pall related that story in “Old Comiskey Park: Essays and Memories of the Historic Home of the Chicago White Sox, as well as the story of attending the infamous Old Comiskey Park “Disco Demolition Night.”

“I might have been the only major league ball player sitting in the stands for that event,” Pall wrote:

Old Comiskey Park: Essays and Memories of the Historic Home of the Chicago White Sox by Floyd Sullivan, David Cicotello, and Angelo J. Louisa

In 1993, Pall was cruising through a solid season of relief at New Comiskey Park. The White Sox were pounding the AL West (in their last year before joining the AL Central) with the likes of Frank Thomas, Tim Raines, and Robin Ventura, and Pall’s output in the pen wasn’t going unrecognized: His ERA stayed under 3.00 for most of the season, and he was trusted enough to be dropped strategically into games for anything from a single batter to three innings. After a stumble on May 21 when he gave up four earned runs in relief, Pall didn’t allow more than a run until August 27, having made 39 relief appearances in between.

The next day, the Phillies ruined everything.

The bullpen had been Phillies GM Lee Thomas’ ongoing project since spring training, when he’d invited a plethora of arms in hopes that an effective arsenal would take shape. It did, but as the homestretch neared, he eyed up other rosters in hopes of securing the Phillies’ late game needs as the post season loomed. Thomas saw Pall’s numbers in Chicago and made a deal for the reliever in exchange for the Phillies’ back-up back-up catcher, Doug Lindsey. Pall left behind his hometown and his home team; a Chicago kid forced to abandon playing for the squad of his boyhood, just as they were pushing toward the playoffs. He was abandoning his wildest fantasies.

Fortunately for Pall, he was leaving one pennant race and joining another. He was solid for Philadelphia, apart from a wobbly appearance on September 28 in which he allowed three earned runs, but the Phillies still clinched the NL East with him on the roster. Past Septembers had haunted the Phillies, and columnists pounced on the opportunity to make the comparison to past Phillies teams who’d shown promise but ultimately couldn’t get out of the regular season’s final month. Pall largely did his job in the 1993 Phillies bullpen, which was to get out outs, sure; but in that pen, you could get away with simply not allowing more runs than the Phillies’ potent offense could score.

Sadly, in a reverse-Doug Lindsey, the Phillies went the same way as Pall’s White Sox: eliminated in the post season by the Blue Jays. On December 20, he became a free agent.

And thus began Donn Pall’s dance on and off rosters for a series of years; a typical move for relievers without long term deals, darting in for a few innings in New York, back to Chicago with the Cubs, back to the south side with the White Sox, and then down to Florida with the Marlins, where he inadvertently rubbed up against baseball history.

In 1998, the shredded baseball fandom that had resulted from the 1994 labor stoppage was being slowly healed by drugs—the performance enhancing kind, to be specific. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa had begun their race for the single-season home run record, and as they dropped bombs on the National League all season, they made casualties of any pitchers who got in their way.

By September 1, McGwire had set the tone, and with 55 home runs, the history of his accomplishment and inevitability of its completion were starting to set in. Curtain calls began erupting even when McGwire’s Cardinals were the visiting team, and during a road trip to Florida, he made sure people would remember him.

McGwire’s first home run of the night came off Livian Hernandez, who hadn’t wanted to walk the slugger, despite the danger in pitching to him, but also hadn’t wanted to give up a home run. It was a fine line to walk with McGwire, at whom a lot of hurlers were waving white flags by this point. And despite Hernandez’s best efforts, McGwire clobbered an outside fastball 450 feet to get number 56 on the season. McGwire hadn’t homered in his last game, and Hernandez knew that could be bad news:

‘’When a hitter like that doesn’t hit a home run, he comes back hungrier,’’ Hernandez said in the New York Times.

McGwire was indeed ravenous. It would take more than a Livian Hernandez offering to fill up his steroid-fueled hunger, and when Donn Pall took over on the mound in the top of the ninth, the Marlins already down 5-1, he had to face a McGwire who was ready to eat.

It took one pitch.

One low splitter that McGwire went down and clubbed for number 57 on the season. Pall watched it sail on pretty much the same course as McGwire’s last dinger, landing 472 feet away from where he’d connected with it. Pall likely had to stand there and adjust his cap as the fans gave McGwire an ovation—in Florida, remember—and compose himself to finish out this meaningless September game for a Marlins team that had yet to win 50 games.

He failed to. Ray Lankford came up next and went back-to-back with McGwire.

This was one of Pall’s last appearances in both 1998 and the his career. He would finish the season, and his baseball career, in Philadelphia, facing a ‘98 Phillies squad that was just about futile as the Marlins they were playing. Pall pitched three innings of relief and got the hold.

And that was a series wrap on Donn Pall. His career spanned ten seasons, from the 17 games he appeared in as a rookie, to the 56 the White Sox dropped him into in his third year in the majors, to the eight games he gave the 1993 Phillies down the stretch, to that one inning he gave both the Marlins and Mark McGwire in 1998. One could argue—and has argued—that the home run race of 1998 saved baseball from the ill will it collected during the 1994 strike. And in that vein, Donn Pall was an ambassador of the game, becoming one of the countless pitchers against whom Mark McGwire homered that year on his way to history. If you squint hard enough, Donn Pall did his part to help bring people back to baseball.

He just, you know, wasn’t trying to. Any decent Chicago kid isn’t going to be gifting meatballs to a Cardinals slugger. But regardless of his intentions, Pall was there, throwing low splitters for McGwire to get a hold of, and unintentionally becoming a part of history. We tip our cap. Because on his way to that moment, he helped author some of ours.