Harold “Hal” Noel Breeden was born on June 28, 1944, in Albany, Georgia. He attended Albany High School and was signed by the Milwaukee Brewers as a free agent in 1963. That same year, his older brother, catcher Danny, was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals. Neither would have major league success, although Hal excelled in the minor league system (hitting .406 in Class A in 1964, then 37 home runs at the Triple-A level in 1970). Still, it took several moves and seven seasons before he would see action at the top level. In April 1971, Hal made his big league debut with the Chicago Cubs, but after getting only 23 games and 39 plate appearances that year, he moved on (via trade) to the Montreal Expos.
There, he only saw a decent amount of playing time in one season – 1973. Fifteen of his 21 career home runs came that year. Two of those came on July 13 against the Atlanta Braves, when he homered in pinch hit appearances in both games of a double header. Later that season, on September 2 in Philadelphia, Breeden set the club record for most total bases in a single game (12), hitting a home run, two triples and a double. His playing time – and his power – diminished significantly in 1974, and after spending most of 1975 in the minors, he was released.
The Hanshin Tigers signed Breeden in 1976, and he came to camp with Mike Reinbach with the hopes of becoming right- and left-hitting sources of power. At camp, Breeden impressed everyone with shot after shot over the fences. Reinbach struggled, but with a lot of practice and personal coaching, became a solid part of the team’s hitting lineup. In fact, the two made part of a deadly heart of the order – Reinbach, catcher Koichi Tabuchi, Breeden and emerging superstar Masayuki Kakefu – which helped set a league record for most team home runs in a single season with 193. Breeden rode a hot bat in May (5 multi-homer games) to lead the team with 40 home runs, and in doing so, became the first import to record 40+ bombs in his inaugural season.
The following season, despite a drop in his batting average, he kept his power numbers really high – 37 homers to once again lead the team in round trippers. He also led the team in RBIs for the second straight season. Unfortunately, a knee injury slowed him down in 1978. He returned to America in June to have it treated and never returned to Japan.
Breeden’s huge, hulking stance in the batter’s box gave him a real intimidating look and earned him the nickname “akaoni” (赤鬼 = red ogre). He was a left-handed, right-hitting first baseman – a rarity in baseball. Also, his strong swing and slow feet led to a whopping 36 double plays in his first two seasons. Still, he and Reinbach could be considered the best combination of import hitter teammates in club history.