Dreaming of Better Days: When Position Players Take the Mound

Bleacher ReportSenior Analyst IJune 9, 2009

No situation brings more fun to the diamond than when a position player is called on to pitch.

Josh Wilson’s third career appearance on Sunday got me thinking about other position players who have taken the mound.

Since 1979, according to MLB.com, 107 position players have had such an honor. More often than not, these situations are brought on by their team being blown out and the manager trying to save arms.

There was, of course, the infamous outing by Rangers outfielder Jose Canseco on May 29, 1993. This quote from Nolan Ryan tells it all:

"I just remember how he had been politicking to pitch since Spring Training. He threw in the bullpen a few times, and for some reason they wanted to get him on the hill. When he got out there, I think he was trying to overthrow. He was out there in front of everybody trying to show off his arm. He wanted to resemble a pitcher rather than do what we needed him to do, and that was get us through the game."

Something tells me the Ryan Express was not a fan of Mr. Canseco.

Ryan also makes a good point: When position players are put on the mound, the manager is waving the white flag. The result doesn’t matter; the player just needs to get the game done with so they can save their real pitchers' arms.

But what fun is that?

Of the 107 that have been in this situation, 55 have recorded shutout innings.

Chili Davis, just 20 days after Canseco’s debut, threw two shutout innings. Davis entered the game against the Rangers in an 18-2 blowout. The only batter Davis let reach base?

None other than Canseco, who Davis drilled with a 2-0 fastball in his first inning of work.

Five days later, Canseco’s season would end. He would need Tommy John surgery for an injury sustained while pitching three weeks earlier.

Another of the interesting occurrences was when current Red Sox manager Terry Francona took the mound for the Milwaukee Brewers in May '89. He hurled a 1-2-3 shutout inning and struck out Stan Javier.

If that seems like a long time ago, consider this: On that day, Gary Sheffield was starting at shortstop for the Brewers.  

Roughly two years earlier, former Yankee right fielder Paul O’Neill pitched two innings for the Reds. After walking the leadoff batter in the seventh, O’Neill forced a fly out to center, and then a 4-6-3 double play to get out of the inning without allowing a run.

To start the top of the eighth, manager Pete Rose brought in a substitute to play right field behind O'Neill. Who was it? Francona, of course.

Despite striking out Ken Griffey Sr. and Jeff Dedmon, O'Neill fell victim to the long ball with a three-run home run by Braves catcher Ossie Virgil. O'Neill’s career ERA was ruined.

This season, Nick Swisher of the Yankees started the trend with a shutout inning against the Rays. Following in line were the Marlins' Cody Ross, the Red Sox's Jonathan Van Every, the Diamondbacks' Josh Wilson, and the Reds' Paul Janish.

Then on Sunday, Wilson made his second appearance of the season. Only it wasn’t for the D-Backs; it was against them.

Sunday was also almost two years to the day since Wilson made his first career appearance. On June 8, 2007, Wilson threw a shutout inning for Tampa Bay. He was admittedly rusty, as the last time he pitched was in high school.

On May 11, he pitched one shutout inning for his new team, the D-Backs, against the Reds. Wilson threw all four-seam fastballs and topped out at 88 MPH. After walking a batter, Wilson was able to get a double-play ball.

Only three days later, Wilson was placed on waivers. Apparently the one walk he allowed was unacceptable.

The next day, May 15, Wilson was claimed off waivers by San Diego.

Then on Sunday, just 31 days after Wilson pitched for Arizona, he took the hill against them.  

But not even the Padres' camouflage uniforms could disguise him as a pitcher.

Manager Bud Black turned to Wilson in the 18th inning of a 6-6 ball game. Black had run out of pitchers.

Despite displaying a fastball touching 91 MPH, Wilson attempted to throw a change-up and a curveball to D-Backs slugger Mark Reynolds after getting ahead 0-2. Reynolds didn’t bite on the off-speed offerings and took a 3-2 fastball over the scoreboard in right for a three-run, go-ahead home run.

Although he had a disappointing end to the night, Wilson’s third career outing tied him for the most pitching appearances by an active position player. Aaron Miles, a middle infielder for the Cubs, appeared in three games from '07-'08 for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Wilson also was credited for the loss; he was the first non-pitcher to factor in a decision since catcher Jamie Burke of the Mariners took a loss July 6, 2008.

The last non-pitcher to win a game? Brent Mayne, on Aug. 22, 2000. Mayne threw a scoreless top of the 12th for the Rockies, and John Rocker proceeded to give up a walk-off single to Adam Melhuse.

Even though he doesn’t have much success to prove it, '09 has been an eventful season for the 28-year-old shortstop. He took part in starting a 6-4-3 triple play on a Casey Blake line drive against the Dodgers on May 5.

Much to the dismay of fans that enjoy the frivolities of the game, Josh Wilson may have to say goodbye to his pitching dreams. After shouldering his first career loss, the next time a manager is in need of an arm, he may just look right past Wilson.


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