Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Left-handers who played catcher, post-1920

1. Benny Distefano, Pittsburgh Pirates, May 14, June 13, and August 18, 1989.

Distefano, a 1st baseman/outfielder who had spent most of the previous 5 years in the minors after making his major league debut in 1984, spent 3 weeks in the Florida Instructional League in the fall of 1988 learning how to catch in an effort to stay in the majors.

In the May 14 game, the Pirates pinch-hit for starting catcher Tom Prince (batting .129 at the time) in the 6th inning, down 3-2, and backup Junior Ortiz (batting .228) in the 8th, down 5-2. Distefano moved from 1st base to catch the 9th, a 1-2-3 inning including a strikeout.

In the June 13 game, Distefano came in off the bench to catch in the 8th inning, replacing starter Donn Bilardello, who had been pinch-hit for, down 7-2. He caught the last 2 innings without incident, though the Phillies would score 3 times in the 8th to win 10-2.

In the August 18 game, Distefano pinch-hit for starter Junior Ortiz in the top of the 6th inning, down 9-4, driving in 2 runs with a single. He would stay on to catch the final 3 innings, but would not perform well; he allowed a stolen base, a passed ball, and a wild pitch.

2. Mike Squires, Chicago White Sox, May 4 and May 7, 1980.

Like Distefano, Squires was a 1st baseman looking to stay in the major leagues. During a spring training conversation with White Sox vice president Roland Hemond, Squires asked to catch. After special-ordering a left-handed catcher's glove, Squires caught a couple intrasquad games, but was not used there in the majors until he asked Tony LaRussa for a chance so that he could be ready for an emergency.

On May 4, Squires got his chance, catching the 9th inning against the Brewers, down 11-1. By all accounts, he caught well, with pitcher Ed Farmer shaking him off only once during a 1-2-3 inning.

Three days later, Squires was used again in the 9th against Kansas City, down 12-5. The Royals were surprised to see a left-handed catcher; according to Squires, "Pete LaCock started laughing when he came to bat, and Frank White shook his head and said, 'Now I've seen everything.'" The inning again went well for Squires, the Royals managing only a single.

3. Chris Short, Philadelphia Phillies, June 29, 1961 (Game 1 of doubleheader).

Short didn't actually play an inning at catcher, but was listed as such for one game by Phillie manager Gene Mauch.

The day before, the Phillies and Giants had battled to a 15-inning 7-7 tie, with the game cut short by a Philadelphia curfew that didn't allow an inning to begin after 12:50 AM. This necessitated a double-header the next day, and neither the Phillies nor the Giants knew who the opposing starting pitcher would be for the first (extra) game. The Phillies protected themselves by submitting a starting lineup with 3 pitchers playing other positions: Short at catcher, Don Ferrarese at center field, and Jim Owens in right field. After the Giants submitted a starting lineup with lefty Billy O'Dell at pitcher, the Phillies replaced Short, Ferrarese, and Owens with righty-batting starters, all before the first pitch was thrown.

The Giants had a trick up their sleeve, however. After O'Dell allowed a single to the Phillies leadoff batter in the bottom of the 1st, he was replaced by righty Sam Jones. (The Phillies had done something similar in the top of the 1st, replacing lefty Ken Lehman with righty Don Larsen after two batters.) The Phillies would pinch-hit for two of the three righty batters in the first inning, leaving them with a short bench for the rest of the game.

4. Dale Long, Chicago Cubs, August 20 (Game 1 of doubleheader) and September 21, 1958.

Long was normally a first baseman, pressed into service twice at catcher by emergencies. In the August 20 game, starting catcher Sammy Taylor was pinch-hit for in bottom of the 8th, down 3-2. He was replaced by backup Cal Neeman of the 9th, but Neeman was ejected with 1 out in the 9th, and third catcher Morris Thacker was out with a knee injury (he would undergo season-ending surgery the next day). The Cubs, out of catchers, switched Long from first to catcher for the next 2 outs. I'm not sure if Neeman was suspended; the Chicago Tribune makes no mention of it, but he didn't play for the next week, and Taylor played every inning of the next 7 games, including both halves of an August 24 doubleheader.

In the September 21 game, the Cubs, down 2-1 to the Dodgers in the 8th with 2 outs and the bases loaded, pinch-hit the lefty-batting Taylor for righty-batting Neeman against the righty-throwing Roger Craig. When the Dodgers switching lefty-throwing Fred Kipp, the Cubs pinch-hit righty-batting Frank Ernaga for Taylor. With the Cubs out of catchers, Long again switched from 1st base to catcher for the 9th.

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