By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Former Montreal Expos right-hander Hal Dues passed away on October 20 at the age of 66.
Longtime Expos photographer Russ Hansen was the first in Canada to report the news when he shared it on his Facebook page.
Dues died in his hometown of Dickinson, Texas. No cause of death has been released.
Born on September 22, 1954 in Le Marque, Texas, he was introduced to baseball by his grandfather and quickly fell in love with the sport. He was a star pitcher at Dickinson High School when he captured the attention of Montreal Expos scout Red Murff, who signed the then 19-year-old right-hander as an amateur free agent on May 20, 1974.
Dues told the Montreal Gazette in a September 1977 interview that he never seriously considered a career in professional baseball while in high school.
“Some people saw things in my pitching that I didn’t see,” Dues told Gazette reporter Ian MacDonald. “After my senior year in high school, they [the Expos and Murff] signed me to a contract and things have been falling into place since.”
Dues began his pro career with the Expos’ class-A affiliate in Kinston in 1974 and posted a 3.27 ERA in 18 games, including 16 starts. That secured him a promotion to the class-A Advanced West Palm Beach Expos the ensuing year where he tossed eight complete games in 18 starts and finished with a 2.97 ERA.
Entering the 1976 campaign, the 21-year-old Dues was one of the club’s top pitching prospects. He returned to West Palm Beach and registered a 12-10 record and an outstanding 2.06 ERA in 24 starts. He also threw 10 complete games and three shutouts.
Those numbers helped earn him a promotion to the double-A Quebec Carnavals in 1977 where he completed six of his 16 starts, including his final start with them on August 25. On that day, not only would he toss a two-hitter, but first his daughter, Jennifer, was born. And to make the day even more joyous, the Expos called him up for the first time.
Dues had to wait a couple of weeks to make his big league debut, but he was eventually rewarded with a start against the Pittsburgh Pirates on September 9 at Three Rivers Stadium. With his wife, Harriet, in the crowd, he excelled against a lineup that included Dave Parker and Al Oliver, allowing just one run in six innings, while striking out five, to record his first big league win in the Expos’ 2-1 victory.
“The kid was just great tonight,” said Expos manager Dick Williams to the Montreal Gazette after the game. “We had hoped for five innings and he gave us six strong innings.”
In all, Dues appeared in six games (four starts) for the Expos in 1977 and registered a 4.30 ERA.
The following campaign, Dues established himself as one of the Expos’ most versatile and dependable hurlers when he made 25 appearances – including 12 starts – and finished with a 2.36 ERA.
His most memorable outing that season was the complete game he spun against the eventual division champion Philadelphia Phillies at Veterans Stadium on July 8. In that contest, Dues permitted just six hits and struck out four to record the win in the Expos’ 8-1 triumph. He also had two hits, a run and an RBI.
Unfortunately, seven weeks later, he was shut down with an elbow injury and he underwent surgery that kept him out for the bulk of 1979.
Dues rebounded in 1980 to post a 7-4 record and a 3.40 ERA in 16 starts for the triple-A Memphis Expos, but he struggled to a 6.57 ERA in six big league appearances.
He’d pitch parts of two more seasons in the Expos’ minor league ranks before hanging up his playing spikes and returning to Dickinson to operate a bar call “The Dugout” before moving on to work as a beer and wine sales representative and own a Pepperidge Farm franchise.
Through it all, Dues never lost his love for baseball.
“Hal lived life to the fullest,” reads his official obituary. “His love of baseball was equal to his love of fishing and hunting. But nothing was more important to him than spending time with his beloved grandsons, family and friends. He never entered a room quietly, he was loud, outrageously funny and the power in his hugs left no doubt of the love he felt for you.”
Dues is survived by his mother, Bonnie, wife Harriet, daughter Jennifer (Tim Bradley), son Tyler (Nicole) and four grandsons, Miles, Caston, Nolan and Luke.
You can leave your condolences for his family here.