Does Bill Hall have 'super utility' to Sox?

November, 4, 2010
11/04/10
6:07
PM ET
From the tail end of Theo Epstein's conference call today (which was mostly about exercising the one-year option in David Ortiz's contract):
    Yeah, we’d love to have Bill Hall back in the right circumstances. He really, I thought, blossomed this year in a super-utility role. He played so well, in fact, especially in terms of his power production that he might attract interest from a number of teams as an everyday player and get more substantial playing time. And if that happens, I’m sure that would be of interest to Billy. If later in the offseason, he’s in a position to consider a super-utility role and based on the moves we’ve made with our everyday players, that type of player makes sense on our roster, I’m sure we’ll be talking. He was nothing but a great teammate while he was here and a contributing player.”

I think the term "super utility" is a fairly recent invention, don't you?

The first player I recall being used in a super-utility role was Tony Phillips.

Originally a shortstop, Phillips later became a second/third baseman, and finally qualified for super-utility status by becoming an occasional outfielder as well. In 1988, Phillips started one game at shortstop, one game in right field, three games in center field, 14 games in left field, 14 games at third base, and 20 games at second base. He also appeared in three games at first base. Which is to say, he did everything except pitch and catch.

All this was masterminded by Tony La Russa, of course.

Phillips might have been the first player who did that (except as a stunt), but my quick-and-dirty search suggests that the "first Tony Phillips" was actually Cesar Tovar, who played for the Twins in the 1960s. In 1968 (for example), Tovar started eight games in right field, 12 at second base, 15 in left field, 20 at shortstop, 29 in center field, and 68 at third base. Tovar also played first base, catcher, and pitcher for one inning apiece in this game. Which obviously was a stunt, as he became the first major leaguer to play all nine positions in one game. Granted, a stunt that worked exceptionally well, as Tovar pitched a scoreless first inning and scored one of the Twins' runs in a 2-1 victory.

Tovar did this sort of thing for about six years, and usually drew a bit of down-ballot MVP support, probably because of his versatility. When we think of Bill Hall and Tony Phillips -- and Chone Figgins in 2004 and '5 -- we should think of Cesar Tovar, the first Super Utility Man.

Again, as near I can tell. Of course we can all come up with our own definition. But the important thing is that you have to play the infield and the outfield. If you're just playing the infield, you're a utility infielder; if just the outfield, a fourth outfielder (unless you're Andres Torres, in which case you're a center fielder who's occasionally slumming it). And you also have to play more than one position in the infield.

Last year, Hall started 34 games in the outfield and 51 games in the infield, but all 51 were at third base.

This year, Hall started 53 games in the outfield and 43 games in the infield: 38 at second base, three at shortstop, two at third base. My preference would be to see a Super Utility Man play a few more games at shortstop or third base. But who am I to argue with Theo Epstein?

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