If it hadn't been for Phil Rizzuto, famed New York Yankees shortstop during the team's dominance in the 1940s and '50s, Pat Hallford might have made it in the major leagues.
Instead, the Clarkesville man says he played in his shadow in the Yankees minor league organization. Hallford is this year's inductee in the Northeast Georgia Ole Timers and Blue Ridge Sports Hall of Fame.
A product of Industrial League baseball that once flourished in the Southeast, Hallford was good enough to advance with such pro teams as Augusta in the Sally League, Binghamton and Amsterdam, N.Y., in the Canadian-American League.
"I could have played as well as Rizzuto," Hallford said, but the Yankee phenom was an established player who became a Hall of Famer, and Hallford had to labor in the lower leagues.
Hallford was good enough to play shortstop for the Habersham Mills team at age 12. His father worked at the mill, and Pat's athletic ability paved his way into a career in textiles, though baseball was just as much a part of his early life.
Competition was fierce in Industrial League play, especially among area textile mill teams. Mill executives would try to recruit good players from other teams to work at their mills and play on their teams. Hallford said he had offers from other mills with better pay, but remained at Habersham.
Many of the mill players got jobs painting village houses instead of working in the mill, Hallford said. Instead he asked for a training program and learned textiles up and down through the mill owner's son's college textbooks.
Many of the players considered Hallford the league's best shortstop, said Dub Jones, corresponding secretary of the Ole Timers. "He was a hard-nosed competitor and always played to win," Jones said, "but when the game was over, he was a gentleman."
Hallford had a batting average of about .300 throughout his career, he said. "I was a line-drive hitter," he said, "but I would hit five or six home runs a season, too." He vividly remembers hitting the winning home run against a tough Fort Benning team when he played for Piedmont College. Lefty Cronic, a well-known pitcher, pitched 11 or 12 innings that day, Hallford said.
Hallford excelled in baseball and basketball, was senior class president at Clarkesville High School and earned an academic and sports scholarship at Piedmont College. He got his degree from Piedmont in three years, though interrupted by World War II. Hallford played baseball, taught physical training and judo while in the Army.
He returned to his alma mater in Clarkesville as a coach and started the school's first football team after graduating from Piedmont. He later coached at Glennville High School and South Georgia College with Johnny Griffith, who became head football coach of the University of Georgia Bulldogs. During the same period, he played baseball in the Ogeechee League in South Georgia.
Hallford returned again to Clarkesville as personnel manager of United Merchants and Manufacturers' textile mill. He helped start the company, interviewing and hiring most of its initial work force. Eventually the company through the American government sent him to Iran to start a textile mill.
"I loved Iran," he said. His wife, Gladys, taught in the American school that Hallford also helped start. Hallford began and led the American school board in Iran.
The Hallfords' older daughter, Joan Abernathy, became a horse lover and excelled in competition in their adopted country. She embraced the experience of growing up in another country and traveling all over the world.
After eight years in Iran, Pat Hallford operated a textile mill in Canada for United Merchants and Manufacturers. He also started another plant in Aragon, and finally settled in Greenville, S.C., as manager of the company's 10 plants in the region. After retiring, he bought his own mill in Greenwood, S.C., sold it and retired again, fulfilling a promise to his wife. They remained in South Carolina until a year and a half ago, when they returned to Habersham County. Gladys Hallford also is a Habersham native.
Besides a home in Clarkesville, the Hallfords own a cottage on Lake Burton. Hallford, 86, and his wife have another daughter, Ann Morkarian, a teacher in California, and three grandchildren.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com. First published April 20, 2008.