The 10 best pitchers turned position players in baseball

1. Babe Ruth: Easily the most successful example of this transition, although unlike most of the other men here, Ruth did not salvage his career by switching from pitcher to full-time outfielder. He won 89 games before, all prior to his 25th birthday and might have won 300 had he stayed on the mound. But the rest is 714 home runs of history. Interestingly, Ruth pitched five games in his later career as publicity stunts. He went 5-0 in these appearances, twice hurling complete games, including in 1933 at 38.

2. Lefty O’Doul: If only O’Doul discovered he could hit sooner. First, he floundered as a pitcher in parts of four seasons. After a five year break, O’Doul resurfaced at 31 as an outfielder and compiled a .349 lifetime batting average, fourth highest all-time. With a full career, O’Doul would have been a Hall of Famer.

3. Rube Bressler:¬†Bressler went 10-4 with a 1.77 ERA for the Philadelphia Athletics as a rookie in 1914 and hurt his arm. He pitched where he could the next six seasons before suffering a final injury in 1920. “This time I decided the thing to do was give up the pitching business and take up the hitting business,” Bressler told Lawrence Ritter in¬†The Glory of Their Times. “Why not? Other guys could hit. Why not me?” Bressler played 12 more seasons and finished with a .301 lifetime average in 1932.

4. Bobby Darwin: Like O’Doul, Darwin pitched sparingly — one game in 1962, three in 1969 — before establishing himself years later as an outfielder. He began his second career in 1971, became an everyday player the following year and hit 65 home runs his first three full seasons. Alas, he also led the American League in strikeouts those years.

5. Rick Ankiel: He began as a 19-year-old hurler for St. Louis in 1999 and inexplicably lost his ability to pitch two years later. Ankiel spent most of the next six years out of the majors before rejoining the Cardinals in 2007 as an outfielder. He hit 25 home runs in 2008 and the feel good story was marred only by revelations he took HGH (supposedly on doctor’s orders.)

6. Smoky Joe Wood: The Rick Ankiel of his time, Wood went 34-5 for Boston in 1912, then his arm died. He toiled for five subsequent years and then became an outfielder with Cleveland. Wood played five seasons in the field, never managing much power, though he bowed out hitting .297 with eight triples in 1922.

7. Stan Musial: Signed with the St. Louis Cardinals organization as a pitcher in 1938, went 33-13 over the next three years, including 18-5 with a 2.62 ERA for Daytona Beach in 1940. However, Musial hurt his arm and was converted into an outfielder before his major league debut the following year.

8. Mark McGwire: Converted from a pitcher to a position player while at USC, later became a power hitter with Oakland.

9. Dave Kingman: Ditto.

10. Ted Williams: Williams would rate higher here, but there was never any doubt he would make it as a hitter. That being said, he pitched occasionally in high school and signed as a pitcher-outfielder with the San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League. “I got knocked around a little bit, and they forgot about my pitching,” Williams recounted years later in a 1978 episode of the TV show, Greatest Sports Legends. Williams pitched once in the big leagues, throwing two innings one day in 1940 with the Red Sox, scattering three hits and one run, with one strikeout.

One thought on “The 10 best pitchers turned position players in baseball

  1. Don’t forget Cy Seymour or that Buzz Arlett, the great minor league slugger started out as pitchers.

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