When right is wrong
This article was published in the 1972 Baseball Research Journal.
Until the recent success of New York Met, Cleon Jones, there have been few instances of left-hand throwing, right-hand hitting non-pitchers making the grade in major league baseball. Scouts have stayed away from such players and the odds back their opinions. The I.C.I. Encyclopedia of Baseball lists but 30 such players.
The most prominent of the players prior to 1900 were James E. Ryan, Patsy Donovan, Edward "Dimples" Tate, John Cassidy, and Warren Carpenter. Ryan played 18 years as a SS, P, and OF. Donovan compiled a .301 average over 17 years, Tate was a left-handed catcher, Cassidy played every position on the team, and Carpenter lasted 14 years.
The three who could be considered the most successful of all were Rube Bressler, Hal Chase, and Johnny Cooney. Raymond "Rube" Bressler signed as a pitcher with the Philadelphia A's of 1914. The A's had three pitchers then who became members of the Hall of Fame. As a member of this great staff, 19-year-old Rube had a 10-2 record; but a sore arm soon sent him back to the minors.
Determined to make it back to the majors as a fielder he changed his batting stance and was brought up in 1917 by the powerful Cincinnati Reds. In "The Glory of Their Times", Rube told how the immortal Edd Roush asked him if he could be of any help in teaching him to play the outfield. With the help of the great outfielder, Rube became one of the best in the league. He spent a total of 19 years in the Big Time, hit over 300 five times, and had a lifetime average of .302. His career pitching total was 26-33. Although eligible for both the 1914 and 1919 Series he did not see action in either.
Hal Chase is considered one of the finest fielding first basemen of all times. Clark Griffith referred to Hal as the moat graceful player he had ever seen; while Grantland Rice listed him on his all time team of "Smart Players". Hal was one of the first to play wide of the bag so that he could cover more territory than the average first sacker. He played 15 years and compiled a .291 lifetime average.
He was the playing manager for the New York Highlanders for two years; and than in 1914 challenged organized baseballs contract by jumping to the Federal League. This was a short lived affair; and by 1916 he was in the National League with the Reds. It has been said that the Reds were the only team willing to put up with him. He rewarded them by winning the batting title with a .339 mark1 the only right hand swinging southpaw to do this. Chase's fortunes were to go from bad to worse as he got implicated in the 1919 betting scandal and was finally asked to leave the game. Broken and alcoholic he played in the tank towns until his death. Despite all these blots on his record Hal Chase is still remembered as the man with the Golden Glove.
Johnny Cooney came from a baseball family as both his dad and brother were big league shortstops. Of his 20 years in the Majors Johnny was destined to spend 15 with the hapless Boston Braves. Starting as a pitcher his life record on the mound was 34-44. Like Bressler he switched to the outfield after arm miseries. Also playing first base his lifetime B.A. was .286.
Cooney was with Boston 10 years and then sent back to the minors. It took him another 6 years to fight his way back; and after winning the American Association batting crown he joined the Dodgers. He later spent 5 more years with the Braves and was their manager briefly in 1949. During the 1936 season he established a fielding record for center fielders and in 1941 at the age of 40 he hit .319, the second highest B.A. in the National League.
During the early 1920's the hottest item on the Pacific Coast was Paul Strand, another pitcher whose arm had made him convert to the outfield. Connie Mack purchased him for a bundle; but a .228 year sent him right back down. More recently Carl Warwick performed as a left-hand throwing right hand hitting outfielder for several N.L. clubs. In the 1964 series he got 3 hits in 4 trips up. Like all the others his career shows a singular lack of great success.
One solution for the lefty who swings from the right side would be to become a switch hitter such as Rip Collins, Johnny Neun, and Wes Parker, to name a few. An article in the A.M.A. Journal once discussed this problem and indicated that a left-handed person has a dominant left eye which should be his rear eye while batting to give him a better view of the pitch. Whatever the reason, there have been no candidates for the Hall of Fame from this group.
This article originally appeared in the 1972 "Baseball Research Journal."