Print and Go Back SweetSpot [Print without images]

Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Uncle Lou digs deep into bag o' tricks

If you weren't watching the game Sunday night, you might have missed one of the more interesting moments of the season. From the Chicago Sun-Times: This has always been a special little interest of mine, the pitcher-in-the-field-for-one-batter gambit. What I've never seen is any sort of comprehensive list, and I didn't remember Les Lancaster at all. I do recall that Whitey Herzog occasionally did it when he managed the Cardinals. And my favorite instance was in this 1986 game, wherein Davey Johnson had Jesse Orosco and Roger McDowell switching between pitching and outfielding ... for five innings!

As it happens, just yesterday a new book came over the transom: "The Wizard of Waxahachie," a forthcoming biography of legendary baseball man Paul Richards. According to author Warren Corbett, Richards invented this odd tactic in 1949, when he was managing the International League's Buffalo Bisons:

That might have been easy to forget (by anyone who wasn't there), but the same wasn't the case when Richards pulled the move in 1951, when managing the White Sox. In that game, the victim was Ted Williams -- retired by lefty Billy Pierce -- and notables like Connie Mack, Cy Young, and Clark Griffith were in the stands to help celebrate the American League's 50th anniversary.

Richards managed in the majors for a dozen seasons, and employed the move at least a few more times. He managed against Whitey Herzog, and he managed the Baltimore Orioles a few years before Davey Johnson played for the O's. Richards might be mostly forgotten now -- he never managed a pennant winner, isn't in the Hall of Fame -- but he probably was the most influential manager of the 1950s (you might think Casey Stengel, but nobody at the time could really understand what Stengel was doing).

I don't know that anybody made the move in the 1970s, before Johnson and Herzog brought it back in the '80s. We know it happened in the 1990s, at least with Les Lancaster (managed by Don Zimmer). It's a true rarity now, though, mostly because of the lack of necessity. When Richards managed, he might have had four or five relievers in his bullpen. When Herzog managed, maybe five or six. Lou Piniella, though? He's usually got seven relievers, and some managers have eight. Occasionally a manager -- like Lou Piniella, right now -- will have just one left-hander in the bullpen, but usually they'll have two or even three.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: the bigger the rosters, the less interesting the game. Something to think about tonight, when you watch Charlie Manuel and Joe Maddon deploy their 33-man squads ...