Lewis Making Mark as Pinch Runner

This article was written by L. Robert Davids

This article was published in 1974 Baseball Research Journal

Ever since nine players trotted on the field for the first major league game, changes have been made in the line-up or the batting order.   A defensive replacement is a relief pitcher is brought in, and a pinch hitter is sent up to bat.    Sometimes a pinch runner is sent in, but this has not been an important or crucial part of the game, and essentially no records have been kept on this aspect of baseball, even though it goes back to the beginning.  At first a runner was substituted only in case of injury or some emergency.   Later pinch running was used as a tactic to increase run production in close and important games.

The most important games usually were World Series games and no pinch runner appeared in a Series game until the Tigers used Fred Payne in the final game of the 1907 classic won by the Cubs.   John McGraw, who is credited with early use of relief hurlers (George Ferguson and Doc Crandall) and pinch hitters (Moose McCormick), also made early use of the pinch runner, with Tillie Shafer and others.

One of the most spectacular early efforts by a pinch runner took place on September 1 and 2, 1909.   In the first game, Giant pitcher Bugs Raymond was beaned and rookie outfielder Bill O’Hara went in to run for him.

He proceeded to steal second and third.   The next day, O’Hara was again inserted as a pinch runner and again stole second and third.    But the young outfielder could not hit very well and McGraw soon got rid of him.   A team could not afford to carry a player who specialized as a pinch runner.   Consequently clubs usually relied on a utility player or spare pitcher to fill in when it was felt necessary to have a substitute runner.

Pinch runners were not used very much in the early decades of this century, even though there was then great reliance on base stealing.   This was the case even in the l920s when the lively ball was used.   To give an indication of the use of substitute players in 1919, for example, the National League used pinch hitters 577 times that year – compared to 127 pinch runners.   The Cardinals led with 27 pinch runners during the 140-game schedule.  In 1923, in a 154-game schedule, pinch runners were used 203 times.  Fred Maguire of the Giants had the most appearances — 22.

At the end of the 1925 season, the Washington Senators brought up from Birmingham a well-seasoned infielder named Stuffy Stewart, who had had several trials with other clubs.   He was the greatest base stealer in Southern Association history.   He also could field well, but was not very good with the stick.    In 1926 he was used 34 times as a pinch runner, scoring 13 runs and stealing six bases.    These were probably the top marks for a substitute runner up to that point.   Stewart was not exclusively a pinch runner.   In 1926 and 1927 he was also used as a late-inning substitute at second base for Manager Bucky Harris.   In 1928, Stewart went back to Birmingham where he led the SA for the fifth time in thefts, with 61.  He returned to Washington for 22 games in 1929, mostly as a pinch runner, and that was his last stint in the majors.

Two other minor league speedsters of that period —  Fred Haney and Johnny Neun — also had trouble making it as full-time players in the majors.   They sometimes filled in as pinch runners, but not to the extent that Stewart did.

Among the pitchers, those used most as pinch runners were Sad Sam Jones of the 1914-35 era, and later Ruben Gomez, Bobby Shantz, Billy O’Dell, Pedro Ramos, and Al Jackson.   Gomez probably got a little extra money for making 32 appearances as a pinch runner for the Giants in 1953.   Ramos, who was challenging Mickey Mantle to footraces in the 1950s, made some 110 appearances as a pinch runner over his career with the Senators, Twins, and Indians.   He was a very fast runner, but like the other pitchers, rarely stole a base.    John “Blue Moon” Odom is the current pitcher used most frequently as a pinch runner, having made more than 90 appearances in his career thus far.   Bob Gibson and Jim Kaat, perennially selected as the best fielding pitchers, also have been used over the years as “PR” men.

The use of pinch runners became more pronounced in the l950s.  Managers found they could use substitute  runners as effectively in close games as other substitute players.   Another reason for the increase was probably the acquisition of bonus players who could not be sent down to the minors for seasoning.   To give them some experience they were sometimes used as pinch runners.  Dick Schofield of the Cardinals fell into this category.

In 1954, when he was only 19, he was used in 37 games as a pinch runner.   He scored 17 runs and stole two bases.  He was a scrappy performer who fielded well, but hit poorly.   Nevertheless, he had a long career in the majors, during which time he was used as a pinch runner about 175 times, which is probably the all-time record.

The Cardinals were one of the chief users of pinch runners in this period.   They used substitute runners 75 times in 1959 and 76 times in 1963.   One of the reasons was to extend the career of Stan Musial, who still got on base frequently in his later years.   In 1963, his final year, the box score entry “*Ran for Musial” was used 41 times, which is probably a season record.

However, when it comes to mass use of pinch runners, the go-go White Sox of Eddie Stanky topped the list in1966.   They used pinch runners 133 times, more than the entire National League used in 1919.   Al Weis led the PR men with 33 appearances, followed by Joel Horlen 27, and Tom McCraw with 19.   Three times that season the Sox used four pinch runners in the same game.   Players frequently substituted for during the season included John Romano, Moose Skowron, and Smoky Burgess, who was replaced almost every time he got on base.

Other teams also used pinch runners on a fairly regular basis in 1966.   Jackie Hernandez, utility player for the Angels, made 36 appearances and scored 16 runs.  He stole only one base as a pinch runner.   He was also used as a late-inning defensive replacement.   Like many of the other players used as pinch runners, he was a poor hitter.

On opening day of 1967, the Kansas City A’s used a rapid runner named Allan Lewis in a 4-3 victory over Cleveland.   They called him the “Panamanian Express.”  He was used again as a pinch runner on April 16 and 23, and each time he stole a base and scored a run.   On April 29, Lewis was used as a pinch hitter, but it was generally understood that he would not make an impression in the majors with his hitting.  And neither was he a first class outfielder, although he could cover enough ground.  He was to be used almost exclusively as a pinch runner, the first time a club made such an investment.

Who was Allan Lewis?   In spite of his Americanized name, he was a 25-year-old native of Panama who had spent nearly six years in the minors.  He was lightning fast on his feet, having stolen 76 bases for Leesburg in the Florida State League in 1965.  The next year he swiped a record 116 bases in 131 games, one of the all-time best marks in O.B. history.  Charlie Finley was impressed and had him brought up as a pinch runner in 1967, when the A’s were still in Kansas City.  Lewis stayed with the A’s through July of that year.  By that time he had stolen 14 bases in 29 appearances as a pinch runner.  This was obviously a record for stolen bases by a pinch runner.   Stuffy Stewart had six to his credit in 1926.  There was a certain parallel between Stewart and Lewis in that both spent much of their minor league careers with Birmingham, and made their most significant contribution in the majors as pinch runners.

On June 15, 1967, Lewis and John Odom both appeared as pinch runners for the A’s and both scored runs.

These two speedsters were to establish a pinch-running pattern for the club in the next several years.  Lewis never spent a full season in the majors, but he came up each year except for 1971 when he was injured much of the year at Birmingham.  When Lewis is not with the A’s, Odom usually fills in as the chief runner.  Fans may recall that both were used extensively in the 1972 World Series.

Lewis has gone to bat only 29 times in six seasons in the majors.   He has collected six hits, one for each year.   Ironically, one was a home run on September 27, 1970, and it was not an inside park job.  He has played parts of 10 games in the outfield, where he has made nine putouts and one error.   In 1973, Lewis played one inning in leftfield, and came to the plate once.   But he did make 34 appearances as a pinch runner and scored 16 runs, one of the best efforts in major league annals.  His 41 steals as a substitute runner are far more than any other player has accumulated in a career.

He is now 32 years old and he is back in the Birmingham roster.  Maybe his days as a pinch runner in the majors are nearly over, but if that is the case, he has already established some impressive standards for others to challenge.  Here is his record as a pinch runner; it does not include his other appearances.








Kansas City