Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Left-Handed Second Basemen

This is the first in our series on left-handed infielders. Be sure to check out Left Handed Third Basemen! And don't forget, Left-Handed Shortstops!

EDIT: July 1, 2009. A helpful commenter pointed out that Thad Bosley has no record of being a second baseman, according to MLB. I went to check it out, and the game that I said he was a second baseman (July 5, 1987), now only lists him as a pinch hitter, replaced in the ninth inning by reserve Frank White. A new search of lefty-second basemen reveals just five games with them!

The last few days watching the KC Royals feed on Extra Innings has been pretty brutal. While you have to feel for guys who watch the Royals play 162 meaningless games year after year, having to listen to Herm Edwards talk about football for two innings is a bit infuriating. Would it kill MLB to let us choose which feed we get to see? Anyway, for some reason the Royals felt the need to mark the Twenty-fourth anniversary of The Pine Tar Game by giving away powder-blue Royals t-shirts with "pine tar" stains all over them. First of all- ugly. Second of all- 24 years? Huh? Third of all- the Royals ended up winning the game! Get over it!

So anyway, they showed some clips from the continuation of the "suspended game" in which Billy Martin staged sort of a protest by running out Ron Guidry into CF to finish the game, and a young Don Mattingly at second base. The announcers noted that it was weird seeing a left-handed thrower play second base. Baseball-reference.com says that Mattingly didn't get a chance to make any plays at second in that half-inning, but I would imagine it is pretty weird. Imagine a left-handed second baseman making a play on a grounder up the middle. He would then have to stop, turn counter-clockwise 270 degrees, and throw to first off their back foot (with their backs to the rest of the infield). There's a reason there haven't been many left-handed second basemen. I wanted to find out exactly how few there were.

Thanks to B-R.com's Play Index, we can see that, since 1957, there have only been six major league games played with a left-handed second baseman. Mattingly shows up, even though he only played one half-inning. There's also Gonzalo Marquez, who played two games at 2B for the Athletics in 1973. Here's the first game, in which Marquez reached on an error in the top of the first and then A's manager Dick Williams replaced him for the bottom of the first inning, so Marquez never saw the field. The next day, Williams did the same thing, using four different players at 2B in the game. So Marquez never fielded a ball at second either.

The next entry is Thad Bosley, an OF/DH for the Royals (among other teams) in the 1980s. A left-handed thrower, Bosley pinch-hit for the starting second baseman (Buddy Biancalana) in the bottom of the eighth inning. He then stayed on and played the top of the ninth and did not see a play at second base, and was later replaced for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the ninth.

The oldest case listed is George Crowe, a first-baseman with the Cincinnati Reds who, in a 1958 game, was briefly switched with second-baseman Johnny Temple for one play. Following a single by Bobby Thomson (yes, of shot-heard-round-the-world fame), the two switched positions for a play cryptically described as a "Double Play: Pop-fly, 1B to 2B." What happened here? Was there some kind of trickery going on? The two men switched back after the play and Crowe never played second base for the rest of his career. Since there are no reliable box scores prior to 1957, we do not know if this sort of thing happened a lot.

Finally, the strangest case of all, that of Sam McDowell, left-handed pitcher. On July 6, 1970, McDowell was pitching for the Indians in the eighth inning of a game agains the Senators with a 6-4 lead. To that point McDowell had scattered 11 hits in 7.2 innings striking out 12 while allowing the four runs. With runners on second and third and two out, Cleveland manager Alvin Dark called to the bullpen for a righty, Dean Chance. Powerful righty Frank Howard was up next, followed by righty cleanup hitter Rick Reichardt. But Dark didn't send McDowell off the field; instead, he sent off third baseman Greg Nettles and told McDowell to go play second base. Chance then intentionally walked Howard to load the bases, then induced a groundball to third from Reichardt. Eddie Lemon, who had been playing second base, fielded the ball and threw to McDowell at 2nd for the force to end the inning. McDowell would then re-take the mound for the ninth, striking out the side to end the game. I'm not sure it's officially in the rules somewhere, but I suppose one cannot be charged with both a Win and a Save in the same game...

Suffice it to say, all six occurances have weird circumstances. Further, it is extremely interesting to us at Immaculate Inning that of the hundreds of thousands of putouts registered in Major League Baseball since 1957, only two have been registered by left-handed second basemen. Compare this to the dearth of left-handed catchers. Since 1957, only four left-handed catcher's mitts have been worn in nine different major league baseball games. Journeyman 1B/OF Benny Distefano is the latest, catching three games for the Pirates in 1989. Diminuitive first baseman Mike Squires caught two games for the White Sox in 1980, registering just one putout. Similarly, Dale Long was used for two games at catcher in 1958.

The theory as to why there are very few left-handed catchers is harder to grasp. There used to be a lot more of them in the early days of the game. One theory is that it is almost impossible for a lefty to make a snap throw to third base on a steal attempt- but isn't it just as hard for righties to make similar throws behind the runner at first? A better theory is that catchers typically are the second-best throwing players on your average little league team. If those guys were left-handed, it is likely that they would be groomed as pitchers, and would play 1B or OF when not pitching. For the most part, this one seems a lot more like tradition and is not hampered by practical problems.

Xenod would like to add that he plans on having a left-handed son and that he will grow up to be the first full-time left-handed catcher in the history of baseball. Good luck to him on that quest.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Idk if you;re ever going to read this or if the coment will be lost in the space time continum we know as the internet, but who cares. Lefties CAN play second base, and as a matter of fact, they would be an advantage. The only disadvantage would be feilding a 6-4-3 DP. the 2B would have to feild it, take a step towards 3B to avoid the runner, plant his back foot toward CF and throw, it really isnt that hard and doesnt take much more time than a routine DP. plays up the middle would require good agility, to pick the ball, stop and throw in the opposite dicrection, but if the feilder has good range and a good arm, it really wouldn't matter. sometimes stoping balls from drifting to the outfield is just as important as making the play at first.

Anonymous said...

Nice article. (And nice Nats stadium photo.)

As a left-hander, I have played 99.9% of the games in my life at first base. But I have played 2nd base a couple of times. And though, double-plays are not that common in softball, the 6-4-3 would be no problem at all. The only difference would be that the left-hander's back would be to home plate during the throw to first, instead of toward the outfield.

And a left-handed catcher would actually be an advantage in baseball. But tradition has it that it should be a right-hander.

Just another example of us left-handers being discriminated against.
;-)

Anonymous said...

I must agree with the other guys. I've been coaching my son a(lefty)at 2nd and he's pretty good at 14. it just pisses me off that most folks that claim to know BB question the abillity of the lefty without giving it a second look, because of some jacked up tradition or lack of an open mind. change is a commin my friends, we will not surrender only improve.

Anonymous said...

MLB has no official record of Thad Bosley ever playing second base, please contact project retrosheet.org

Matt said...

Thank you everyone for your comments! This is one of the most popular articles I've ever written!

To the last anonymous commenter: it is true, Thad Bosley never played second base. He is listed as a second baseman in the Play Index because he pinch-hit for Buddy Biancalana, but his replacement, Frank White, was not listed in the box score when I first did the search. In fact, when I repeat the search, Bosley does not show up. I will edit the post to reflect that!

Anonymous said...

Yes you are right, its no problem to throw from 2nd to first on a 6-4-3 and face Centerfield. The problem is not the throw, it's taking the throw from the SS in the base path and get killed by the runner on his way to second. Assuming the 2b will take the throw and step on the bag as he moves away from first, and hop to avoid the runner spin in mid air and throw while falling away from first base is RIDICULOUS.

I play a lefty at second base in softball occasionally because he is not really a liability there when hes not catching or pitching, its a mess unless you are turning force plays all day.

ed said...

Catchers at the major league level are all right-handed for one simple reason. Most hitters are right-handed, and most throws are to second, and it is easier to make that throw past a right-handed hitter if the catcher is right-handed.

Lefty 2ndbaseman said...

So ironic I stumbled upon this site. My email address is Lefty2ndbaseman@yahoo.com for this reason. I spent my entire little league "career" playing 2nd base as a left-handed thrower (and hitter). I was too short to be a 1st baseman, and had too weak an arm to pitch or throw from 3rd base or SS. I loathed playing the outfied because I loved the quick-reflex aspect of playing the infield. This is also why I played goalie in my floor hockey leagues for years.

Playing 2nd base as a lefty is not as difficult as it appears for the same reason most have mentioned on this post. I actually believe the double-play ball is very common in softball because the likelihood of a batter reaching 1st base is much higher than in most baseball leagues. Turning a 4-6-3 double play is relatively easy when your body is naturally positioned to throw to your right side of your body, so throwing to 2nd or even 3rd base is no big deal. Playing at Second base gives you enough time if you have to turn your body toward 1st base. We are only talking a fraction of a second in most instances, as long as you have an accurate arm ;-)

~the Tickler said...

What about Craig Counsell? He played Short Stop and Third too but he often played Second Base as a lefty. In fact he played more career games at second base than any position. 574 to be exact. 485 in which he started at the position. This doesn't make sense... OH WOW THOUGHT HE WAS LEFTY FOR SURE, but he only batted left. NEVER MIND THIS IS A BUNCH OF JUNK ABOUT CRAIG. he's not even a lefty. ha ha what a waste of your time. not sure why i'm still going to post this.

~the Tickler said...

hey my comment was at 12:58 not 1:58 just like this is 1:00 not 2:00 like it'll say... stupid eastern time.

Anonymous said...

The save rule does in fact specifically state that you can't earn a save if you are already credited with the win.