That, modern reader, is the way the whole story started.
The Globe didn’t bury the lede, as we say in journalistic circles. It didn’t begin with matters of secondary or tertiary importance, such as Boston’s 12-1 loss in the first game of the Aug. 24 doubleheader against the second-place Tigers or even its 8-7 walk-off win in the second game. Instead, in its story-opening passage, the paper took the long view, the wide view, the view that seizes upon the sort of extraordinary detail that outlasts the outcome of a historically irrelevant game to become itself a fascinating piece of major league history.
Sure, the Sox had split a doubleheader, but so what? Teddy Ballgame had pitched!
Today, on behalf of The Hardball Times, I hereby borrow the Globe’s methodology–minus the 1940s schtick, sadly–and get right at it: Some of history’s best batsmen, be they bleacher-pounding behemoths or so-called “pure hitters” who managed to hit ’em where they weren’t, have stepped onto a major league mound and pitched at least part of one inning. In fact, among the top 35 home run hitters of all time, a full half dozen have pitched. And among the top 35 in lifetime batting average, 15 have toed the rubber.
You’re already hip to the greatest. Before he became the baddest hitter on the planet, Babe Ruth led the American League in ERA (1.65) and shutouts (9) in 1916, so you get zero points for knowing about the Babe and his 94-46 record and 2.28 ERA. Sorry to break it to you, pal.
But answer me this: Do you know about Jimmie Foxx? If not, you do now. Double X pitched! As a matter of fact, he pitched in 10 games–one in 1939 and nine in 1945. And those nine, as you’ll discover, were far more interesting than the one.
But why, you ask, do I bring it up now? What’s the point of this story? Well, like any baseball writer who doesn’t cover a beat, I’m always looking for a tale to tell. And yet, as storied as baseball might appear to you, story ideas don’t just grow on story trees, you know. A writer has to go out and find them.
Hitters pitching? Yeah, that’s a story, it says here. Secondly, there’s a convenient hook to this thing. Specifically, among the first four picks in the 2017 first-year player draft, two–No. 2 pick Hunter Greene and No. 4 pick Brendan McKay–are two-way players, Greene as a shortstop/pitcher and McKay as a first baseman/pitcher. What’s more, a third two-way player, Japan’s Shohei Otani, might enter the big leagues next year.
More pertinent is that their major league employers–Otani’s remains to be seen–have considered letting them play both ways. And so even if guys like Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx, and Ty Cobb never truly performed as two-way players, guys like Greene, McKay and Otani should know there is a double-threat precedent: Some big-time hitters have pitched.
Only the Babe was great in both capacities, but others were pretty good. That said, it does bear mention that some–indeed, several–were pretty bad.
Ted Williams might have been tempestuous, but a problem child? A year earlier, in his age-20 season, The Kid had slashed .327/.436/.609 en route to posting 145 RBI and 131 runs as a rookie. Now, entering the Aug. 24 doubleheader against the Tigers and still a week from turning 21, Williams had slugged his way to a .342 batting average and a 1.044 OPS.
That’s right. With problems like that, who needs blessings?
Still, Williams had been nagging manager Joe Cronin all season to let him pitch. And really, why not? After all, Williams was just a few years removed from Hoover High School in San Diego, and like a great many major league players, he had pitched–and pitched quite well–at the prep level, striking out a dozen or more batters in several ballgames.
Working in Williams’ favor was that Cronin had been no stranger to exercises in positional flexibility. He had let centerfielder Doc Cramer pitch in a game two seasons earlier–Cramer went four innings and yielded two earned runs–and allowed Jimmie Foxx himself to finish a game the season before. In it, Double X retired all three batters he faced.
Of course, Foxx’s 1939 outing would mark only his first on a major league mound. Seven seasons hence, in 1945, he would pitch for reasons entirely unconnected to a late-season lark. On Feb. 10 of that year, the 37-year-old Foxx had signed a one-year contract with the Phillies to play in the city where he had begun his career as a 17-year-old catcher for the Athletics. By now, the passage of two decades had taken its toll on the three-time MVP. In 1942, Boston had sold him to the Cubs in a midseason deal, and in Chicago he had served primarily and ineffectively as a pinch hitter, posting OPS marks of .570 in 1942 and .236 in 1944, when he served as a player/coach. In 1943, he had sat out the season entirely.
But if World War II did anyone any favors, he was a player like Foxx. By 1945, 80 percent of the players in Opening Day lineups in 1941 had either entered the armed forces or become “essential war workers,” and that had left room on wartime rosters for a motley variety of ill-equipped teenagers, career minor leaguers and, yes, rapidly aging sluggers.
The problem for Foxx, however, was that as the season progressed, he was slugging at barely above .400 and at risk of losing his position at first base.
Enter the big idea.
Though suffering in other areas of his body, Foxx still owned a strong right arm. And like Williams, et al, he had been a star pitcher in high school. Desperate to continue his career, even with the last-place Phillies, Foxx got the go-ahead from manager Ben Chapman to return to the mound for the first time since 1939. Chapman, in an interview with The Sporting News, called it Foxx’s “only chance to stay active in the big leagues.”
After starting a war-relief benefit game against the crosstown Athletics on July 10, Double X made two relief appearances later in the month, hurling 4 ⅔ innings and yielding zero runs on two hits and five walks. In the second of those games, he notched a pair of strikeouts.
On Aug. 19 versus the Reds, Foxx at last got his first start. In it, he surrendered four hits, two walks and two earned runs in 6 ⅔ innings to pick up the win. He struck out five batters, including Eddie Miller and Al Libke twice apiece. Miller would whiff only 38 times in 421 at-bats that season, so, using mostly a fastball and screwball, Double X clearly did some work.
“I’m supposed to have a curve, too,” Foxx told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “But that thing doesn’t curve.”
In the end, it would be Foxx’s only win. He would get one more start and make six more appearances, finishing with a 1-0 record and 1.59 ERA that season, his last in the majors. He would retire with a lifetime ERA of 1.52 and, if you must know, a 3.53 FIP and a 1.141 WHIP. Alongside his 534 homers–19th all time–those figures are all the more impressive.
Williams wanted to pitch. Foxx needed to. Others would toe the rubber under different rationales. Call them sincere efforts or outright gimmicks, but however you define them, the mound appearances of men like Cobb, Stan Musial and, yes, Jose Canseco are more than mere trivia. What they mean–what they give us–are more stories.
Unlike Jimmie Foxx, Stan Musial didn’t need to pitch. And unlike Ted Williams, he didn’t even want to. Blame it on–or credit it to–Eddie Stanky.
The Cardinals manager had devised a scheme entering his team’s 1952 season finale against the rival Cubs. With both teams out of the pennant race, the only race that mattered on that September day in St. Louis was the one for the NL batting crown. It had come down to Cardinals outfielder Musial, at .336, and Cubs third baseman Frank Baumholtz, at .326.
Granted, Baumholtz would need a historically good day at the plate, paired with a pretty miserable day from Stan the Man, but in efforts to make their clash even more mano-a-mano, Stanky had decided Musial would pitch to Baumholtz in the first inning.
Grudgingly, Musial had agreed to the plan. “I wanted to get it over with,” he’d tell the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2002.
To begin the opening frame, St. Louis starter Harvey Haddix walked Cubs leadoff man Tommy Brown to bring Baumholtz to the plate. As planned, Stanky summoned Musial to the mound, shifted Hal Rice from right field to center field and sent Haddix to right field. Of course, like Williams and Foxx, et al, Musial wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with the mound. He had entered pro ball as a pitcher and in his third minor league season, at 19, had posted an 18-5 record and 2.62 ERA. After a shoulder injury ended his pitching days, Musial had consoled himself by winning five NL batting crowns. Now, he was gunning for his sixth.
First, he had to face Baumholtz.
A southpaw, Musial threw just two warmup pitches. Baumholz, a lefty himself, stepped to the plate. But instead of stepping into the left-handed batter’s box, Baumholtz added more fun–or more farce–by stepping into the right-handed box. With Brown on first base, Musial came to the set position and then delivered a pitch over the plate.
Baumholtz, in the only right-handed at-bat of his 10-year major league career, hit a hard grounder to third baseman Solly Hemus, who bobbled it for his 30th error of the season. And that was it: Haddix returned to his rightful place on the mound, where he would coax a double play, and Musial to his customary spot in center field. Musial would go 1-for-3 that day, singling in the bottom of the ninth inning in his final at-bat of the season, to win the crown with a .336 mark to his rival’s .325.
His ERA? It doesn’t exist. But that doesn’t mean Musial–the man who’d retire with a .3308 lifetime batting average, 30th all-time–didn’t pitch. He did pitch–one pitch, to one batter, following one skipper’s decision.
In 1925, it took two managers to get Ty Cobb and George Sisler to pitch–against each other, no less. Those managers? Ty Cobb and George Sisler.
The date: Oct. 4, 1925.
The place: Sportsman’s Park, St. Louis.
It was the final day of the season, and the Browns and Tigers were playing for little but paychecks and exercise. With 82 and 79 wins, respectively, the teams were well back of the Senators in the American League pennant chase. And though longtime rivals Cobb and Sisler were batting a lofty .373 and .346, respectively, they had fallen well off the pace for the AL batting crown.
That honor would go to Rogers Hornsby, who already had wrapped up his fifth straight title with a 3-for-4 afternoon in the Cardinals’ season finale to move from .399 to .403. And so for both the Browns and Tigers, and for both Sisler and Cobb, the season was basically over–except it wasn’t. The time had come for fun.
Cobb and Sisler agreed to pitch for their respective squads. And why not? Not only were they, y’know, Cobb and Sisler, they were also the managers. What, was Lil Stoner gonna tell Cobb no? Was Elam Vangilder gonna ask Sisler to respect the game? What’s more, it wouldn’t be the first time Cobb and Sisler squared off.
The date: Sept. 1, 1918.
The place: Sportsman’s Park, St. Louis.
Entering the penultimate day of the season, the Tigers were going nowhere but back to Detroit. At 52-70, they looked down only at the woeful Athletics in the AL standings. And at 57-63, the Browns were idling 15 games behind the league-leading Red Sox. For both teams, the season was basically over–except it wasn’t. On the schedule were four more games, and they call ’em games for a reason.
In the first game of the Sept. 1 doubleheader, Cobb went 4-for-5 to raise his average to .376 while Sisler posted one hit in five at-bats to move to .342. Yeah, business as usual.
But for game two, each consented to go beyond the demands of his day job. To begin the bottom of the seventh, with his Tigers trailing the Browns, 5-2, Cobb took the mound. Stepping to the plate was Sisler, who promptly doubled and later scored the Browns’ sixth and final run in their eventual 6-2 win. It would be the only run Cobb allowed that day but not the only run that season.
A day later, in Detroit, Cobb would yield one run in three innings in the season finale, the second game of a twinbill against the White Sox. Getting the save that day was Tigers left fielder Bobby Veach, he of the .310 lifetime batting average, the 4.50 lifetime ERA and, yep, the one career save.
Back to Sportsman’s Park, on Sept. 1, 1918: In the top of the ninth, Sisler reciprocated by taking the hill with a four-run lead. He would not surrender it, allowing one hit and zero runs in facing four batters–none of them Cobb.
It is worth noting that while Cobb had little history as a pitcher, Sisler started as one. At the University of Michigan he threw a no-hitter against Amherst–with none other than Cy Young as the home plate umpire. After leaving Ann Arbor, where he batted .451 in his senior season, Gorgeous George went directly to the Browns. As a rookie, he posted a 2.83 ERA and 4-4 record that included a 2-1 win over his boyhood idol, Walter Johnson.
“Sisler can be counted on as a baseball freak,” opined The Washington Post.
It had been a fine inauguration, but soon that old bugaboo–arm trouble, which he first experienced at Michigan–found him, limiting him to three games in 1916. And though he pitched to a 1.00 ERA, he soon transitioned to first base and the outfield while putting up a .305 batting average in his second season. He was a batsman now. His days on the mound were over. Except they weren’t.
Back to Sportsman’s Park, on Oct. 4, 1925: Pitching the final two innings of the Browns’ eventual 11-6 loss to Cobb’s Tigers, Sisler recaptured his glory by yielding just one hit, one walk and zero runs. He faced seven batters, the final of whom was the Georgia Peach. Sisler retired him.
Oh, and Cobb? He picked up the save, the only save of his 24-year career.
Ty Cobb, as the ghost of Ty Cobb would like to remind you, remains the big bad alpha batter when it comes to lifetime averages. He sits, and will forever sit, at an ascendant .3664. As for George Sisler, he remains tied with Lou Gehrig for 16th place on the all-time list at .3401. Among their brethren in the top 35, others who pitched are No. 9 Dan Brouthers (7.83 ERA in four games); No. 11 Dave Orr (7.20 ERA in three games); No. 13 Pete Browning (54.00 ERA in one game); and No. 24 Cap Anson (4.50 ERA in three games).
Also pitching poorly was No. 6, Tris Speaker, albeit in another small sample size. In his only mound performance, on Oct. 7, 1914, he entered Boston’s season finale in the ninth inning and surrendered two hits and one (earned) run in an eventual 11-4 loss to the Senators.
Pitching poorly, too, and in a larger sample size, was No. 18, Jesse Burkett. (Amazingly, he is tied with Nap Lajoie and Tony Gwynn at exactly .3382.) But unlike Speaker, who as a pitcher in the Texas League reportedly yielded 22 consecutive hits, all for extra bases, Burkett entered the major leagues as a pitcher after leading the Atlantic Association with 30 wins and 240 strikeouts in 1889. Following his rookie season of 1890, when he posted a 5.57 ERA and 3-10 record with the Giants, he migrated from the mound to the batter’s box.
Near the end of his career, but briefly, he migrated back. It didn’t work out.
In 1902, a year after winning his third NL batting crown with an average of .376–his lone win with an average of below .400–Burkett returned to the mound to pitch one inning. In it, he yielded four hits, one walk and four runs (one earned) to take the loss, the 11th of his career. After that, he stuck to the batter’s box and finished with a .338 lifetime average, which, by any reckoning, is more impressive than his 5.56 ERA.
Pitching better, or at least putting up better statistics, were Nos. 33 and 35, Wade Boggs and Honus Wagner. Across his two games and 8.1 innings, the Flying Dutchman pitched to a sterling 0.00 ERA and thus became the lone Hall of Famer with that goose-egg mark of perfection. Look closer, however, and you’ll see he did surrender seven hits, six walks and five unearned runs, meaning he wasn’t exactly Cy Young out there. His lifetime FIP and WHIP–3.44 and 1.560, respectively–confirm a less than ace-like showing.
As for Boggs’ mound performance, descriptions are easier to come by. The year was 1997, and throughout his career Boggs had spent a portion of pregame warmups showing off the knuckleball his father, Win, had taught him as a child. Now a man of 39, Boggs watched from the Yankees dugout one August night as the Angels pounded starter David Wells for 11 runs in the first three innings. With the score 12-4 entering the bottom of the eighth, Yankees manager Joe Torre, who had heard about Boggs’ knuckler, summoned the five-time batting champ and asked if he would like to pitch.
Minutes later, Boggs stood on the Anaheim Stadium mound in front of 22,956 fans and faced the Angels’ Luis Alicea. After getting two quick strikes–well, as quick as a pair of knuckleballs can produce–Boggs threw four consecutive balls to send Alicea to first base. Then, using nine knuckleballs and one 74-mph fastball, Boggs took each of the next three hitters to an 0-2 count before retiring them all. The fourth and final batter of the inning, Todd Greene, struck out swinging on a wicked high knuckler. Fans gave Boggs a standing ovation. And like a veteran pitcher, he tipped his cap in return.
Of equal gimmickry, if not of equal success, were the outings of Jose Canseco and Adam Dunn, tied at No. 35 on the homer list with 462 apiece. Dunn’s appearance, in which yielded two hits and one run, came in the ninth inning of a 16-0 loss to the same franchise for which Canseco had suffered his disastrous outing in a similar blowout loss 21 years earlier.
On May 29, 1993, with the Rangers trailing the Red Sox, 12-1, entering the bottom of the eighth at Fenway Park, Texas manager Kevin Kennedy at last acceded to Canseco’s long-stated desire to pitch an inning in the major leagues. During an exhibition game against the Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate earlier in the month, Canseco had used a 95-mph fastball during his one inning of work to set the batters down in order, including one on a whiff.
Upon taking the Fenway Park mound, however, Canseco began throwing something other than heat–specifically, a slow knuckler. Weeks later, long after the Red Sox had lit him up for three earned runs, Canseco would learn that he had torn an elbow ligament and would miss the rest of the season. The Rangers had given up Ruben Sierra, Bobby Witt and Jeff Russell to get him, and he had ruined his season, and theirs, by showing off in the ’pen.
“This is not a joke,” Kennedy told The Boston Globe after the game.
For the No. 4 batter of all time, pitching wasn’t a gimmick. It was a gift, and he used it to climb from a San Francisco slaughterhouse, where, as a teen, he worked six days a week with his father, and onto a mound for the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League. Across 49 games in 1918, Francis Joseph O’Doul–a.k.a. Lefty O’Doul–used the lessons he had learned from his high school baseball coach, a woman named Rosie Stoltz, to pitch to a 2.63 record ERA and 12-8 record. The Yankees drafted the 6-foot southpaw a year later, but in training camp he injured his arm–in a throwing contest, of all things–and pitched in only three games that year.
In his other 16 games, he pinch hit or played the outfield. He batted .250–four hits, all singles, in 16 at-bats.
Things would get better for Lefty at the plate, but not for a while. A full decade later, after playing sporadically for the Yankees and Red Sox and spending five seasons in the minors, converted pitcher Lefty O’Doul won the first of his two NL batting crowns with an average of .398.
He would retire–from the majors, mind you–following the 1934 season with a lifetime average of .349, behind only Cobb, Hornsby and Shoeless Joe Jackson. He did continue playing, however, suiting up for the Seals for seven more seasons, through age 47, and posting one hit in one at-bat for the Vancouver Mounties in 1956. It was a double. He was 59 years old.
Yep. In his final season, at nearly 60 years of age, Lefty O’Doul batted 1.000.
Baseball careers are connected, quite often, by not only pitches and swings but also coincidence, mere chance. At the same age–59–at which O’Doul registered his final professional hit, Jimmie Foxx passed away.
Aside from that–and the fact that they both hit and pitched–there’s no real link between the two. Sure, their careers overlapped, but from what I can determine they never played against each other in a regular-season game. Foxx spent most of his career in the AL, while O’Doul spent most of his in the NL.
Look deeper, though, and maybe you, too, can see the connection.
In the winter of 1919, just days before the Red Sox traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees, Ruth and O’Doul squared off in an exhibition game in California. In it, the Bambino struck out in his first two at-bats against the 22-year-old southpaw, but in his third at-bat the pitcher-turned-outfielder took O’Doul deep.
What’s the connection to Jimmie Foxx?
Well, in the game when Ted Williams pitched, in 1940, Double X had started at catcher. But by the time Teddy Ballgame took to the mound, Foxx had been replaced by backup catcher Joe Glenn. Foxx then watched from the Boston dugout as Williams, throwing to Glenn, blanked Hank Greenberg’s Tigers in the top of the eighth with Detroit leading, 11-1.
In the ninth, Pinky Higgins and Greenberg each singled, and Higgins came around to score when Boston third baseman Charlie Gelbert bobbled a potential double play grounder. With two outs and two runners on base, Williams then faced big Rudy York–no small task. Not only had York entered the game with 22 home runs, he had also gone 4-for-5 on the day, with a double, a homer, three runs scored and five RBI. From the mound, Williams peered at catcher Glenn.
What’s the connection to Babe Ruth? Well, seven years earlier, on Oct. 1, 1933, Glenn had been behind the plate when Ruth threw the final pitch of his career, to Boston center fielder George Stumpf, who hit a fly ball to right field for the final out. In his only mound outing of the season and the last of his career, 38-year-old Ruth had just finished a complete-game 6-5 win over his former employer, the franchise that had traded him just days after he took O’Doul deep.
And who was the right fielder to whom Stumpf flied out? He was Ben Chapman, the same Ben Chapman who, as Phillies manager in 1945, would allow Jimmie Foxx to pitch. Yeah, he had seen it all before. In the final three seasons of his 15-year career, Chapman himself would toe the rubber.
Back to Fenway Park, on August 24, 1940. Williams, peering at catcher Glenn, got a quick pair of strikes on York. Then, summoning some old trick from his inner pitcher, the man who–like Ruth and Foxx and Musial–would occupy both the all-time batting average and the all-time home run lists, whiffed York on a sweeping curve.
That, modern reader, is the way the whole story continued. You really shouldn’t want it to end.
References & Resources
- National Baseball Hall of Fame.org
- SABR Research Journal Archives
- SABR Baseball Biography Project
- The National Pastime Museum
- St. Louis Post-Dispatch
- The Boston Globe
- The New York Times