Fans who stuck around to watch an otherwise hopeless and hapless 18-9 loss to the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night were at least treated to a rarity, as Dewayne Wise became the first White Sox position player in 17 years to pitch in a game.
As sad as it sounds, he was the team's most effective pitcher, working around a walk and a single to throw a scoreless inning.
The Pitch f/x data is, of course, hilarious. It has Wise throwing 12 "changeups" at an average speed of 74.81 mph, with Wise topping out at 77.4 mph, and bottoming out at a little above 70 mph. The chart shows he had trouble keeping the ball down, but somehow he got a double-play grounder to defuse the rally. I hate to rain on this parade, but he was more lucky than good, and he's a major candidate for regression.
Wise entered the game under a classic set of circumstances, with the White Sox blown out and a day game following that night game. But the rarity of the sight sent me into a Baseball-Reference.com wormhole, searching for the other times a position player took the mound. I found nine other White Sox non-pitchers who pitched, and some interesting stories, as well.
Dave Martinez, Aug. 4, 1995
|Jason Bere, L (5-10)||2||6||8||7||3||1||1||6.44||16||73||36||23||6||7||3||8||3|
This was Dave Martinez's second and final career pitching appearance. From Scot Gregor's gamer in the Daily Herald:
Bolton pitched through the seventh inning and gave way to outfielder/first baseman Dave Martinez in the eighth.
"I just wanted to hurry up, get three outs, and come back in,'' said Martinez, who pitched in high school. "They wanted to get the bullpen rested. It's tough to have fun out there when you're 10 runs down, but I love to play, no matter where. I just tried to do my best.''
Martinez, who can throw a pretty decent fastball, walked Sorrento and Kenny Lofton in the eighth but that was all the trouble he'd get in. If only Bere could have said the same.
Steve Lyons, June 16, 1990
|Melido Perez, L (6-5)||0.2||5||7||4||2||1||0||11||5||3||3|
Steve Lyons was considered a guy who would do anything to get in a ballgame. Pitcher was the only position he hadn't played over his five-year stay in Chicago, and he could finally cross it off his list during this 12-3 loss. Oddly enough, he's the only guy they have a pitch count for. From the Sun-Times' account:
He allowed one run, two hits and four walks. His highlight was a strikeout of rookie Steve Howard, in his first big-league game.
"He threw fastballs to everyone else and breaking balls to me," Howard said.
"Fastballs and sliders - that's all we threw," Sox catcher Ron Karkovice said. "For an infielder, ( Lyons ) had pretty good stuff. For a pitcher, no chance."
Mike Squires, April 22, 1984
|Tom Brennan, L (0-1)||2.1||6||2||2||1||0||1||3.38||13|
Like Lyons, Mike Squires was no stranger to unusual usage. Actually, his pitching career is far less interesting than his stints elsewhere on the diamond. Twice in May of 1980, Squires served as catcher. That wouldn't be weird, except he threw left-handed, and so he became the first left-handed catcher to appear in a game since Dale Long in 1958. You can read Bill Veeck's reasoning for the experiment here.
Hell, it wasn't even the weirdest part of this game. Squires moved to the mound from third base, which was the third time he had played that position -- and that was three more times than every ofter left-handed major leaguer had played the position over the previous 50 years, according to Rich Lindberg in Total White Sox.
At any rate, here's the AP recap from this relatively ho-hum occurrence.
"[Tony La Russa] had told me before that he would use me in a game, but when he pointed to me, I still didn't know who he was pointing at," said Squires, who pitched in the minors five years ago.
Squires started the game at first base and shifted to third base in the eighth inning. When the Tigers roughed up Britt Bruns for five more runs, Squires got the call with runners on first and second and two outs.
The move worked when Tom Brookens flied out to left on Squires' second pitch.
Wayne Nordhagen, May 27, 1979 and June 4, 1979
|May 27, 1979 ||IP||H||R||ER||BB||SO||HR||ERA||BF|
|Rich Hinton, L (1-2)||5.1||9||7||7||1||5||2||5.30||26|
|June 4, 1979 ||IP||H||R||ER||BB||SO||HR||ERA||BF|
|Ross Baumgarten, L (5-3)||6||6||6||6||5||3||1||3.59||30|
The first game was the second game of a doubleheader, which makes Don Kessinger's usage of Nordhagen understandable. The second time, the Sox only trailed 6-0, which is the smallest deficit of any position-player appearance so far.
The UPI recap helps here:
Outfielder Wayne Nordhagen again was used by Kessenger in a relief role, pitching one scoreless inning in the ninth. Kessenger said with Mike Proly injured he is down to eight pitchers, and did not want to use any of his regular relievers with his team down six runs.
By my research, Nordhagen was the first position player to pitch in a game for the White Sox in 35 years, and even way back then, it wasn't especially common. Outfielder Eddie Carnett pitched in two games for the White Sox in 1944 (the first time with the Sox trailing by just one run!), and seldom-used first baseman Don Hanski made one appearance in 1943, but wartime baseball created some weird roster situations.
Aside from Carnett and Hanski, the only player who really fits the Wise type is Frank Isbell. Isbell, the first 10-year White Sox according to Lindberg, mostly played first and second during the franchise's first decade of existence. However, he also pitched in four games -- one apiece in 1901, 1902, 1906 and 1907, for a combined total of 4 1/3 innings.
Even though pitchers completed most of their games and offenses couldn't hit a lick, it seems odd that there weren't more cases like Isbell in the early years of the franchise. Especially when you consider these two cases:
Lena Blackburne, June 5, 1929, and Lew Fonseca, Sept. 23, 1932
|June 5, 1929 ||IP||H||R||ER||BB||SO||HR||ERA||BF|
|Tommy Thomas, L (4-8)||4||7||4||4||0||2||2||3.38||18|
|Sept. 23, 1932 ||IP||H||R||ER||BB||SO||HR||ERA||BF|
|Ed Walsh, L (0-2)||2.1||6||8||7||6||0||1||8.80||18|
These were the only appearances for Lena Blackburne and Lew Fonseca. Blackburne appeared for the last batter during a 17-2 blowout at the hands of the Boston Red Sox. Likewise, Fonseca chipped in an inning during a lopsided loss to the Cleveland Indians.
But here's why these two stand apart -- these two guys picked themselves to pitch.
Fonseca played sparingly while managing the 1932 White Sox, appearing in 17 games as an outfielder and pinch hitter. He finally put himself on the mound in the penultimate game of a 102-loss season, which is a nice touch. If nothing else, that would have made Ozzie Guillen's mail job at the end of 2011 a little more entertaining.
But Blackburne's appearance really fascinates me. Manager Blackburne was 42 years old at the time, and unlike Fonseca, he had not been active at all. But in the eighth inning, Dan Dugan had given up six runs on nine consecutive two-out hits. From the box score and various incomplete recaps I can piece together, it appears Blackburne took the ball from Dugan and, much to the fans' delight, kept it.
Blackburne faced Jack Rothrock, who promptly delivered another single to score two more runs. Fortunately for Blackburne, Rothrock was thrown out at second trying to stretch it into a double, thus ending Blackburne's pitching -- and playing -- career for good.
Imagine that scenario playing out on Tuesday. We're watching Philip Humber give up a triple, single and another single before he can record the second out. The third out never comes. Humber goes walk-single-walk-single-homer-single before Ventura appears from the dugout.
Ventura doesn't signal to the bullpen. Maybe he's just going out there to tell Humber the reason he's being hung out to dry. After a brief talk, Ventura takes the ball from Humber and pats him on the butt. Humber heads to the dugout to a sarcastic round of applause, and still there's no signal to the bullpen. Ventura is still talking to the players around the mound, until home plate umpire Mike Muchlinski breaks it up.
When the players disperse (all grinning), Ventura is standing on the mound with Tyler Flowers retreating to the plate. Flowers gets in a crouch, Ventura settles into a stretch and throws a 65-mph something to the plate.
The sparse crowd ERUPTS, and the cell phones fly out to take as many pictures as possible. The scoreboard operations and broadcast crews scramble to put together something resembling a stats display. The beat writers scrap their ledes and fire out tweets that go national, and MLB Network flips to a live look-in.
Eduardo Escobar approaches the plate warily, and in disbelief. It's understandable. After all, Ventura was his boss until last month, so he's not exactly sure how to wrap his head around this. He's even more unsure when Ventura's first pitch very nearly hits that very same head. He ducks out of the way, then turns to Ventura, who gets a new ball and smirks slightly.
The next pitch is a strike over the middle (Escobar wanted to make sure he could throw one). The third pitch is in the same spot, and Escobar swings. But this pitch is the slowest one he's seen all year. He's way out in front, and can only manage a swinging bunt.
Surprised it stayed fair, Escobar is a little late breaking out of the box. Ventura isn't late getting off the mound. He calls off Flowers and makes the play he made a hundred times for the Sox before -- a charging barehanded stab-and-throw that gets Escobar by a step and a half.
Ventura, a little gingerly, makes his way back to the dugout. The fans, most of whom stood to watch Ventura's White Sox pitching debut, won't sit down. His players rush around him, patting whatever area of Ventura they can reach.
Brian Omogrosso pitches the next inning. The score is still 17-4.
Of course, this scenario would likely result in an ejection or a forfeit before Ventura could throw a second warm-up pitch. And even if it were allowed, Ventura probably wouldn't have any part of it anyway. The guy won't even grow a mustache.