For the most part, the main career concern of a utility infielder is finding a job and keeping it. Breaking records is not uppermost in his mind. But sometimes such a player manages to do so.
Take the case of Mike Benjamin. He played for 13 seasons, a good run for a utility infielder, but he had a career batting average of .229 (442 for 1,926), which would make him an unlikely candidate to set any offensive records. Yet for several days in June 1995, Michael Paul Benjamin was a force to be reckoned with.
Born on Nov. 22, 1965 in Euclid, Ohio, Benjamin graduated from Bellflower (Calif.) High School in 1983, moving on to Cerritos College and transferring to Arizona State for the 1986 season. In 1987, he was first-team All-American and first team All-PAC-10 when he hit .327 with 18 homers, 55 RBI, and 30 stolen bases. At the end of the decade, he was named to the all-1980s ASU squad.
Selected by the Giants in the third round of the 1987 draft, Benjamin rose through the ranks from Single-A to Triple-A but without setting any of the leagues on fire, putting up batting averages of .241 (Single-A Fresno Giants), .219 (Double-A Shreveport Captains and Triple-A Phoenix Firebirds), and .259 (Triple-A Phoenix) before being called up to the Show on July 7, 1989 for a few at-bats at age 23 in 1989.
From that point through 1993, he was back and forth between Phoenix and San Francisco without distinction at either level, aside from a stint at Phoenix in 1992 when he hit .306 in 108 at-bats. The first full season he spent on the big league roster was 1994, but he garnered only 62 at-bats, hitting .258. During this time, he appeared at second base, shortstop and third base for the Giants. This was the extent of his career before he made his mark in 1995.
A glance at Benjamin’s 1995 season might lead one to wonder what he could have done to distinguish himself. He hit just .220 (41 for 186) with three homers and 12 RBI. Nothing to see here, right? For 159 games of the 162-game schedule, true. But for a three-game stretch in June he was on fire.
Due to an injury to Matt Williams, Benjamin had become the starting third baseman. On Sunday, June 11, the Giants were at home against Montreal. Having lost the first two games of their series with the Expos, the Giants entered the game with a 23-20 record. The Expos were in line for a sweep, as they took an 8-4 lead into the ninth inning. But the Giants scored four runs in the bottom of the ninth to send the game into extra innings.
The next three innings produced all goose eggs, but Montreal scored two in the top of the 13th and the Giants failed to respond. Final score: Expos 10, Giants 8. It was a disappointing ending to a disappointing weekend, but the 22,392 fans on hand got to see the first third of Benjamin’s three-game spree. Batting in the No. 2 position, Benjamin went 4-for-6 on the day with three runs scored and one RBI:
First inning – hit by pitch by Gil Heredia
Third inning – single to right off Heredia
Fifth inning – single to center off Heredia
Seventh inning – infield single off Heredia
12th inning – fly out to right against Gabe White
Benjamin was not the star of the game, however; Rondell White of the Expos went 6-for-7 with five runs scored and three RBI. No need for envy, however, as it would not be long before Benjamin had his own six-hit game. (In case you’re wondering, the last player to achieve the rare feat of six hits in a game was Charlie Blackmon of the Rockies, who garnered two singles, three doubles and a homer in a 12-2 thrashing of the Diamondbacks on April 4, 2014, before an Opening Day crowd of 49,130.)
After an off day for travel, the Giants found themselves at Wrigley Field on Tuesday, June 13. On this day, before a crowd of 27,111, the Giants ended a four-game losing streak, defeating the Cubs by a score of 8-4. Benjamin, again starting at third base and batting in the No. 2 slot, had another good day, going 4-for-5 with two runs scored and an RBI.
First inning – bunt single off Jamie Navarro
Fourth inning – single to center off Navarro
Fifth inning – single to left off Navarro
Eighth inning – homer off Navarro
Ninth inning – ground out against Shawn Barton
Another good showing, this time in a winning cause, but the best was yet to come.
The game on Wednesday, June 14, was the capper. In the Giants’ second 13-inning contest in three games, Benjamin went 6-for-7 and drove in two runs. The six hits tied a single-game record for the Giants. Curiously, despite six stints as a baserunner, he scored no runs that day. Again the Giants were victorious, pushing across a run in the top of the 13th. Final score: Giants 4, Cubs 3.
First inning – fly out to right off Kevin Foster
Second inning – infield single off Foster
Fourth inning – infield single off Foster
Seventh inning – single to left off Mike Perez
Ninth inning – double to left off Mike Walker
11th inning – single to left off Randy Myers
13th inning – single to left off Anthony Young
A crowd of 20,199 watched Benjamin tie a major league record for most hits (10) in two consecutive games, and set a major league record for most hits (14) in three consecutive games. For the three-game span, Benjamin went 14-for-18. Without this spree, his average for the season would have been .161 (27 for 168).
The next day Benjamin came back to earth with a 1-for-4 performance against the Cubs. Even so, this one hit allowed him to tie another major league record for most hits (15) in four consecutive games.
Actually, one has a choice of four-game stretches. Benjamin went 1-for-5 (with a two-run home run) in the Giants’ 11-5 loss to Montreal in San Francisco on June 10. This was the game immediately before his three-game outburst. So whether you start on June 10 or June 11, Benjamin had 15 hits in four games.
Benjamin’s performance was one for the ages. What could he do for an encore? Well, nothing really. He reverted to type, as his 1995 season stats indicate. The Giants, who were four games above .500 after his big game on June 14, faded from contention, finishing the season in last place in the NL West at 67-77 (this was a strike-shortened season when 18 games were scrubbed in the beginning of the season).
After the season, Benjamin was traded to Philadelphia for Tommy Eason and Jeff Juden. In one year with the Phillies he put up typical offensive stats (.223, based on 23 for 118). The Phillies did not tender him another contract, but he signed a one-year contract with the Red Sox in 1997. Again, the results were similar (.233, based on 27 for 116), but he got his only postseason experience in the AL Division Series, a four-game loss to the Indians.
The Red Sox chose to re-sign him for 1998. As it turned out, Benjamin upped his game a bit. He rewarded the Red Sox’ faith in him with his best year, hitting .272 (the highest in his career) in 349 at-bats while playing all infield positions but mostly at second base. Despite his solid season, he was back on the free agent market. He had played in a career-high 124 games, but he was now 32 years old, so perhaps the Red Sox felt he had peaked and wanted a younger utility player.
The Pirates, however, felt otherwise. They signed Benjamin in 1999 and he finished his career in Pittsburgh. In 1999 he hit .247 (91 for 404) and in 2000 he hit .270 (63 for 233). After sitting out the 2001 season because of injuries, he closed out his career (at age 36) with a mere .150 (18 for 120) in 2002.
The next season, Benjamin’s baseball career took an unusual turn, as he began coaching Michael Benjamin Jr. (a former Pirates batboy) and his Little League team (Chandler, Ariz.) and took them to the 2003 Little League World Series.
In 2010 Benjamin began a five-year run as an assistant coach with Arizona State, where he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011. His son, who played three seasons with the Sun Devils from 2011 to 2013, was drafted by the Rockies in 2013, and this past season played with the Single-A Modesto Nuts of the California League.
So based on his playing career, Benjamin Sr. was certainly not a good bet to write his name into the record book. As a utility player, he rarely had the opportunity to start three games in a row, much less set records. I wouldn’t know how to calculate the odds of a player of his caliber staging a record-setting, three-day onslaught, but I’m sure they would be close to zero.
Benjamin’s achievement, however, proves that you don’t have to be an outstanding player to write your name in the record books. It could happen in one game (e.g., the Tigers’ Cesar Gutierrez, a .235 lifetime hitter, who went 7-for-7 on June 21, 1970) or it could be in consecutive games, as was the case with Benjamin. It could happen during a ho-hum season with a ho-hum team, or it could be in a pennant race, the playoffs, or the World Series.
The length of the major league baseball season offers 162 opportunities for players to shine. No matter how unimpressive your stats, any time the manager writes your name on the lineup card, you have a chance.