Roger Hall: Building a better base

Roger Hall might not make the majors, but it won't be for lack of trying.

Now 75 and recovering from a stroke, the latter-day Don Quixote has lived to see his patented Rogers Break Away Base become the base of choice for youth baseball. It has been used for Olympic softball, major college baseball and spring training. In 1996, it won a commendation from the chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The former Elizabethtown (Pennsylvania) College baseball coach started thinking about a detachable base back in 1960, after he waved a runner around first base in a softball game and watched him suffer a horrific leg injury sliding into second.

"It just seemed everywhere I went, somebody was getting hurt sliding into a base," he told Michael Vitez of The Philadelphia Inquirer back in 1992.

Vitez, who would go on to win a Pulitzer Prize for other work, recounted Hall's quest for a better base. Starting in earnest in 1973, Hall traveled the country to get input, drew up designs, built molds and did his own testing by sliding thousands of times.

"There's no bark on my backside," he told Vitez.

He also spent about $100,000 of his own money, while taxing the patience of his wife, Wilma, and daughter, Crystal Lynn.

But the end product worked: a rubber base plate with grommets, and a base with matching holes to snap onto the grommets. He started selling the base in 1983, only to watch other manufacturers steal his idea.

"It's a dog-eat-dog world," he said the other day from his Elizabethtown home. "Sporting goods is kind of an ugly business."

Hall might have gone out of that business had it not been for Dr. David Janda, who chose the Rogers base for a groundbreaking study at the University of Michigan on the efficacy of the breakaway base.

Baseball and softball people took notice of the dramatic results -- a 98 percent reduction in injuries -- and the Rogers Break Away Base not only survived but thrived. Major League Baseball, however, expressed skepticism. In the 1992 Inquirer article, then-deputy commissioner Steve Greenberg told Vitez, "The last thing you need is in the seventh game of the World Series to have the deciding run slide into third base with one out and have a controversial call because the base pops out. ? Absent some really compelling reason to change, it's not going to happen."

In the years since, Rogers Sports has modified the base to make it even more effective. With the company now run by Roger's nephew, Brian Hall, the product has won over Little League International, Ripken Baseball and the Pony League.

MLB is the big windmill, though, the one Roger Hall is still tilting at.

"I'm proud of what I created," he says. "I've helped a lot of people avoid serious injury. But it's tough to be playing sandlot when you know you're supposed to be in the big leagues."