Wednesday, December 01, 2010

All Nine Positions In A Game

There are a few standard trivia questions that get passed around concerning baseball. One of them is: What player has played all nine positions in a major league baseball game? The answer given is usually Cesar Tovar. It seems that Tovar's game has become famous as a unique adventure. But others have lived the odyssey as well. There are four players that have played all nine positions in a game: Tovar, Bert Campenaris, Shane Halter and Scott Sheldon. The latter two were the last and they did both did it in 2000. Bert Campenaris did it first (as far as we know) in 1965, three years before Tovar. But few remember anyone but Tovar. Though considered sort of an prankish sort of feat much like pitching with both arms, it does make for an interesting story.

It seems fair to start with Bert Camparis since he did it first. Campaneris was a Cuban player that began his career in 1964 with the Kansas City Athletics. He was one of the few players that spanned the A's history from the years in KC through the early years in Oakland and then to the powerhouse A's teams of 1970s. Campy, as he was nicknamed, was the A's shortstop for many years and their lead off batter. Known for his speed, he averaged 51 stolen bases for eight seasons between 1965 and 1972. But despite all the stolen bases, he wasn't much of an offensive player. He never scored 100 runs and he never had much of an OBP. He also wasn't that great a shortstop as he made a lot of errors. But he was Campy, and that team was great during his years and thus he seemed to have a better career than he actually did. The truth is, he was a lousy lead off batter other than three years of his career.

But in his second year, on September 8, 1965, Campaneris played all nine defensive positions. He started at shortstop and moved methodically around the diamond. He started at short, then moved to second, then third, then left, then center, then right, then first, then he pitched and finally he caught. Through all of that, he went 0-3 with a walk and a run scored and he stole his 49th base of the season. The Athletics were in last place, 35 1/2 games behind the leader. They played the Angels that day who weren't much better. The Angels were 23 games back and in seventh place. As we will see as we go along, this kind of thing doesn't happen on contending teams.

Campanaris played 39 games in the outfield that season, so that wasn't particularly novel. But the game featured the only time in his career that he played first, catcher, right field or pitched. The funny thing was that he got a chance at every position. He did make an error in right field though.

It was the eighth inning when Campy came in to pitch. The A's were leading at the time, 3-2. The second Angel run scored on Campy's error in right field. Campaneris got the first out on a Jose Cardinal pop up to second. But then Pearson walked and Fregosi walked. Adcock followed with a single to score Pearson but then, mercifully, Knoop hit into a double play. The inning pitched would today be known as a blown save in a game the A's lost in 13 innings. Perhaps the A's didn't care about losses at that point in the season, but starting pitcher, Dick Joyce couldn't have been too happy to lose out on a win. It was a memorable stunt, but the reality is that it cost the A's the game.

Tovar's game came in 1968 on September 22. Tovar was from Venezuela and was a contemporary of Campanaris as Tovar debuted a year after Campy did. But for a stretch between 1966 through 1972, Tovar was the much better player. Tovar was ahead of his time and was a super utility guy that happened to play every day. He played over 200 games in his career at several positions including third base, second base, left field, centerfield and right field. He also played 77 games at shortstop. But he only had one appearance as a catcher, a pitcher and a first baseman and that was on September 22, 1968.

The game was in Minnesota at Metropolitan Stadium and the Twins played the Athletics. Campaneris was on the other side watching someone else pull off his trick this time. But unlike Campanaris, Tovar was the starting pitcher so at least he couldn't blow somebody else's game. But he wouldn't have as his inning on the mound went really well. Campenaris popped out foul to third, Reggie Jackson struck out. Danny Cater walked and then Tovar balked him to second. But Cater died there as Tovar got Sal Bando to foul out. That's a good inning!

Tovar then caught the second inning. Tom Hall relieved him on the mound and pitched a great game. Tovar then went to first base in the third. He had one chance there, but it would have been a tough one as he got a ground ball and had to feed the pitcher covering first. But it was successfully completed. Tovar moved to second in the fourth and caught a pop up. The then went to short in the fifth with no action other than covering second. It was on to third in the sixth and got no action. He moved to left in the seventh and got two putouts on a liner and a fly ball. It was on to center in the eighth and he had one putout on a fly ball that ended up being a sacrifice fly. He played right in the ninth with no action and his mission was complete. Tovar went 1-3 in the game with a stolen base, a run scored and a walk. The Twins won the game.

Jose Oquendo played with the Mets and the Cardinals from 1983 to 1985. He had the nickname of, "Secret Weapon." The name would fit because of all the positions he played (he pitched in three games in his career) but he wasn't that great a player. He had two decent seasons in 1988 and 1989. But other than his super utility status, he didn't have that great a career AND he never played all nine positions in a game. He played all nine positions in the 1988 season, but that's not the same thing (though impressive). And thus, we once again learned not to believe everything we read.

We jump now to the year 2000 when two players pulled this stunt. One of them was Shane Halter, a thoroughly forgettable player who played all or parts of eight seasons for the Royals, Mets, Tigers and Angels. He was only a semi-regular for two seasons (2001, 2002) and those seasons were his only seasons with a WAR above zero. Halter's claim to fame again came from being a super utility guy. He played over fifty games at five different positions and more than 15 games at seven positions. He also caught twice and pitched twice. He had the game of his life though on the last day of the season (October 1) in 2000. That was the game he played all nine positions, batted 4-5 with four RBIs and he scored two runs including the game winning run in the ninth inning. In between, he played all nine positions. He only pitched to one batter and that batter walked, so Halter didn't even have an ERA that season.

Halter started the game at first base and in the inning, fielded a grounder from David Ortiz that he flipped to Moehler to get the out. In the second inning he moved to third and had one grounder that he fielded without problems. He went to right field in the third and didn't have any putouts, but he got his exercise running down two doubles to the gap. The next inning he went to center and had a putout on a fly ball, then it was to left field in the fifth. He did not get any putouts there, but there were two doubles hit his way. There is no telling from the box score if a better fielder would have had them. But if Moehler was upset about all the doubles, he should have stopped pitching where they could hit the ball to Halter.

Halter played short in the sixth and did not have any assists or putouts, but he was certainly busy as the Twins scored five times in the inning. Halter must have been running around a lot that inning too. In the seventh, Halter went behind the plate. The move forced Brad Ausmus to move to third. Halter got his money's worth behind the plate as the Twins scored three more runs and he was back there a long, long time. In the eighth, he pitched to and walked the first batter and then moved to second base, where he stayed the rest of the game.

Scott Sheldon might have had the most undistinguished career of this bunch. He played a total of only 141 major league games spread out over five seasons. But again, he played all over the field  He had multiple games at seven different positions, but only pitched and played first base once, on September 6, 2000 in Comiskey Park II. And unlike the three previous instances we've talked about, this one game for Sheldon seems like a fluke that wasn't planned. The White Sox blew out the Rangers in the game 13-1 and were ahead in the game 10-0 by the bottom of the second. Secondly, Sheldon didn't even get into the game until the fourth inning. Entering the game so late, he had to move fast to play all the positions. It helped that he entered the game as a catcher, replacing Bill Hasselman. He moved to first in the fifth. He played short and second in the sixth. He played right and center in the sixth and then he went to left in the seventh.

It was the eighth inning where it really got interesting. He started the inning in left for his seventh position. Then he pitched a third of an inning, striking out Liefer for his only batter. Then he went to third to finish out the game.

And there you have it. A complete run down of the four guys that played all nine positions in the same game. Of current major league players, only Bill Hall seems like a current candidate to repeat the "history" of this stunt. Hall has played multiple positions...everything really...except catcher. Hall has even pitched and was recorded with an 89 MPH fastball. If the feat is going to be done again, Bill Hall is the guy. But again, the feat requires a meaningless game played by a team going nowhere.

***UPDATE***  Was just thinking: If a player would start the game at DH, this record can be broken! There could be ten positions in the game. Of course, the AL team would have to go without the DH the rest of the game...


Anonymous said...

"Nine tool player." Great comment but at the end of the day he's still a Toole.

I was at the game when Cesar "Pepi" Tovar turned the trick and it was classic when he fanned Reggie.

Anonymous said...

you forgot jose oquendo of the cardinals