Wrong Way Players, Part 2 - 1951 to 2007
One of the better-known members of the bats right-handed, throws left-handed club made his major league debut in 1951. We'll have to trust the Baseball Encylopedia when it comes to this player's throwing arm, as he never tossed a baseball at the professional level.
Midget Eddie Gaedel made history when he pinch-hit for St. Louis Browns outfielder Frank Saucier in the first inning of the second game of an August 19 doubleheader against the Tigers. Maverick Browns owner Bill Veeck promised the team's ad sponsors a big surprise and plenty of publicity, and the master promoter delivered beyond expectations.
The 3'7", 65-pound Gaedel wore the fractional number 1/8 on the back of his Browns home jersey. Baseball's shortest player went into a crouch at the plate. Tigers pitcher Bob Cain laughed all the way through the four-pitch walk. Veeck sent Gaedel's contract to the American League office in New York the previous Friday, knowing that it wouldn't be examined until the Monday after his appearance.
Gaedel ran to first base as the crowd laughed and applauded. The little man stepped on the bag and slapped pinch-runner Jim Delsing on the back before exiting the game. Veeck hoped that Gaedel's walk would be the margin of victory in a one-run game, but the perpetually inept Browns lost 6-2 to the Tigers.
Even though he had just two at-bats in a big league cup of coffee (seven games) with the Reds in 1956, Bobby Balcena is a historic player. The 5'7" outfielder was first major leaguer of Filipino ancestry. Like many west coast natives, Balcena spent much of his career in the Pacific Coast League, where he played for the Seattle Rainiers.
His righty/lefty split wasn't the only obstacle Zeke Bella faced, as he had plenty of competition in the supremely talent-rich Yankees farm system.
A five-game stint (1 for 10, .100) in 1957 was the extent of Bella's time with the Yankees. He hit .207 (17 for 82) as a backup outfielder with the A's in 1959 to finish with a .196 career big league average.
At 6'5", R.C. Stevens was a big target at first base. He was also sure-handed, with just two errors in 426 chances for a .995 fielding percentage.
In spot duty with the Pirates and Senators from 1958 to 1961, Stevens hit .210 with eight homers and 21 RBI in 162 at-bats spread over 104 games. The Georgia native began his big league career in a memorable way.
Stevens went 2 for 2 and drove in the winning run in his major league debut. That took place in the 14th inning of an opening day road game against the Milwaukee Braves on April 15, 1958.
The righty swinger hit his first major league home run, a pinch-hit job with a runner on base off Harvey Haddix in his next appearance against the Reds on April 19. Stevens delivered a walkoff bomb the following day in Cincinnati. In his first three big league games - all late-inning appearances - the raw rookie went 4 for 4 with two homers, four RBI and a pair of game-winning hits.
Sadly, Stevens hits just .190 for the rest of his career, bottoming out with a punchless .129 (8 for 62, 0 HR, 2 RBI) stint with the expansion Senators.
As a centerfielder at Texas Christian University, Carl Warwick was impressive enough to receive a $35,000 bonus package from the Dodgers. After just 19 games and 11 at-bats in L.A. in 1961, the righty-hitting, lefty-throwing outfielder was swapped to the Cardinals. Warwick was traded to the expansion Houston Colt .45s in May 1962. With his first chance to play regularly, Warwick posted career highs in home runs (17) and RBI (64) that season.
It was back to the St. Louis after the 1963 season. Warwick hit .259 as a role player and pinch-hitter for the pennant-winning 1964 Cardinals, and he played a key role in the team's World Series triumph over the Yankees.
Warwick had three pinch hits in the seven-game series, going 3 for 4 (.750) with a walk and an RBI. He recalled that high point of his career.
"Any player will tell you that to play in a World Series is a childhood dream, and I'm no exception," Warwick said during a July 19 interview. "Hitting in that first World Series game and driving in the go-ahead run was my biggest thrill in baseball."
It was on to Yankee Stadium for Games 3, 4 and 5 of the Series. Warwick helped set the stage for the big moment in Game 4, which the Cardinals won 4-3.
"I pinch hit for Roger Craig to lead off the sixth inning," he recalls. "I got my third hit of the Series. The first base umpire came up and asked me to look at the scoreboard, where the message said 'Carl Warwick's three pinch-hits tie a World Series record.' We loaded the bases. Ken Boyer hit a grand slam, and we won the game 4-3."
Warwick's rare hitting and throwing combination generated some attention.
"There weren't too many comments in the minors, but I had a lot of comments about my right and left situation when I reached the majors," he said. "I was always asked in other towns about how this came about, and I always said I had been doing this since I was able to throw or swing a bat. My dad never tried to change me. He never asked me to switch hit, which probably would have been a real advantage."
Mets outfielder Cleon Jones enjoyed a lengthy (1963, 1965-76) and productive career, finishing with a .281 average and 1196 career hits.
As one of the main contributors for the 1969 Miracle Mets, Jones whacked a career-high .340 with 12 HR, 75 RBI and 16 stolen bases. He also went 2 for 4 in his only All-Star appearance that year. Although he was just 3 for 19 (.158) in the World Series against the Orioles, Jones caught a fly ball for the final out of the Mets' incredible season. The left fielder went 8 for 28 (.286) in the 1973 World Series against the A's.
A native of Mobile, Alabama, Jones would have to serve as the fourth outfielder on the city's all-time team, but there's no shame in backing up a trio of Hank Aaron, Billy Williams and Amos Otis.
First baseman Doug Ault's promising start with the Blue Jays was the highlight of a 256-game big league career.
The brand-new expansion team played its first game on April 7, 1977 at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto. Despite the 35-degree temperature, snowflakes and wind gusts blowing off nearby Lake Ontario, Ault hit a pair of home runs and a single with four RBI to lead the Jays to a 9-5 win over the White Sox.
That blazing start faded into a mediocre season for Ault, who hit .245 with 11 HR and a team-leading 64 RBI. After hitting a combined .214 in 248 ABs in 1978 and 1979, Ault became a Jays minor league manager until he commited suicide in 2004.
Rickey Henderson is far more than the most famous member of the bats righty/throws lefty fraternity. As Bill James declared, divide Henderson's career stats in two, and you've got a pair of Hall of Famers.
Take Rickey's 1405 career stolen bases and compare it to second-place Lou Brock's 930 steals. It would be like someone topping Hank Aaron by slugging 1140 home runs. Henderson led the American League in steals from 1980 to 1986 and from 1998 to 1991. Those 11 titles include seasons of 100 thefts in 1980, the all-time record of 130 in 1982 and 108 steals in 1983. Henderson lead the league at age 21, and he did it again in 1998 with 66 stolen bases at age 39 to make it an even dozen seasons as the AL's top thief.
Few others milked the count and worked pitchers better. Hitting out of a pronounced crouch, the 5'10" Henderson had seven 100-walk seasons and five more years with 95 to 99 bases on balls. Add in seven years as a .300 hitter, and the .401 career on-base percentage is no surprise.
The OBP totals include 13 seasons at .400 or better, eight top three finishes in that category and an AL-best .439 in 1990. Power? Yearly totals of 21, 24, 28 and 28 homers plus nine more campaigns in double digits led to 297career long balls.
What makes the career OBP amazing is how Henderson's longevity - he played in the majors until just a few months shy of his 45th birthday - reduced that statistic. On the other hand, playing into his mid-40s allowed Rickey to reach the 3000-hit level, as he finished with 3055 base knocks. Even a mediocre (by his standards) performance by Henderson would be the envy of other leadoff men.
In 1997, the 38-year old hit just .248 with 8 HR, 34 RBI and 14 doubles in 120 games and 403 ABs with the Padres and Angels. Add in his 97 walks for a .400 OBP and 45 steals in 53 attempts (.849), and that's a combination any general manager would take in a heartbeat. Calling Henderson the best leadoff man in baseball history is almost understating the truth.
Playing portions of three seasons (1981-83) with the A's makes first baseman Kelvin Moore part of a historic duo. The much more famous Rickey Henderson and Moore are the only teammates who were righty/lefty position players. With 77 strikeouts in just 238 career ABs and a .223 lifetime average, Moore is unknown by all but the most fanatical A's fan or baseball trivia addict.
Luis Medina could drive a baseball deep into the bleachers, but making contact was a major problem.
The Indians first baseman launched six long balls in just 51 at-bats as a September call-up in 1988. Averages of .205 in 1989 and .063 (1 for 16) in 1991 put Medina on the path to Japan, where he played for the Hiroshima Carp. The righty-swinging slugger blasted 10 HR in 150 ABs. The negatives include a .207 average, .261 OBP, 60 strikeouts, a lone double and just 16 RBI, the lowest number for anyone with double-digit home runs.
Some righty/lefty players might have had parents who didn't know any better, but Mark Carreon can't use that excuse. His father Cam was a catcher with the White Sox, Indians and Orioles from 1959 to 1966.
As a first baseman and outfielder with four teams from 1987 to 1996, Carreon was a role player who hit .327 with 33 RBI in just 150 ABs in 1993 for the Giants. Carreon hit .301 with 17 HR and 65 RBI in 396 ABs in 1996. He smacked 34 doubles in 434 ABs while splitting the 1996 season between the Giants and Indians. That was the end of Carreon's major league career, as he signed a contract to play in Japan for the Chiba Lotte Marines.
Run production kept Brian R. Hunter (not to be confused with slender speedster Brian L. Hunter) in the majors for a decade.
Primarily a first baseman, Hunter debuted with the Braves in 1991. He came through with 26 HR and 91 RBI in 509 ABs in 1991 and 1992. After a horrendous 1993 (11 for 80, .138, 0 HR), Hunter was swapped to the Pirates.
While a .234 average (60 for 256) that matched his lifetime mark is unimpressive, Hunter had 15 HR and 57 RBI for the Pirates and Reds in 1994. He also played for the Mariners, Cardinals and Phillies. Hunter's 259-RBI total means he drove in a run per every one of his six 1555 career at-bats.
David McCarty was the third pick in the nation by the Twins in the 1991 amateur draft. The Stanford alum had one of the worst offensive seasons by a first baseman in 1993 when he hit just .214 (75 for 350) with two homers and 19 RBI.
After bouncing to the Giants and Mariners, McCarty enjoyed what turned out to be his career year with the Royals in 2000, when he hit a dozen homers with 53 RBI in 270 ABs. After hitting a pathetic .136 (9 for 66) with the Royals and Devil Rays in 2002, McCarty rebounded to hit .340 (18 for 53) in brief trials with A's and Red Sox in 2003. He closed out his career as a Red Sox reserve in 2005.
McCarty relieved in three games in 2004, and the results were impressive. The lefty gave up one earned run in 3.2 innings pitched, striking out four and issuing a single walk. For some reason, the Red Sox didn't put McCarty (.242 lifetime in 1493 ABs) back on the mound in 2005.
Being born in Belgium is odd enough for a major leaguer, but Brian Lesher also batted righty and threw left-handed. The 6'5" slugger spent parts of five seasons (1996-98, 2000, 2002) with the A's, Mariners and Blue Jays.
His five at-bats for Seattle in 2002 were especially impressive. Lesher came through with four hits including a double and a triple for an .800 average. He also had three RBI and a walk. Lesher's 38 ABs with the Blue Jays in 2002 ended his time in the majors, as he hit just .132 (5 for 38) with 15 strikeouts. In 108 games, Lesher hit .224 (59 for 263) with nine HR and 38 RBI.
A fourth-round pick by the White Sox in 1994, Jeff Abbott debuted on the south side in 1997. He played all three outfield positions for the Sox from 1997 to 2000 before closing out his big league career with the Marlins (42 AB, .262) in 2001. Abbott played 233 games with 596 ABs, 18 HR and 83 RBI and 157 hits for a .263 career average.
Left-handed pitcher or righty-swinging power hitter? Jason Lane filled both roles for USC when he pitched 2.2 innings and served as DH during the 1998 NCAA national championship against Arizona State. Lane's ninth-inning grand slam put the crowning touch on a 21-14 slugfest won by USC.
The Astros decided to keep Lane in the outfield after he was chosen in the sixth round of the 1999 draft. The results have definitely been mixed. After what appeared to be a breakout season in 2005 (.267, 26 HR and 78 RBI in 517 at-bats), Lane has regressed significantly.
His 15 HR, 45 RBI and 49 walks in 288 ABs in 2006 don't look too shabby, but the 75 strikeouts and .201 average were big negatives. Lane began this season by going 13 for 81 (.160) before being demoted to Round Rock of the Pacific Coast League. He was recalled on July 23 when Hunter Pence was disabled with a fractured wrist. Unlike his selective approach at the plate in 2006, Lane has just four walks in 84 ABs as this is written.
A fraction of one percent of all major league position players have batted exclusively from the right side while throwing left-handed, and it's safe to say that trend won't be changing in the future.