Pitcher-Player: Two-Way Players in the Major Leagues

This article was written by Leon Uzarowski

This article was published in the 1983 Baseball Research Journal


One of the theories advanced by opponents of the designated-hitter rule is that, because of the DH, major league baseball will never discover another Babe Ruth. That is, because pitchers in the American League, the minors and college ball have little or no opportunity to bat, we’ll never know how good a hitter the pitcher could become.

In baseball’s early days, it was common practice for the pitcher to play other positions in the field when he was not on the mound. In the American Association in 1884, for example, Guy Hecker of Louisville won the batting title at .342 while pitching in 49 games and playing other positions in 37. In 1897, Nixey Callahan went 12-9 on the mound and also played 50 games in the infield, 21 in the outfield, and batted .292. Some players, over their careers, changed positions. Cy Seymour, for example, led the NL in pitcher strikeouts in 1898 and, as an outfielder, led in batting average in 1905. Over his career, Monte Ward won 163 games and collected 2105 base hits.

While many players have both pitched and played in the field, only a few in recent baseball history had the ability to do it in more than a few games. Limiting the list to those major leaguers who have both pitched in at least 20 games and also played the field in 20 games, we find more than 100 players qualified during the 1876-1910 period. But in the last 70 years, there have been only 33 to accomplish this feat. Despite the small number, the baseball universe is adequately represented by Hall of Famers, stars, bonus babies, and fringe players. Also included are a black, a Cuban, and a phenom from Texas.

Probably the reason for the low number is the age of specialization. No longer do we find the attitude of Smoky Joe Wood who, after his pitching arm went bad, stated, “Doggone it, I was a ballplayer, not just a pitcher.” Wood went on to play five more years in the majors as an outfielder. By decades the number of pitcher-players are:

  • 1910-19: 9
  • 1920-29: 8
  • 1930-39: 3
  • 1940-49: 5
  • 1950-59: 5
  • 1960-69: 3
  • 1970-82: none

Here are brief profiles saluting the 33 “complete” players by decades:

Rube Bressler – 26-31, 3.40 ERA in 107 games pitched; batted .301 in 1305 games overall. . . in 1920 Bressler tried to come back too soon after a fractured ankle and favoring his leg he developed an unnatural pitching motion. . . so long pitching days, hello outfield. . . during 1924-26 Rube hit .351 . . . one of the few players to throw lefthanded but bat righthanded . . . seven years as a pitcher then a dozen seasons in the outfield and first base.

Ray Caldwell – 134-120, 3.21 ERA for 343 games pitched; batted .248 in 582 contests. . . helped the 1920 Cleveland Indians to the AL pennant with a 20-10 record. . . threw a no-hitter in 1919 against the New York Yankees . . . spent his first nine years as a pitcher-outfielder for the Yankees . . . led league in pinch-hit appearances in 1915 . . . 46 games in the garden, six at first base.

Doc Crandall – 106-61, 2.92 ERA in 302 games pitched; batted .285 in 500 games . . . one of the great early relief hurlers, the right-hander led the NL in relief appearances for five consecutive seasons then jumped to the Federal League where he was a second baseman-pitcher. . . on the pennant-winning 1911-13 New York Giant teams . . . played 78 games as an infielder.

Dode Criss – 3-9, 4.38 ERA in 30 games pitched; batted .276 in 227 games. . . entire four-year major-league stay was with the St. Louis Browns….led the American League in both pinch-hits and pinch-hit appearances in all four seasons. . . finished with a 35-for-l47 mark in the pinch-hit role . . . also played 27 games at first base and seven in the outfield.

George Cunningham – 17-25, 3.13 ERA for 123 games pitched; batted .224 in 162 contests. . . just made the list by playing 20 games in the outfield in 1918 and one in 1921 . . . righthander was a member of the Detroit Tigers for his five big league campaigns.

Clarence Mitchell – 125-139, 4.12 ERA for 390 games pitched; batted .252 in 649 contests. . . last of the lefthanded spitball hurlers . . set major-league mark by hitting into the World Series’ only unassisted triple play in 1920, and in his next at-bat Mitchell banged into a double play . . . five outs with two swings . . interchanged with first base and outfield throughout his career.

Babe Ruth – 94-46, 2.28 ERA in 163 games pitched; battered .342 in 2502 games. . . considered by many the greatest player in the history of baseball . . . started out as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, but his slugging demanded more playing time. . .714 career homers with 60 slammed in 1927 . . . still holds some Red Sox pitching marks; charter member of the Hall of Fame.

George Sisler – 5-6, 2.35 ERA for 24 games pitched; batted .340 in 2054 games . . . pitched three years of varsity ball at the University of Michigan and was signed by Branch Rickey for the St. Louis Browns . . . as a rookie in 1915 Sisler split eight decisions. . . had 1-0 victory over Walter Johnson in 1916. . . lost only start against Tigers but hit homer and held Ty Cobb to an 0-for-5 day . . . set major league record of 257 hits in 1920 when he batted .407. . . two years later Sisler owned a .420 batting average on the strength of 246 hits . . . also led the league in stolen bases four times . . elected to the Hall of Fame in 1939.

Smoky Joe Wood – 112-58, 2.03 ERA for 225 games pitched; batted .283 in 695 games. . . in 1912 with the Boston Red Sox Wood won 34 games plus three in the World Series, hurled ten shutouts and won 16 in a row. . . he was only 22 years old. . . next season his arm went bad when he slipped on wet grass while fielding a ground ball and broke his thumb . . . from then on his right shoulder was always in pain . . . despite this he led the league with a 1.49 ERA in 1915 while posting a 15-5 mark. . . became an outfielder for the Cleveland Indians in 1918 and besides Babe Ruth is the only player to be in a World Series both as a pitcher and an outfielder …..

Jack Bentley – 46-34, 4.01 ERA in 138 games pitched; batted .291 in 287 contests . . . started in the majors as a pitcher but in 1921 he burned up the International League with a .412 batting average and 246 hits for the Baltmore Orioles . . . the lefthander pitched in five World Series games and pinch-hit in five Series contests for the 1923-24 New York Giants. . . played 59 games at first base…..

Johnny Cooney – 34-44, 3.72 ERA in 159 games pitched; batted .286 in 1172 games. . . pitched and played the outfield and first-base throughout his career. . . only in six of his twenty big league seasons did Cooney just pitch or play the field . . . in 1941 at age 40 he hit .319 with 141 hits. . . like Bressler, Cooney threw left-handed but batted righthanded. . . along with Babe Ruth and Joe Wood, Johnny is one of the three players in the 20th century to hurl over 200 innings and bat over 500 times in a season.

Chick Davies – 4-6, 4.48 ERA in 45 games pitched; batted .193 in 117 games . . . came up as an outfielder for the 19 14-15 Philadelphia A’s then returned to the majors 11 years later as a relief hurler for the New York Giants. . . led in saves and games finished in 1926.

Lefty O’Doul – 1-1, 4.87 ERA for 34 games pitched; batted .349 in 970 games. . . first seven years as a pro were as a pitcher but then he hurt his arm . . . became an outfield regular at age 3 1 and one year later he set the National League record for most hits in a season (254) while batting .398. . . won another NL bat crown at age 35 with a .368 average . . . helped start baseball in Japan . . . became great minor league manager in Pacific Coast League….

Ossie Orwoll 6-7, 4.63 ERA in 39 games pitched; batted .294 in 94 games. . . major-league career spanned just two seasons with the 1928-29 Philadelphia Athletics . . . lefthander appeared as first baseman-pitcher his rookie campaign and was an outfielder-pitcher in his finale…

Reb Russell – 74-60, 2.34 ERA for 241 games pitched; batted .268 in 417 contests . . . won 21 games in his rookie season and lasted seven season with the Chicago White Sox before arm trouble forced a career change . . . coming back as an outfielder for the 1922 Pittsburgh Pirates Russell drove in 75 runs in 60 games while batting .368……

Bob Smith – 106-139, 3.95 ERA in 435 games pitched; batted .242 in 742 games . . . started out as the regular shortstop for the 1923-24 Boston Braves, then switched to pitching . . . aside from the Cadore-Oeschger 26-inning pitching duel, Smith pitched more innings in a single NL game than anyone else . . . the righthander threw 22 frames in 1927, losing 4-3 to the Cubs . . . played 256 games in the infield….

Paul Strand – 7-3, 2.37 ERA in 28 games pitched; batted .201 in 105 games . . . broke into the majors at age 19 as a pitcher, then switched to the outfield in the minors . . . set an organized ball record with 325 hits in 1923 while with Salt Lake City of the Pacific Coast League . . . in the minors Paul had a career average of .334 with 1956 hits . . . was 42-32 as a minor-league thrower. . . returned to the majors with the 1924 Philadelphia A’s and batted just .228 ….

Chubby Dean – 30-46, 5.08 ERA in 162 games pitched; batted .274 in 533 games. . . went to the Philadelphia A’s from Duke University after his sophomore year . . . played 155 games at first base his first two seasons, then switched to the mound . . . walked 323 batters vs. 195 strikeouts during his career. . .hit .351 in 77 at-bats in 1939…..

Bobby Reis – 10-13, 4.27 ERA in 69 games pitched; batted .233 in 175 games. . . most versatile of all players on the list. . . played every position while splitting his career between the Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Braves.

Bucky Walters – 198-160, 3.30 ERA in 428 games pitched; batted .243 in 715 contests . . . started out as a third baseman; then, after 165 games in the infield, he became one of baseball’s better pitchers, winning 20 or more three times and helping the Cincinnati Reds to their first pennant in 20 years with a 27-11 mark in l939 . .

Ben Chapman – 8-6, 4.39 ERA in 25 games pitched; batted .302 in 1716 contests . . . the best base stealer on the list with 287 career thefts including 61 in 193 1 . . . led the league in steals four times . .helped out by pitching during the 1944-45 war years.

Johnny Lindell – 8-18, 4.47 ERA in 55 games pitched; batted .273 in 854 games . . . pitching appearances came in his first full year and last full season, eleven years apart . . . led AL batters in triples in 1944; then, nine years later, he topped NL hurlers in walks issued . . . played 689 games in the outfield during his 12-year stay…

Max Macon – 17-19, 4.24 ERA in 81 games pitched; batted .265 in 226 games . . . the war years gave Max an opportunity for more play . . . after four years of mound action the lefty was a first baseman-outfielder for the 1944 Boston Braves…

Rene Monteagudo – 3-7, 6.42 ERA in 46 games; batted .289 in 156 games. . . a native of Cuba, had three roles in the majors: 46 games pitched, 44 games in the outfield and 66 games as a pinch hitter . . . another player whose opportunity knocked during 1944-45…

Earl Naylor – 0-5, 6.12 ERA in 20 games pitched; batted .186 in 112 games . . . owns the worst statistics on the list . . . failed to win a game and went just 54-for-290 but did manage three home runs….another body called in during the 1942-1943 years before going into the military service…

Erv Dusak – 0-3, 5.33 ERA in 23 games pitched; batted .243 in 413 games. . . “Four Sack” Dusak lifted just 24 career home runs in nine seasons . . . played the outfield, second and third base before turning to the mound in 1950 . . . a shoulder separation in 1951 put him back in the outfield.

Dick Hall – 93-75, 3.32 ERA in 495 games pitched; batted .210 in 669 games . . . signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates as an outfielder-infielder . . . one of the tallest second baseman at 6’6″ . . . became a premier relief pitcher, throwing just one wild pitch in his career and walking only 236 in 1259 innings . . . career spanned 19 campaigns.

Clint Hartung – 29-29, 5.02 ERA in 112 games pitched; batted .238 in 196 games. . . “The Hondo Hurricane” . . . the phenom of the l950s. . . so great that supposedly he could check into the Hall of Fame immediately, but in six years Hartung fizzled first as a pitcher then as an outfielder while with the New York Giants ….

Hal Jeffcoat – 39-37, 4.22 ERA in 245 games pitched; batted .248 in 918 games . . . a strong arm but weak stick in the outfield . . . after six years of averaging over 100 games per season as a Cub flyhawk, Hal made the switch . . . pitched in 50 games in 1955 . . . in six seasons as a pitcher, Jeffcoat was never called on to pinch hit . .

Johnny O’Brien – 1-3, 5.61 ERA in 25 games pitched; batted .250 in 339 games . . . part of a twin-brother act in baseball . . . basketball stars in college, Johnny and Eddie were infielders for the Pittsburgh Pirates and both took a turn at pitching . . . they pitched for the Bucs in 1956-58 but Eddie got into just five contests as hurler….in 61 innings Johnny was touched for 61 hits….

Mel Queen – 20-17, 3.14 ERA in 140 games pitched; batted .179 in 269 games . . . his father, Mel Queen, pitched eight years in the majors fashioning a 2 7-40 mark. . . the son began in the minors in 1960 as a third baseman, then his strong throwing arm subsequently led him to the outfield, then the mound . . . hit less than .200 in 53 games as a Cincinnati Reds outfielder . . . won 14 games in 1967….

Willie Smith – 2-4, 3.10 ERA in 29 games pitched; batted .248 in 691 games. . . the only black to accomplish the pitcher-player feat . . . in 1963 with Syracuse of the International League the versatile Mr. Smith went 30-for-79 for a .380 bat mark and won 14 games. . . then on to the majors for nine seasons and five clubs…..lefthander hammered 46 homers and pitched in 1963, 1964 and 1968.

Danny Murphy – 4-4, 4.65 ERA in 68 games pitched; batted .177 in 117 games. . . signed by the Chicago Cubs in 1960 after going 12-0 and batting .460 in prep school, Murphy made his major-league debut a day before his 18th birthday . . . was in 34 outfield games for the Cubs during 1960-62 but the bonus baby couldn’t hit major-league pitching; so it was to the minors where in 1966 with Evansville of the Southern League he turned to pitching. . . appeared in 68 relief games with the 1969-70 Chicago White Sox, becoming the last player to make the switch .

Obviously these 33 two-way performers were a cut above the average big leaguer. For one, their careers lasted longer, bettering more than ten seasons. Compiling their complete batting and pitching statistics, we find a .296 career batting average based on 16,978 hits and a .524 winning percentage from the mound. Reducing the statistics to a composite season we find:

 

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

BA

W-L

IP

H

BB

SO

ERA

500

79

148

24

7

12

74

10

0.296

9-8

162

160

54

64

3.44

The pitcher-player. A rare breed indeed. Are they now forever extinct?

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