Cubic Players

This article was written by Randy Klipstein

This article was published in the Spring 2020 Baseball Research Journal


Brandon PhillipsWhen Brandon Nimmo took his position in right field on September 26, 2018, in a game at Citi Field, he was wearing his usual number nine and would bat ninth in the batting order. It seemed to me that this was an interesting confluence of facts: a player whose uniform number matches his fielding position and his position in the batting order. I wondered about other players who have achieved this trifecta and become “Cubic Players.”

Of course, fielding position and especially batting position can change daily for some, and players change numbers throughout their careers, so I set out to document the number of games for each player where their three numbers (uniform, batting order, and fielding position) were the same, in the history of baseball. I limited this study to the players in the starting lineup, at their starting fielding position. Pinch hitters, relief pitchers, defensive replacements, and fielding position changes were not considered. I looked at only regular season games for the ninety-year period of 1929–2018. The convention of players wearing numbers began in earnest in 1929, after a few brief experiments, and was completely phased in by the mid-1930s.

This is a very unlikely feat for pitchers. In fact, according to Retrosheet, only one starting pitcher batted leadoff in this period: Cesar Tovar, on September 22, 1968, the day he duplicated Bert Campaneris’s feat of playing all nine positions in a game. He wasn’t wearing number one, however, thus no pitcher (or anyone wearing number one or anyone batting leadoff) has ever been Cubic. Of course, we can also eliminate players wearing a number greater than nine, or less than one, and Designated Hitters.

I employed the Uniform Number Tracker database at the Baseball-Reference website. To identify games in which a player’s batting order position matched his fielding position, I used Retrosheet’s Game Log files, which provide starting lineups and initial fielding positions. Retrosheet and Baseball-Reference are wonderful resources and I am grateful that they make their information available for download free of charge. It would be beneficial, however, if there were a standard for player identification. For instance, Hank Aaron is identified as “aaroh101” by Retrosheet and “aaronha01” by Baseball-Reference (and by Sean Lahman’s Baseball Database, another wonderful free resource). Checking to ensure that the files from the two sources were merged correctly added a lot of time and created an opportunity for errors. Cases like the two players named Abraham Nunez, who played concurrently, required careful handling.

Methodology

Brooks RobinsonMy results are not perfectly correct, though they are close as possible under the constraints. Here is why I could not achieve perfection:

  1. I relied on Retrosheet and Baseball-Reference exclusively as the source of the data for this study (and again, I am forever grateful to them). Any errors or incomplete information, however, in either source, could have created errors in my results.
  2. I already mentioned that the two sources use different IDs for players, creating opportunities for errors.
  3. Baseball-Reference provides the numbers a player wore by year and team. It does not provide daily detail. If a player wore more than one number for the same team in the same year, I had no way to tell at what point during the season that the change was made. For instance, in 1972, Bobby Grich started the year wearing number 16, which he had worn since he first reached the majors in 1970. At some point during the year, he switched to number 3, which he wore for the rest of his Oriole career. I considered these cases to be indeterminate and removed them, since I could not verify what uniform number such players wore on a particular day in those years.
  4. No source that I am aware of tracks numbers worn by players to commemorate special occasions, such as Jackie Robinson Day, and I made no attempt to identify such days and the players who wore special numbers for a single game.
  5. The final source of errors is me. I attempted to automate this to as great an extent as possible but could not do so entirely. Baseball-Reference’s database provided player, team, uniform number, and year, but the downloaded data were not in a usable tabular format. I managed to reformat them into a table, but without the team. I merged the two source files by player and year. Then, for each player who appeared to satisfy the cubic criteria, I looked up their Baseball-Reference page to check that the player actually wore the right number for the right team. For instance, in 1979, Oscar Gamble wore number 7 with the Rangers and number 17 with the Yankees. His only games that year in left field, batting seventh, came with the Yankees, however. Thus, I had to remove those games. I spent a great deal of time checking these cases, but I can’t be sure that errors weren’t made.

Confucius said, “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” No, I don’t think he was talking about baseball.

Results by Position

There have been 10,180 instances of a cubic player-game. This works out to be about 113 times per year. Only 335 players have played a cubic game.

As I’m sure you have realized, the frequency of this is vastly different by number. Looking at it through the lens of fielding position, it is far more likely to be accomplished by an infielder than an outfielder; and far more likely for an outfielder than a catcher, as shown in Table 1.

 

Table 1. Cubic Player-Games by Position Category

Catcher

Infielder

Outfielder

44

9,069

1,067

 

Breaking it down further, we see in Table 2 that among infielders, the feat is far more likely to be accomplished by fielders at the corners. In the outfield, the frequency declines as we move from left to right. Cubic right fielders are relatively new, the first one appeared in 1978. On June 1, 1920, right fielder Sammy Vick batted ninth in the Yankee lineup (pitcher Babe Ruth batted fourth). It wasn’t until the Designated Hitter rule was established that a right fielder would bat ninth again.

 

Table 2. Cubic Player-Games by Position

C (2)

1B (3)

2B (4)

3B (5)

SS (6)

LF (7)

CF (8)

RF (9)

44

3,450

987

3,841

791

758

246

63

<1%

34%

10%

38%

8%

7%

2%

1%

 

Of those 63 right field player-games, 61 occurred in the American League. Perhaps as National League managers bat their pitchers eighth, we’ll see more cubic NL right fielders, joining Ryan McGuire and Brandon Nimmo.

When we look at the 335 cubic players by position, in Table 3, we see:

 

Table 3. Cubic Players by Position Category

Catcher

Infielder

Outfielder

7

189

142

 

Table 4 provides the position detail.

 

Table 4. Cubic Players by Position

C (2)

1B (3)

2B (4)

3B (5)

SS (6)

LF (7)

CF (8)

RF (9)

7

56

19

79

37

89

37

20

2%

16%

6%

23%

11%

26%

11%

6%

 

Careful readers will note that outfielders account for only about 10% of cubic player-games (Table 2), yet about 43% of the cubic players have been outfielders (Table 4). Infielders, and particularly first and third basemen, exhibit the opposite relationship. It’s not unusual for a left fielder to bat seventh, for instance, in a particular game. But left fielders who bat seventh don’t tend to have long careers. We will see that cubic records are driven by a few prolific players, and they are infielders, generally first or third basemen.

Results Over Time

I had a hunch that this feat has become more unusual, for three reasons.

  1. When uniform numbers were first assigned, they were often assigned based on the player’s position in the batting order, thus creating a systemic link between two of the three figures.
  2. Single digit numbers are being retired. Since numbers are seldom un-retired, this factor will have an increasingly strong effect as time goes on. The Yankees have retired numbers one through nine, ensuring that no Yankee will ever play a cubic game again. The last Yankee to do so was Tony Fernandez in 1995.
  3. The use of set lineups seems to have become extinct, making it more unlikely for an individual player to amass a high number of cubic games (and perhaps also leading to more cubic players).

To check if this is actually true, I grouped the ninety years in the study into nine ten-year periods: 1929–38, 1939–48, etc. As I expected, I found that the number of cubic player-games, and ratio of cubic player-games to total games played (which is a more meaningful measurement as it normalizes for expansion and a longer regular season schedule), had been steadily declining. However, the trend has reversed and the frequency has increased in the two most recent decades, as shown in Table 5. I believe that the decade 1989–98 is the outlier. We’ve reached a relatively steady state of about 3% to 4% of games played over that last fifty years. By chance, in that one ten-year period, it seldom happened. Prolific cubic players, like the immortals, don’t come around on a regular schedule.

 

Table 5. Cubic Player-Games by Decade

 

’29–’38

’39–’48

’49–’58

’59–’68

’69–’78

’79–’88

’89–’98

’99– ’08

’09–’18

Cubic Player- Games

2,581

1,680

1,028

1,142

711

537

226

976

1,299

% of Total Games Played

21%

14%

8%

7%

4%

3%

1%

4%

5%

 

Table 6 provides the number of cubic players in each decade.

 

Table 6. Cubic Players by Decade

’29–’38

’39–’48

’49–’58

’59–’68

’69–’78

’79–’88

’89–’98

’99–’08

’09–’18

50

36

35

30

31

31

44

52

61

 

Table 7 is a matrix of the number of cubic player-games by decade and number. It’s interesting that most of the occurrences for first basemen and shortstops happened in the earlier years, while most of the occurrences for second basemen (due to one player who we will meet in the next paragraph) and outfielders happened in more recent years.

 

Table 7. Cubic Player-Games by Decade and Number

 

’29–’38

’39–’48

’49–’58

’59–’68

’69–’78

’79–’88

’89–’98

’99–’08

’09–’18

Total

2

13

3

 

1

5

12

8

2

 

44

3

962

1,062

744

379

253

5

10

22

13

3,450

4

95

87

33

 

2

23

2

200

545

987

5

1,036

374

152

510

406

433

68

549

313

3,841

6

314

148

8

197

11

 

14

70

29

791

7

118

4

67

50

19

44

82

96

278

758

8

43

2

24

5

10

9

29

14

110

246

9

 

 

 

 

5

11

13

23

11

63

Total

2,581

1,680

1,028

1,142

711

537

226

976

1,299

10,180

 

Player Records

Brandon Phillips is the all-time leader in career cubic games played. Table 8 provides the top ten.

 

Table 8. Top 10 Leaders in Career Cubic Games

Brandon Phillips

700

2B (4)

Brooks Robinson

668

3B (5)

Pinky Higgins

541

3B (5)

Mickey Vernon

466

1B (3)

Harmon Killebrew

439

1B (3)

Bill Terry

418

1B (3)

George McQuinn

366

1B (3)

David Wright

326

3B (5)

Bob Horner

300

3B (5)

Joe Kuhel

264

1B (3)

 

Appendix A shows the top ten players in lifetime cubic games at each number. In Appendix B you will find the top ten players in cubic games in each decade.

Pinky Higgins established the career mark in 1937 and held the record for thirty-three years, until Brooks Robinson eclipsed him in 1970. Robinson held the record for forty-six years until Brandon Phillips passed him in 2016.

The record for most cubic games in a single season is held by Bill Terry. In 1934 he played 153 cubic games (every game that the Giants played that year). The top ten seasons are shown in Table 9.

 

Table 9. Top 10 Single Seasons

Bill Terry

1934

153

Mickey Vernon

1954

148

Bill Terry

1935

143

Mickey Vernon

1953

141

Pinky Whitney

1932

137

Pinky Higgins

1936

129

Brandon Phillips

2013

127

Brooks Robinson

1969

125

Pinky Higgins

1935

124

Brandon Phillips

2009

122

 

Table 10 provides the single season records for each number.

 

Table 10. Single Season Leaders for each Number

C (2)

Billy Sullivan

1938

13

1B (3)

Bill Terry

1934

153

2B (4)

Brandon Phillips

2013

127

3B (5)

Pinky Whitney

1932

137

SS (6)

Eric McNair

1935

98

LF (7)

David Murphy

2012

64

CF (8)

Joe Marty

1937

30

RF (9)

Jody Gerut

2004

12

 

Brooks Robinson holds the record for most years leading all of baseball: nine. Brandon Phillips led in eight years. No one else led in more than four years.

Brooks Robinson also holds the record for most years with at least one cubic game: seventeen. Harmon Killebrew had eleven such years, and Brandon Phillips had ten. No one else had more than eight.

 

Franchise Records

Table 11 provides the total player-games for each franchise. I’ve grouped the oldest sixteen and the fourteen later expansion teams separately.

 

Table 11. Number of Cubic Player-Games for each Franchise

Older Franchises

 

Expansion Franchises

Orioles

1,182

Mets

394

Red Sox

1,137

Rangers

235

Twins

1,047

Padres

169

Reds

837

Mariners

117

Athletics

697

Nationals

110

Giants

582

Diamondbacks

80

White Sox

577

Angels

72

Pirates

524

Astros

55

Dodgers

429

Blue Jays

50

Indians

407

Marlins

39

Braves

404

Brewers

29

Phillies

327

Rays

28

Cubs

240

Royals

26

Tigers

152

Rockies

17

Cardinals

122

 

Yankees

95

 

David WrightIt wasn’t surprising to me that Yankees are last among the original franchises, given their proclivity for retiring single digit numbers. Incidentally, Babe Ruth was the first cubic Yankee, in 1931. It was his only cubic game.

For no systemic reason, 57% of the cubic player-games have been recorded by teams that were in the American League at the time. However, in the last four decades, 76% of the incidences have been by National League teams. As you’ve seen, one prolific cubic player can leave an imprint on the totals. As shown in Table 8, the top ten most prolific players account for 44% of all the cubic player-games.

Table 12 lists the leaders for each franchise. Notice that Brandon Phillips, the Reds second baseman for eleven years (2006–2016), and Brooks Robinson, the Orioles third baseman for more than two decades (1955–1977), are far ahead of everyone else. Pinky Higgins, next on the all-time list, amassed cubic games for the Athletics and Red Sox. Mickey Vernon, fourth on the list, tallied cubic games for the Indians and Senators.

 

Table 12. All-time Franchise Leaders

Angels

Bobby Grich

23

Astros

Pete Runnels

51

Athletics

Pinky Higgins

344

Blue Jays

Anthony Gose

15

Braves

Bob Horner

300

Brewers

B.J. Surhoff

15

Cardinals

Peter Bourjos

49

Cubs

Ripper Collins

137

Diamondbacks

Stephen Drew

61

Dodgers

Cookie Lavagetto

145

Giants

Bill Terry

418

Indians

Mickey Vernon

87

Mariners

Adrian Beltre

79

Marlins

Jorge Cantu

21

Mets

David Wright

326

Nationals

Sean Berry

29

Orioles

Brooks Robinson

668

Padres

Kevin Kouzmanoff

124

Phillies

Pinky Whitney

173

Pirates

Elbie Fletcher

110

Rangers

David Murphy

126

Rays

Matthew Michael Duffy

14

Red Sox

Jimmie Foxx

228

Reds

Brandon Phillips

700

Rockies

Seth Smith

8

Royals

George Brett

9

Tigers

Billy Rogell

81

Twins

Harmon Killebrew

439

White Sox

Joe Kuhel

264

Yankees

Jake Powell

73

 

Anomalies and Hall of Famers

There are nine players who have played a cubic game at more than one position, as shown in Table 13.

 

Table 13. Players who have played a Cubic Game at more than One Position

Travis Jackson

3B and SS

Bob Bailey

1B and LF

Michael Cuddyer

1B and 3B

David DeJesus

LF and RF

Chris Coghlan

LF and CF

Alex Presley

LF and CF

Eric Owens

1B and CF

Ross Gload

1B and LF

Jason Romano

LF and CF

 

There have been many players who played a cubic game for more than one team, but Hank Majeski is the only one who did it with four different clubs. Mark DeRosa and David DeJesus did it with three teams.

Many players have played a cubic game in each league.

Matt Duffy leads all active players with twenty-seven lifetime cubic games, again, through the 2018 season. Eduardo Escobar is a close second with twenty-five. So, Brandon Phillips’s career record is safe for a while.

Nineteen Hall of Famers have played at least one cubic game, as shown in Table 14. Interestingly, many of them played cubic games at a position other than the one for which they are most renowned. I expect that Adrian Beltre and Albert Pujols will be added to this list.

 

Table 14. Cubic Games by Hall of Famers

Brooks Robinson

668

3B

Harmon Killebrew

439

1B

Bill Terry

418

1B

Jimmie Foxx

228

1B

Joe Gordon

74

2B

Travis Jackson

55

43 at SS and 12 at 3B

Jim Bottomley

52

1B

Johnny Bench

41

3B

Rogers Hornsby

11

2B

George Brett

9

3B

Lou Boudreau

6

3B

Hack Wilson

5

2B

George Kell

5

1B

Joe Medwick

4

LF

Willie Stargell

3

CF

Charlie Gehringer

2

1B

Babe Ruth

1

1B

Arky Vaughan

1

3B

Tony Lazzeri

1

SS

 

There have been many games where multiple players were cubic. For instance, the last one in the period occurred on April 9, 2018, the Rays versus the White Sox, both third baseman, Matt Duffy and Yolmer Sanchez, batted fifth and wore five. The record for most cubic players in a game is three, accomplished sixteen times. The most recent occurrence was a game on April 16, 1969, Baltimore at Boston. The three players were Brooks Robinson (5) for the Orioles, and George Scott (5) and Rico Petrocelli (6) for the Red Sox.

The record for most cubic players for one team in a game is also three. On July 20, 1949, in a game in which he singled, doubled, and was hit by a pitch in five plate appearances, the Indians all-star center fielder Larry Doby was thrown out trying to steal home with the bases loaded and no outs. Doby was fined and benched for the next five games by player-manager Lou Boudreau.1 In those five games, Cleveland’s lineup included Mickey Vernon batting third, Joe Gordon batting clean-up, and Lou Boudreau batting fifth. These are the only five games where as many as three teammates were cubic.

Coming Home

I suppose Babe Ruth was the greatest of all cubic players, but special mention should go to football star D. J. Dozier. He played just one season in the big leagues and appeared in 25 games, yet he tallied five cubic games in his 14 starts.

Fewer than 2% of all major league players have played even one cubic game. The 335 who have form a special fraternity. A few are enshrined in Cooperstown; others didn’t have much more than a cup of coffee. All are bound by this special trait, having played the game in perfect harmony.

RANDY KLIPSTEIN has been a SABR member for thirty-five years. A Yankee fan, he lives happily in Dobbs Ferry, New York, with his wife Lisa, a Red Sox fan. Randy hopes to see an alphabetical batting order. Contact Randy at rbk65@optonline.net.

 

Acknowledgments

The author thanks the peer reviewers who made this a better article and welcomes requests for more information, such as a complete listing of cubic players.

 

Notes

1 “Doby Fined By Boudreau After Boner,” Evening Independent, July 21, 1949.

 


Appendix A: Top 10 players in lifetime cubic games played at each number

Rank

C (2)

1B (3)

2B (4)

1

Billy Sullivan

13

Mickey Vernon

466

Brandon Phillips

700

2

Mike Heath

12

Harmon Killebrew

439

Joe Gordon

74

3

Rick Wilkins

8

Bill Terry

418

Bill Cissell

52

4

Tim McCarver

5

George McQuinn

366

Johnny Hodapp

26

5

Frankie Pytlak

3

Joe Kuhel

264

Odell Hale

25

6

Brent Mayne

2

Jimmie Foxx

228

Bobby Grich

23

7

Tom Satriano

1

Ripper Collins

137

Johnny Berardino

16

8

 

 

Elbie Fletcher

110

Wilmer Flores

14

9

 

 

Tony Lupien

110

Scooter Gennett

13

10

 

 

Ed Morgan

93

Rogers Hornsby

11

 

3B (5)

SS (6)

LF (7)

1

Brooks Robinson

668

Eric McNair

152

David Murphy

127

2

Pinky Higgins

541

Rico Petrocelli

151

Jake Powell

73

3

David Wright

326

Billy Rogell

81

Gregor Blanco

53

4

Bob Horner

300

Irv Hall

67

Jim Rivera

42

5

Jim Tabor

258

Stephen Drew

61

Billy Ashley

25

6

Pinky Whitney

173

Travis Jackson

43

Kenny Lofton

24

7

Kevin Kouzmanoff

167

Ron Hansen

34

Augie Galan

17

8

Cookie Lavagetto

145

Billy Cox

32

Cody Ross

15

9

Cecil Travis

118

Mark Christman

31

3 tied with 13

 

10

Bill Madlock

108

Billy Urbanski

18

 

 

 

CF (8)

RF (9)

 

 

1

Peter Bourjos

49

Bombo Rivera

12

 

 

2

Joe Marty

31

Jody Gerut

12

 

 

3

Rip Repulski

21

Ernie Young

6

 

 

4

Anthony Gose

15

Ryan Raburn

4

 

 

5

Max Venable

11

Jason Dubois

4

 

 

6

Juan Samuel

11

Skeeter Barnes

3

 

 

7

Ian Happ

10

Jim Dwyer

3

 

 

8

Gerardo Parra

8

Tomas Perez

3

 

 

9

4 tied with 7

 

Brady Anderson

3

 

 

10

 

 

2 tied with 2

 

 

 

 

 


Appendix B: Top 10 players in lifetime cubic games played in each decade

Rank

1929 – 1938

1939 – 1948

1949 – 1958

1

Pinky Higgins

541

George McQuinn

366

Mickey Vernon

466

2

Bill Terry

418

Joe Kuhel

264

Hank Majeski

76

3

Pinky Whitney

173

Jim Tabor

258

Bob Skinner

55

4

Eric McNair

152

Elbie Fletcher

110

Dick Gernert

54

5

Ripper Collins

137

Tony Lupien

110

Eddie Waitkus

48

6

Jimmie Foxx

124

Jimmie Foxx

104

Vern Stephens

45

7

Ed Morgan

93

Irv Hall

67

Dale Long

44

8

Billy Rogell

81

Cookie Lavagetto

64

Jim Rivera

39

9

Cookie Lavagetto

81

Joe Gordon

45

Dee Fondy

36

10

Cecil Travis

77

Cecil Travis

41

Joe Gordon

29

 

1959 – 1968

1969 – 1978

1979 – 1988

1

Brooks Robinson

393

Brooks Robinson

259

Bob Horner

235

2

Harmon Killebrew

269

Harmon Killebrew

170

Bill Madlock

108

3

Rico Petrocelli

150

Bob Horner

65

Johnny Bench

40

4

Pete Runnels

71

Jim Spencer

61

Bobby Grich

23

5

Jim Lefebvre

59

Bob Bailey

20

Randy Ready

21

6

Bubba Phillips

39

George Scott

17

Mike Heath

12

7

Ron Hansen

34

Ed Spiezio

15

Rance Mulliniks

11

8

Ed Charles

19

Ed Charles

15

Dave Meier

10

9

Ken Harrelson

14

Danny Cater

13

Roy Smalley

9

10

Walt Moryn

12

Jim Lefebvre

11

Hector Cruz

9

 

1989 – 1998

1999 – 2008

2009 – 2018

 

1

Sean Berry

29

David Wright

245

Brandon Phillips

505

2

Billy Ashley

25

Brandon Phillips

195

David Murphy

120

3

B.J. Surhoff

13

Kevin Kouzmanoff

86

Kevin Kouzmanoff

81

4

Tony Fernandez

12

Adrian Beltre

79

David Wright

81

5

Juan Samuel

11

Ed Sprague

62

Juan Uribe

55

6

Max Venable

11

Stephen Drew

50

Gregor Blanco

53

7

F.P. Santangelo

10

Nomar Garciaparra

28

Peter Bourjos

49

8

Ron Gant

9

Kenny Lofton

24

Matthew M. Duffy

27

9

3 tied with 8

 

Jorge Cantu

21

Eduardo Escobar

25

10

 

 

Albert Pujols

15

Ian Desmond

16

 

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