Five memorable pitching appearances by position players

Adam Dunn’s stint as a relief pitcher on Tuesday night got me thinking. The Chicago White Sox slugger, who pitched the last inning of a 16-0 loss to the Texas Rangers, is far from the first position player called to the mound.

Here are five memorable appearances:

1. Babe Ruth, October 1, 1933: As is lore, the Bambino debuted as an ace pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, becoming a full-time outfielder in mid-1918. (Ruth, of course, was a fine hitter from the beginning, amassing 5.6 WAR and a 150 OPS+ in 407 plate appearances in his first four seasons.) As a promotional stunt, Ruth pitched five more times, winning all five games after joining the New York Yankees in 1920. His final start, which came up in conversation with John Thorn at SABR last week, came on the last day of the 1933 season. Ruth pitched a complete game victory in front of 25,000 at Yankee Stadium and provided the deciding run on a solo homer over Boston. Something worth at least a tangential note? The game only took an hour and 38 minutes.

2. Matty Alou, August 26, 1965: Alou struck out future Pittsburgh Pirates teammate Willie Stargell twice while pitching two scoreless innings of an 8-0 loss for the San Francisco Giants. “I just threw him slow curve, slow curve,” Alou was quoted as saying in his SABR bio. “And I know I would get him out again if I faced him.” Ever one of the under-appreciated players of his era, Alou of course never pitched again.

3. Jose Oquendo, May 14, 1988: Position players of the recent era generally pitch when the bullpen is exhausted, either in blowouts or extra inning games. Oquendo fared decently in the latter scenario, though he took the loss for his efforts. (On a side note, it’s exceedingly rare for modern position players to earn a decision, making Chris Davis’s victory for the Baltimore Orioles in 2012 all the more special.) Oquendo, a longtime Cardinals infielder, went to the mound in the 16th inning of a five-hour and 40-minute marathon against the Atlanta Braves, after seven St. Louis pitchers had come and gone. Oquendo pitched the final four innings and threw 65 pitches, perhaps the most ever by a position player. He allowed four hits, two runs and six walks, his high point perhaps coming when he struck out Ken Griffey Sr.

4. Manny Alexander, April 19, 1996: It’s common for position players to have control problems pitching. Jose Canseco threw 12 strikes and 21 balls in his infamous relief appearance for Texas in 1993. Alexander makes Canseco look like Greg Maddux. Baltimore manager Davey Johnson summoned his utility man in the eighth inning with Texas leading 17-7. Entering with the bases loaded, Alexander walked in three straight runs then allowed a sacrifice fly. After walking the next batter, he allowed a grand slam. The score now 26-7, Alexander got the next batter to ground out and the inning mercifully ended. Alexander finished the game, and his pitching career, with a 67.50 ERA. He hadn’t asked to pitch. “I hate this,” he told the Baltimore Sun afterward.

5. Wade Boggs, August 10, 1999: Like a lot of aging position players, from Jimmie Foxx and Ben Chapman during World War II to his contemporaries Dave Concepcion, Gary Gaetti, and Mark Grace, Boggs took his turn on the hill. And like Chapman, Foxx and Gaetti, Boggs pitched for two teams, appearing first for the Yankees in 1997. Two years later, the future Hall of Famer closed out Tampa’s 17-1 loss to Baltimore by allowing three hits and a run over 1.1 innings. Boggs’ control wasn’t bad, 13 strikes in 21 pitches. The 41-year-old even struck out Delino DeShields looking.

Honorable mention: Former Atlanta Braves All Star Jeff Francoeur, currently extending his run as a perennial sabermetric punchline by pitching for the Triple-A El Paso Chihuahuas.

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