Tuesday, June 25, 2013

"Pinch-hitting's Sad Lexicon" (or "Owen to Evers to Chance")

Last night, I did some Baseball-Reference research on my favorite 1980s Seattle SS, Spike Owen. Deep in his batting splits, I came across this position breakdown---and a surprise, one that carried me more than 100 years back in time.

Step one, Spike's splits: what's "other?" They already list DH, PH, and PH as DH. Clicking the career split pointed to 1984, so I checked his game logs.

1984 Topps #413, Spike Owen RC

Spike started almost every day for the 1984 Mariners, appearing just twice as pinch-hitter, including July 21's unusual 9-3 victory over Toronto.

With two runners on base, Toronto brought in Jimmy Key--who spent 1984 as a reliever--and Seattle countered with the switch-hitting Owen. Eight runs later, he batted a second time and ended the inning on a groundout, a rare positional situation noted in their pinch-hitting article.
"If a player acts as a pinch hitter and his team bats around in the inning, he may come to the plate a second time. The second (and subsequent) times he bats in the inning are not considered pinch-hitting appearances."

Hence, Spike batted once as PH and once as "other," as he hadn't replaced Ramos in the field yet. One mystery solved.

Step two, Johnny Evers: in honor of "Baseball's Sad Lexicon," here's the erstwhile Cubs second baseman.

Step three, Frank Chance: the Spike Owen discovery led me to search for other "pinch hitter bats twice in an inning" situations. That, in turn, led to PLAYS THAT PUZZLE, a game story retold by former umpire Billy Evans in Feb, 1934.

excerpt from Reading Eagle, Feb 6, 1934

So here's the conceit.
  • Umpire Bill Evans worked the plate in a St. Louis loss to New York
  • Manager Frank Chance pinch-hit in the 8th & singled to start a rally
  • New York batted around & Chance finished off the comeback one batter early before people realized what happened

Given our dearth of boxscores from Chance's era, it's helpful that the story starts in New York, where Frank only batted in 1913, and Yankee wins over St. Louis on May 19 and 20 seemed our best candidates from B-R's 1913 season results.

The New York Times provides free access to much of their archives, so I combed May 1913 for baseball stories, which produced the promising headline "Browns To Protest Yankees' Victory." So is this the game?

excerpt from New York Times, May 20, 1913

OK, this is substantively the right game, barring embellishments from Billy Evans, who (in 1934) was recalling a 21 year-old contest. Let's check the high points.
  • Was Bill Evans umpiring the game? YES, he worked the game, but Hildebrand received and dismissed St. Louis' in-game protests, according to the Times.
  • Did Frank Chance start the big rally? NO, he grounded out batting for pitcher Ray Fisher.
  • Did Chance bat one batter early the second time around, adding to the 7-run comeback? YES, that's what happened. Claud Derrick should've batted 8th (one spot before Chance) and might've, as Evans claimed, lost track of things in the dugout, or Chance might've run in too early from the third base coaches box.

In short, Frank Chance made history a century ago, pinch-hitting for two different batters in one inning on May 19, 1913, helping his team to a comeback win. An unusual and nuanced story for an unusual and nuanced player.

1914 Cracker Jack #99, Frank Chance

This is first time I've heard of such shenanigans, but baseball's past probably contains more. Add any others you know to the comments!

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