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Al Hackett, a member of the University of Maine and State of Maine Baseball Halls of Fame, died at his home in Orono on July 13 after a bout with cancer. He was 88.
Hackett, who worked in the admissions department for several years at the University of Maine, was WABI radio play-by-play man George Hale’s color analyst and scorekeeper for University of Maine baseball games.
Hackett was a native of Derby who went on to set career records for runs batted in, homers and total bases at the time he graduated from UMaine in 1953.
“We was a good friend. He was one of the best. He was just a good person to be around. He was a very, very generous man,” said Len Harlow, Hackett’s friend for 52 years. “He loved baseball. He would watch it at 2 or 3 in the morning.”
Harlow, a former longtime UMaine sports information director, called Hackett the “unofficial consultant” for former UMaine coach John Winkin.
He pointed out that Winkin would ask Hackett’s opinion about his players and would generally go along with what Hackett thought.
“One year, he wasn’t pleased with how one of his players was doing in practice, and he told Al he wasn’t going to take the player on the spring trip,” Harlow said. “Hackett told Winkin that he was his best player [and he had to take him]. Winkin took him and the player, Andy Hartung, hit .414 that year and was an All-American.
“Al could evaluate talent pretty damned well,” Harlow said.
“He was a great person. I feel so incredibly fortunate to have had him as my dad,” Frank Hackett said. “He never missed any of my games or activities. He was pretty special. He was able to connect with people. It didn’t matter who they were or what heir socioeconomic status was. He was genuine, and people felt that.
“That was the essence of him,” Frank Hackett said. “He had this uncanny ability to ask people questions like six degrees of separation and find someone they both knew. After people talked to him, they felt like they had known him forever.”
Al Hackett worked in the admissions department for many years, and Harlow said if there was an athlete who was a borderline student, Hackett would give the student a strong but sincere lecture in front of his parents about the importance of education that was instilled in him by his parents. He would admit the student, and Harlow said he cannot recall any of them not graduating.
He would also follow up with the students he admitted whether they were athletes or not because he cared about them and wanted them to earn their degree.
“He was very astute,” Harlow said.
Hackett would strike up a conversation with anyone, according to Harlow.
Hale said Hackett was a wonderful friend and a straight shooter.
“You always knew what he was thinking. He was a very smart guy, not only about baseball but about everything. Baseball was always his passion,” Hale said.
“He was proud of his university and his adopted hometown of Orono,” Hale said. “He is one of the most loyal people I’ve ever known.”
Hale and Harlow said Hackett was a very caring man and was there for them when their wives died.
“He had a very strong influence on my life after I lost my first wife. I was really indebted to him. He was able to nurse me along and help me survive,” Harlow said. “You knew he would always go to the wall for you.”
Harlow and Hale said Hackett was a great good-natured needler who could also take barbs.
He was a huge New York Yankees fan.
“One day after we broadcast a game, I got us tickets to a Yankees-Red Sox game at Fenway Park in Boston,” Hale said. “We were sitting down the right field line. The Yankees were pounding the Red Sox so, late in the game, Al said let’s go.
“But instead of leaving, he sat down in a seat right behind home plate. I said ‘I thought you wanted to leave.’ He said ‘No, I wanted you to sit down and get a closer look at your team getting pounded by the Yankees.’
Frank Hackett said in his dad’s waning moments, the Yankees were on television, and when he came into his dad’s bedroom, he said ‘I hate the [expletive] Yankees. My dad had been unresponsive. But after I said that, he chuckled and smiled at me.”
Hale said Hackett was the best scorekeeper he ever knew and he took great pride in keeping
“If I would reach over to touch the scorebook, he would slap my hand,” Hale said.
At a game in Hawaii, a number of UMaine hits were called errors by the official scorer from Hawaii, much to Hackett’s chagrin.
“He quietly went over to the scorekeeper and said, ‘Now I know why your team ERA [earned-run-average] is so low,” Hale said.
Hackett was Hale’s golf partner, and Hale would often gloat that among their foursome, he was the only one who recorded a hole-in-one.
“Al said, ‘Sure, you got it with a driver on a par-3,” Hale said.