The Futility Infielder
A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe
I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.
Sunday, April 28, 2002
My father, who has long deferred to me on matters of baseball history, asked a question the other night. Namely, if there are switch-hitters, are there (or have there been) any switch-pitchers? Since my recall of the facts was a bit fuzzy (uh, Greg Harris a few years back and.. um... Double-Duty Radcliffe?), I promised him I would do a bit of research and report back.
According to the various sources I checked, four major-league pitchers have pitched both left- and right-handed in a single game. The first and most famous was Tony Mullane
. Mullane, a natural righty born in Cork, Ireland, played without a glove and would face the batter with both hands on the ball, then throw it with either one. Though he gained some renown for doing this, accounts differ as to how often it actually occurred. In the New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract
, James wrote this about Mullane (who he ranked 82nd in his Top 100 Pitchers):
"Thirty years ago, when historical research about baseball was in a sorry state, there were widely differing accounts about how much Mullane pitched left-handed, with some sources sayhing that he did so regularly, and others questioning whether he ever did so at all. There is now a consensus that Mullane did pitch to a few batters left-handed on July 18, 1882, and did so in some exhibition games, and may have done so on other occasions, but never more than a few times."
The Baseball Online Library
lists two dates in which Mullane did pitch ambidextrously, the aforementioned 1882 date (for the Louisville Eclipse of the American Association) and again in 1893 (for the Baltimore Orioles of the National League). Here are the two accounts:
• July 18, 1882: "Louisville hurler Tony Mullane pitches both right- and lefthanded in an AA game against Baltimore, the first time the feat is performed in the major leagues. Starting in the 4th inning he pitches lefthanded whenever Baltimore's lefty hitters are at bat. In addition to continuing to pitch righthanded to righthanded hitters. It works until the 9th when, with 2 outs, Charlie Householder hits his only HR of the year to beat Mullane 9-8."
• July 14, 1893: "Right-handed P Tony Mullane, losing to Chicago, pitches the 9th inning lefthanded. Chicago adds 3 more runs to their total and whips Baltimore 10-2."
Novelty aside, Mullane was a pretty good pitcher who won 30 games or more in five consecutive seasons. Of course, pitching in those days wasn't pitching in the way that we think of it. The pitching box was located only 45 or 50 feet away from home plate; it wasn't moved to 60-foot-6 until 1893. A pitcher could take a short run before throwing. And a batter could call for a high pitch or a low pitch up until 1887. The number of strikes for a strikeout or balls for a walk varied from year to year; it was seven balls to a walk in 1882. Pitchers didn't throw nearly so hard and they racked up a lot more innings; Mullane pitched as many as 567 innings but never led the league, though he did finish in the top 10 eight times. His lifetime total of 284 wins is the fourth-highest
of any non-Hall of Fame pitcher. He was also a decent enough hitter and fielder to play every position except catcher, and he appeared in over 200 games in the field, mostly as an outfielder. And yes, he was a switch-hitter.
The next pitcher to perform the ol' righty-lefty in a game was Larry Corcoran
of the Chicago White Stockings, who did so against Buffalo in 1884, pitching four innings of middle relief (apparently the longest stint of switch-pitching). Corcoran was a very good pitcher from 1880 through 1884 for Chicago, pitching his team to three consecutive first-place finishes in his first three years, winning 163 games and tossing three no-hitters. But he fell victim to a kidney disease and his health deteriorated; he won only 14 more games in the bigs after that five year stretch, was done by age 27, and dead at 32. Still, his spot in baseball history is secure; he's credited with being the first pitcher to work out a set of signals
with his catcher--Corcoran would shift his tobacoo chaw when he wanted to throw a curve.
After Corcoran came yet another 1880s hurler. On May 9, 1888, Louisville Colonels righty Elton "Icebox" Chamberlain
(don't you love that name?) threw the last two innings of an 18-6 rout lefthanded, holding Kansas City scoreless. Chamberlain was a solid pitcher for several teams in the AA and NL from 1886 to 1896, winning 157 games, but the best thing about him seems to have been his nickname. Bill James wrote that he was called "Icebox" because he was because he was "cool and collected on the mound." But a writer named Gene "Two-Finger" Carney, who writes a web log called Notes From the Shadows of Cooperstown
, has another explanation
: Chamberlain discovered in 1890 that baseballs frozen overnight worked to a pitcher's advantage. Either way, you'd have to say, he was pretty cool.
After Mullane's second stint in 1893, no major-leaguer performed the ambidextrous feat in a game for over 100 years. But according to Jerome Holtzman
, the official historian of Major League Baseball, several warmed up on the sidelines, including Cal McLish (whose real name is Calvin Coolidge Julius Caesar Tuskahoma McLish; I dare you to look it up
); Brooklyn's Ed Head, Boston Red Sox pitcher Dave (Boo) Ferris, Tug McGraw of the Mets, and Jeff Schwarz of the White Sox.
On Septmeber 28, 1995, ambidexterity returned to the major league mound in the form of Montreal Expo reliever Greg Harris
. In the 9th inning of a 9-7 loss, Harris retired the first batter (Reggie Sanders) right-handed, then switched over to lefty and walked Hal Morris. Still lefty, he got Eddie Taubensee to ground out, then switched back to righty, to retire Brett Boone. Harris, who had wanted to do this for 10 years, was well-prepared for the occasion, and used a special six-fingered glove which has been sent to the Hall of Fame. At 39, his career was at its tail end; he pitched only once more in the majors before retiring.
A couple of other major leaguers did the swtcheroo earlier in their careers. Bert Campaneris, a star shortstop for the Kansas City and Oakland A's who once played all nine positions in the same game
, pitched with both hands in a Florida State League game in 1962. And Paul Richards
, a big-league catcher and manager, was said to have pitched both ends of a double-header ambidextrously during his high-school days in Waxahachie, Texas and been featured in Ripley's Believe It Or Not for doing so. Waxahachie?
Oh, and as for Double Duty Radcliffe, I was waaaay off. Ted Radcliffe was a very popular Negro-League star who earned his nickname
from Damon Runyon by pitching a shutout in the second game of a Negro League World Series doubleheader after catching Satchel Paige in the first. But that's an entirely different story...
Monday, April 22, 2002
Nick Stone is back with a short piece on Ken Griffey, Jr. and is working on a writeup for his first game of the season, so I've built a separate spot for him over here
and have added his link to the man navigation system. Check it out!
Wednesday, April 17, 2002
A few days ago, in a solid effort to avoid getting any real work done, I came across the statistics of a player I'd never heard of, one whose name seemed ripped from the pages of some long-lost Ring Lardner novel: Buzz Arlett. What caught my eye about him was his sole line in the annals of major league baseball (stats from baseball-reference.com
Year Ag Tm Lg G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG
1931 32 PHI NL 121 418 65 131 26 7 18 72 3 45 39 .313 .387 .538
That's all she wrote--it's Arlett's only season in the bigs. Clearly the guy could HIT, but it took him forever to reach the majors, and after tearing the cover off the ball for one lousy (66-88) ballclub he was gone just as quickly. So that line of stats just hangs there in space, desperate for some company or an explanation. What is this, The Natural?
Scrolling down Arlett's baseball-reference page
(see Sliced Bread, Greatest Invention Since), we find a clue to his mysteriously short big-league career: fielding. Arlett made 10 errors in 94 games as a rightfielder (though he did have 14 assists) and three more in 13 games at first base. Combined with his below-average range, it appears what we have here is a born DH who's come unstuck in time.
With that plausible theory in hand, I decided to do a bit of resarch on Arlett. Judging from what I found, I'm clearly not the first person whose curiosity about ol' Buzz was piqued. It turns out the man was a minor-league legend, a sort of Babe Ruth of the Pacific Coast League. In 1984, he was voted the most outstanding player in minor-league history by the Society for American Baseball Research.
His story certainly reads like a legend. The 19-year old Arlett started as a spitballing pitcher (righty) with the Oakland Oaks of the PCL in 1918. He won 99 games for them over 5 years (a high of 29) before arm trouble set in. By then his bat had proven too valuable to keep out of the lineup and he became a full-time, switch-hitting outfielder and a hell of a slugger. During his 13 years in the PCL, he set league records with 251 HRs and 1135 RBIs. In his best season, 1929, he hit .374 with 39 homers and 189 RBI, and he averaged .360/30/140 during his hitting years in Oakland.
The Pacific Coast League, in those days, was the predominant baseball league in the western U.S. Between World War II and the Dodgers and Giants arrival in 1958 (which expanded the majors geographically well beyond their furthest western outpost, St. Louis), the PCL even made a bid for major-league status. The league was full of high-quality talent that was just a step below major league level; big league teams often looked to the PCL for seasoned replacements when injuries arose, and players often preferred to play in PCL cities because of their cooler climates. It wasn't a bad gig, all things considered.
Arlett had drawn the attention of major league scouts during his time in Oakland, but not all of it was favorable. "Good hit, no field" was the tag a Cardinals scout stuck on him early in his career, and it dogged him. During his sole big-league season, a pitcher on Arlett's team suggested Buzz take a rocking chair to rightfield since it wouldn't affect the amount of ground he covered and he might as well be comfortable. He became something of an archetype; the representative of one big-league team, in scouting Ted Williams, dismissed the young Splinter as merely "another Buzz Arlett"--"[A] standard of comparison," wrote the great sportswriter Red Smith
, "that still causes strong men to turn pale."
But Arlett also had his share of bad timing. In 1930
, the Brooklyn Dodgers (or the Robins, as they were known during manager Wilbert Robinson's tenure) were looking for an extra outfielder. They sent a scout to the West Coast to look at two of the PCL's best hitters, Arlett and Ike Boone of the San Francisco Missions. Boone was hitting .448 at the time, and the previous season had not only hit .407 with 55 HRs but also set the all-time total-base record for organized baseball with 553 (of course, it helped that the PCL season was 200 games long). The day the Robins scout was in the stands, the 6'4", 235 lb Arlett got in a heated argument with the home plate umpire, who hit him in the face with his mask, injuring Arlett's eye and ending the Robins' pursuit of him; they signed Boone instead.
Arlett finally got his shot in the bigs the next season and fared well from a hitting standpoint; he was 4th in the NL in homers (teammate Chuck Klein led with 31), fifth in slugging, and seventh in OPS. Philly's Baker Bowl was a hitter's park and it was a high-offense era, though levels were somewhat down from the record-setting explosion of 1930 (4.48 runs per game in the 1931 NL, down from 5.68 in 1930). The Phils were then mired in a nearly 30-year tenancy down in the NL's second division, and they apparently decided they were just as well off without Arlett.
He caught on with the Baltimore Orioles of the International League, leading the circuit with 54 homers and 144 RBI, and hitting four home runs in a game twice in a five-week span. He led the league again the next year with 39 homers before moving onto the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association. Again, Arlett put up more monster seasons: .319/41/132 in 1934, .360/25/101 in 1935.
Arlett stopped playing after 1937, finishing his minor-leauge career with a .341 average, 432 homers (2nd all-time), 1786 RBI (2nd again), and .604 slugging percentage, as well as a 108-93 record with a 3.42 ERA as a pitcher. Like several other colorfully named PCL stars of the day (Jigger Statz
, Smead Jolley
, Lefty O'Doul
), he put up decent numbers in the bigs when given a shot and probably should have done more (the ability to play some defense would have helped). Instead, his story is one of what might have been, one minor league sluggers from Ken Phelps to Erubiel Durazo could certainly identify with. Still, he's got a pretty interesting story, one I found fascinating. You learn something new every day...
Tuesday, April 09, 2002
Today is the one-year anniversary of the death of Willie Stargell, and it marks an anniversary of sorts for me as well--or for this site, more accurately.
The bat-twirling Pirates slugger with the infectious smile and the ridiculous train-conductor cap had been of my boyhood heroes. His death--at age 61, on the day the Pirates were to move into a new ballpark adorned by his statue--moved me more than most, as memories of watching "Pops" one storybook summer came flooding back. He was 39 and on his last good legs as a ballplayer, radiating joy every moment he played the game. Baseball, Willie's smile told me, was all about having fun. I was 9 and learning the game from my father and grandfather; I pinwheeled my bat in imitation, and exuded joy every time I picked up my mitt.
A few months before Stargerll died, my own grandfather, Bernard Jaffe, had passed away, and his death was still weighing on me when the news about Willie came. "Pop" spent endless hours with me and my brother during our summer stays in Walla Walla, playing catch, pitching to us, taking us to games, and regaling us with tales of Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson as we watched ballgames on cable. The 1979 "We Are Family" Pirates, led by Stargell to a World Championship, were a mainstay of one summer's programming (we were a Dodger family, but the Dodgers were well on their way to a season in sub-.500 oblivion). Moved by Stargell's passing and, in the tradition of my grandfather, struck with a yearning to pass on a generation of baseball wisdom to those whose appreciations didn't go back as far, I wrote an obituary of sorts
, and emailed it around to friends.
In doing so, I tapped into a urge I'd had for a few years to combine my writing and my design into a single project, a labor I could love. I began plotting a web site as an outlet for my increasingly frequent writing about baseball, and my Stargell obit was the cornerstone (though in retrospect it's a bit clumsy and half-finished). In two weeks time, I'd registered a domain name, opened a Blogger
account, bought a book on web site design, and started construction of the empire which would make me rich and fam... oh, wait. It hasn't (and won't) make me rich and famous, but I've built something over the past year which I'm very proud of--not every single word or every opinion offered, but not too bad either. A peek inside the head of one fan and a look at the ways we fans enjoy the game--whether following our favorite stars or teams, taking in a night at the ballpark, or poring over the box scores. I hope you've enjoyed it; I know I have.
So happy birthday to me and to this site, and thank you to those who've supported it. As the Mayor of this here domain, let me declare this and all future April 9ths to be Wille Stargell Day. May we all take as much joy and offer as much inspiration as Willie did in our endeavors.
Sunday, April 07, 2002
You Can't Have Too Much Pitching
Since I've spent the past week or so attempting to burn a hole in my computer screen by staring very intensely, I haven't had the will or the time to play much with this website. But I did manage to catch some ballgames in the season's first week, including parts of every Yankee game. Thanks to reruns on YES, I can catch an inning or two of the previous night's ballgame with my morning coffee. Not a bad way to start the day.
Stuck inside the office on Opening Day, I couldn't even successfully purchase that screwed-up MLB Gameday
package as I'd intended. So I had to wait until Wednesday to get a live fix on the Yankees. I watched David Wells face the Orioles in his return from pinstriped exile and back surgery, and was treated to a performance that felt almost preordained. The Not Quite So Fat Man, who obviously read the script, picked up on his strong spring and was in total command, beating the O's 1-0
on the strength of Robin Ventura's solo homer. Consistent with reports, about 25 pounds of Wells has gone missing, and he showed no sign of back trouble even in the chilly weather. The cold air helped Wells' pitching, keeping hard hit balls in the park and allowing him to concentrate on inducing lazy fly balls.
Wells and the other members of the starting rotation have been the story of the Yanks since the season opened. Six games in, Roger Clemens is the only starter to yield any runs, and the starters have now allowed 1 run in their last 35.2 innings. Wells' 7.1 shutout innings preceded 7 blank frames by Mike Mussina against his former team, 6 zeroes by Andy Pettitte against the Devil Rays, and an emphatic 8-inning 1-hitter by Orlando Hernandez. Granted, all of this happened against two AL East doormats who lost 198 games last year and who comprise nearly 1/4 of the Yankee schedule. But anybody who saw those games had to come away feeling that the Yanks have the strongest starting rotation in baseball.
Recall that Boomer's burger-induced surprise signing this winter left him in a three-way competition with Sterling Hitchcock and El Duque for two spots in the rotation. It also created all kinds of intrigue regarding El Duque's next destination. But GM Brian Cashman, who isn't stupid, fended off uninteresting offers from the Angels, Pirates, Giants and others. The message was clear: you can never have too much pitching. With three pitchers coming off of injury-marred seasons, it's hardly surprising that another ailment--Hitchcock's back, this time--deferred any decision Joe Torre has to make about the rotation. Sterling has his work cut out for him if he's going to crack it. A lousy spring saw him struggling to breathe life into his mid-80s fastball before back troubles slowed him. Then the other day he felt a twinge in his groin, shutting him down for another week. In other words, he's in midseason form.
Torre's old standbys may make the point moot by the time Hitchcock finishes his Tampa cure (and that's not even considering the admittedly remote posssiblity David Cone will crawl out of the bleachers
to join the team in the second half). Sterling is likely headed for a hitch in the bullpen when he does get healthy, becoming essentially a $6 million insurance policy against the assorted aches and pains that befall 39-year old pitchers (Wells turns 39 in May, Clemens will be 40 in August, and we'll have to saw El Duque in half to count his rings).
Further patchwork is available if need be. Last year's #5 starter, Ted Lilly, has taken his live arm (8.4 K/ 9 IP) to the bullpen; he's out of options and can't be sent down without passing him through waivers; only a favorable trade offer might set him loose. Cuban defector Adrian Hernandez, a.k.a. El Duquecito, had a very strong spring, but was sent down to Columbus to keep his momentum as a starter rather than stash him at the back of the Yankee bullpen (a la my old pal Jay Tessmer
, who surprisingly made the squad as a non-roster invitee but who figures to go down once Ramiro Mendoza is activated).
When it's all said and done, the Yanks have one hell of an experienced and talented pool to draw from come October, and yes, they'll be there. Look at these career postseason stats:
W-L ERA IP ER
Pettitte 10-7 4.34 149.1 72
Hernandez 9-2 2.48 90.2 25
Wells 8-1 2.74 85.1 26
Clemens 6-6 3.33 127.0 47
Mussina 4-2 2.56 66.2 19
Hitchcock 4-0 1.76 30.2 6
TOTALS 41-18 3.19 549.2 195
That, friends, is stiff competition.
As for the rest of the Yankee team, the players who have made the strongest impressions on me in this young season are Robin Ventura and Nick Johnson. Ventura followed his solo game-winning homer with a 3-run shot the next day. He's made several sterling plays in the field, including some barehanded pickups which evoked memories of the departed Scott Brosius. Of course, Ventura's got six Gold Gloves on his mantle to Brosius's one, so this shouldn't be too surprising. Right now he looks anything but the broken-down shell of his former All-Star self. Johnson, though he's been miscast in the #9 spot in the order, seems to be adapting well to the DH role. He socked his first homer of the season against the O's, and has shown his advertised ability to get on base, thanks to being hit by three pitches. Torre has gotten him into two games at first base, a pace which should save some wear and tear on Jason Giambi over the course of the season without offending him.
The season's only a week old and the competition's been less than stellar, but this Yankee team looks as strong as any since 1998. I predicted 103 wins and another World Championship
for them and I haven't seen anything yet that leads me to back off that. I'm more nervous about my Barry Bonds HR prediction--he's only 59 off of my prediction and counting.
• • • • •
Continuing the predictions that I will put on file so I can laugh at them later: I entered Baseball Prospectus's HACKING MASS
contest, in which one attempts to pick the worst hitters at five positions (C, 1B, 3B, 2B/SS, and OF) and gets points based on the formula (.800-OPS)*PA. My team, unimaginatively named The Futilitymen, are as follows: Catcher: Brad Ausmus, First Baseman: Eric Karros, Third Baseman: Shea Hillenbrand, Middle Infielder: Pokey Reese, and Outfielder: Marquis Grissom. If they suck as much as I think they will, it's definitely going to be a long year for the Dodgers.
And once more on the subject of predictions, I'm apparently the winner of Baseball Primer's Free Agent Fiesta
, in which I picked the correct destinations of 9 out of 23 major free agents (Barry Bonds, Juan Gonzalez, Brett Boone, Jason Giambi, Tino Martinez, Chan Ho Park, Jason Schmidt, John Smoltz, and David Wells). I haven't decided where I'm going to park the new car I've won; I'm still waiting for them to ask me what color I want. Guys, just let me know what my options are...
Monday, April 01, 2002
Opening Day at last! Spring has sprung, and I can now congratulate myself on surviving an entire winter on only a thin gruel of bowl games, NFL playoffs, March Madness, a trip to the Olympics
, King George's shopping spree
and Bad Rug Bud's odious delusions
. But thanks to the events of the past several days, I've worked myself back to game shape.
• Last Thursday brought news of my Yankee tickets in our partial season ticket package. I've got eleven games thus far, with another two from last September (10th and the 12th, eerily enough) still to be redeemed for future games. My first trip to Yankee Stadium comes April 21 against Toronto, and other opponents include Seattle, San Francisco, Arizona, the Mets, Cleveland, Oakland, Texas, Boston, and Baltimore. I haven't scheduled everything yet, but when it's all said and done, my itinerary will likely include visits to the other boroughs to see the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Staten Island Yankees, and that blue-and-orange team in Queens, as well as trips to Fenway and Miller Park.
• Friday, thanks to a day off from work, brought an opportunity for a late-afternoon game of catch in the park. Breaking out the mitt and tossing the ball around remains a very visceral pleasure for me. Unbelievably enough, my mitt is the same one I played Little League with 20 years ago--a Greg Luzinski model Rawlings from around the time that Luzinksi ("The worst outfielder I everf saw, bar none."--Bill James, NBJHA) gravitated to his natural position, DH. Does that go far enough in explaining my lack of major-league success?
• Saturday brought an all-afternoon cram session to finish my fantasy league draft orders. I don't have the patience, the organizational skill, or the investment in it all to deal with a live draft, so this all-out ranking the players 20-, 40- or even 60-deep at their positions is as familiar (and painful) as a trip to the dentist. Time will tell, of course, but after seeing my team, I feel reasonably optimistic. At the most basic level, my draft strategy worked. I ended up with a lot of guys with high on base percentages--Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Edgar Martinez, Jeremy Giambi, Ellis Burks, and David Eckstein--and the ones who don't fit that bill will at least rack up the steals (I just keep telling myself that about punk-ass Jerry Hairston Jr. ). I've got two bona fide closers, even if one of them is named Roberto Hernandez. Now that I think about it, my pitching staff is pretty tubby: Hernandez, David Wells, Bob Wickman, Kevin Appier, and Rich "El Guapo" Garces have all the makings of a tag-team WWF match. What's the over/under on guys with gout?
Now that I've got my game face on... in accordance with the bylaws which accompany my prestigious position as a Writer of Sorts, I am required to put forth my predictions for the coming season so that you and I both may chuckle at their folly come October--or even May. So, here is each division in order of finish, along with my picks for awards (of course, this presupposes a complete season uninterrupted by labor strife):
AL East: Yanks, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Devil Rays, Orioles
AL Central: Twins, White Sox, Indians, Tigers, Royals
AL West: Mariners, A's, Angels, Rangers
NL East: Braves, Mets, Marlins, Phillies, Expos
NL Central: Astros, Cardinals, Cubs, Reds, Brewers, Pirates
NL West: Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Padres, Giants, Rockies
Wildcards: A's, Mets
World Series: Yanks over Astros
AL MVP: Jason Giambi
NL MVP: Sammy Sosa
AL Cy Young: Tim Hudson. Or Mark Mulder. Or maybe Barry Zito.
NL Cy Young: Roy Oswalt
AL Rookie of the Year: Hank Blalock
NL Rookie of the Year: Sean Burroughs
First Manager Fired: Tony Muser
First Superstar Traded: Scott Rolen
Number of HRs Barry Bonds will hit: 64 (he'll lose out to Sosa's 66)
Number of games Rondell White will play: 112
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