Searching Out the Switch Hitters

This article was written by Bob McConnell

This article was published in the 1973 Baseball Research Journal


In the last decade or so there has been an increased emphasis on switch hitting.  Mickey Mantle, the first great power hitter who swung from either side, probably had something to do with this.  But there have been many other good switch hitters in recent years, such as Pete Rose, Maury Wills, Wes Parker, Don Kessinger, Don Buford, Reggie Smith, and Roy White.

About eight years ago, I decided to undertake some research in this area of baseball and began to compile some home run data on major league switch hitters.  It looked like an easy job.  The first step was to make a list of all switch hitters.  Several baseball encyclopedias listed the BATS for all players.  In addition, the official NL and AL batting averages have included BATS since 1917 and 1919 respectively.  Several Sporting News publications, Who’s Who in Baseball, the National League Green Book, and the American League Red Book also list BATS.

I compiled my initial list of switch hitters from a baseball encyclopedia.  Then, as I began obtaining data from the official batting averages, discrepancies began to appear between the BATS in the encyclopedia and those in the averages.  In checking out these discrepancies, additional problems began to appear.  I decided to postpone my original project and concentrate on compiling a reliable list of switch hitters.

One of the big problems was caused by the fact that many players switch hit during only a part of their major league career.  The encyclopedias usually listed these players as switch hitters. There are several players who switch hit for only one season and are listed as switch hitters in the encyclopedias.

I decided that my list would have to include notations on the years played in the majors that the player did not switch hit.  The best source of information for this was the yearly official batting averages.  However, this source was not entirely reliable.  In some cases, the official averages would carry a player as a switch hitter for several seasons after he had given up switching.  Also, there were many typographical errors on BATS in the official average.

It seemed that each day my records were becoming more confused.  In order to dig out of this confusion, I made switch hitter data forms.  A form was filled out for every player who was mentioned as a switch hitter by any source.  These forms listed, year-by-year, the player’s BATS from every possible baseball publication.  Each form was then studied and approximately 100 of them contained questionable data.  These forms were set aside for further investigation.  Many of the players involved were still living.  I have been fortunate in being able to contact most of these players.  I have also contacted close relatives of a few deceased players.  In other cases, information was obtained by searching through old newspapers.

Several examples of players with questionable records include the following:

Wally Schang is listed as a switch hitter by all sources with the exception of the 1927 and 1929 official averages.  These averages list him as a right handed batter.  Why would an established major league player give up switch hitting for two seasons in the latter part of his career?  Research through old St. Louis newspapers revealed that Schang really was a switch hitter in 1927 and 1928.

Augie Galan is listed in the official averages as a switch hitter from the beginning of his major league career in 1934 through 1940, as a right handed batter in 1941, as a switch hitter from 1942 through 1944, and as a left handed batter from 1945 through the end of his career in 1949.  Galan wrote that he was a switch hitter until 1943 when he began batting exclusively left handed.

Pete Reiser is listed in the official averages as a switch hitter from 1948 through 1951.  He is listed as a left handed batter for the balance of his major league career.  Several encyclopedias list him as a switch hitter.  Reiser wrote to me stating that he batted right handed about five times during his entire career.

During my investigation, I ran into a number of special cases.  As a result, I established a set of ground rules to define a switch hitter as follows:

If a player experimented with switch hitting for a short period during a season, he is not considered as a switch hitter.   For example, Chris Speier switch hit for the first four games of the 1972 season with 14 at bats.

He is not considered as a switch hitter.

If a player switch hit for an extended period of time during a season, he is considered as a switch hitter for that season. For example, Jerry Kindall switch hit for the last month of the 1960 season.  He is considered a switch hitter for that season.

If a player switch hit part of the time during an entire season, he is considered as a switch hitter for that season.  For example, for several years Grant Jackson was normally a switch hitter.  However, he batted left handed against certain left handed pitchers because he felt that there was a high risk of getting hit on his pitching arm (left arm) by these pitchers.   He is still considered as a switch hitter for those seasons.

There seems to be a trend towards more experimenting with switch hitting by present day players, particularly pitchers.   In spite of the fact that baseball record keeping in general has been improving, it is difficult to keep up with the switch hitters.   The official averages and the record books continue to contain many errors.  Each year I write to various public relations directors regarding switch hitters on their clubs.  I get only about a 60% response.    I usually get a better response by writing directly to the players.  Quite often, I can get information on active players by watching the newspapers closely.

The best example of obtaining information from current newspaper stories is an article in The Sporting News on Paul Blair.    Blair started the 1971 season as a switch hitter after having been a right handed batter for his entire career previously.    The article stated that Blair started batting right handed against certain right handed pitchers after the first several weeks of the season.   With a little more than a month of the season gone, he gave up batting left handed entirely.   At that point he had 11 hits for 57 at-bats with 3 runs batted in and no home runs while batting left handed.   His overall totals at that point were 23 hits for 92 at-bats with 11 runs batted in and 3 home runs.  With information like this on all switch hitters, there would be no problems.

There are still several “unsolved cases”.  The most interesting one is William “Pinky” Hargrave.   Pinky was the brother of Bubbles Hargrave, the NL batting champ in 1926.  Pinky was a pretty good player himself with a batting average of .278 for ten seasons.  The official averages listed his BATS as follows:  right handed from 1923 through 1926 while playing for Washington and the St. Louis Browns; switch hitter in 1927 in the International League; switch hitter from 1928 through 1932 with Detroit, Washington, and the Boston Braves; and left handed in 1933 with the Braves.   Unfortunately, both Pinky and his brother are deceased.   I haven’t made much progress on this case.

Other players with questionable switch hitting records are:

John Anderson – listed as a switch hitter in the Macmillan Encyclopedia and as a right handed batter in all other encyclopedias. Finished career before BATS were listed in official averages.

Jay Clarke – Listed as a left handed batter in the Macmillan Encyclopedia and as a switch hitter in all     others.  Listed as left handed batter in 1919 official averages.   Balance of career was before BATS were listed in official averages.

Wayland Dean – Listed as switch hitter in 1924 and 1925 official averages and as left handed batter in1926 and 1927 averages.

Frank Gibson – Listed in official averages as left handed batter in 1921 and 1922, switch hitter in 1923, left handed in 1924, and as switch hitter from 1925 through 1927.

William Lamar – Listed in official averages as switch hitter for 1927, his last season in the majors. Listed as a left hander for the balance of his major league career and, also, for 1928 while playing in the International League.

James Levey – Listed in the official averages as a right handed batter for 1930 and 1931, as a left hander for 1932, and as a switch hitter for 1933.

Earl L. Smith – Listed in the official averages as a switch hitter for 1919 and as a left handed batter from 1920 through 1922.   Listed in 1921 and 1922 as a left hander, and in all other encyclopedias as a switch hitter.

Ross Youngs – Played in only seven games in 1917 and not included in official averages.  Listed as switch hitter in averages for 1918 and as a left hander for the balance of his career.   Listed in Macmillan Encyclopedia as a left hander.   Listed in all others and in several Sporting News publications as a switch hitter.  A couple of oldtimers seem to think that Youngs came up to the Giants as a switch hitter and that John McGraw asked him to give it up after a short time with the club.

In spite of a number of these unresolved cases, a considerable amount of information is now available on switch hitters of the past.  Appended to this discourse is a listing of the all-time best season records and then the lifetime totals in various batting categories for the best ambidextrous batters.    (For lifetime totals I consider those who switch hit at least for one-half of their careers).  Stolen bases are not included because switch hitting should have no bearing on steals.   However, it bears mentioning that, for some strange reason, switch swingers seem to excel as base stealers far beyond their limited numbers. Take for example, such aggressive base runners as Max Carey, George Davis, Maury Wills, Frank Frisch, Bob Bescher, Donie Bush., Tommy Tucker, Tom Daly, Walter Wilmot, John Anderson, Miller Ruggins, Augie Galan, Jim Gilliam, Don Buford, and Sandy Alomar.   Maybe it is the switch hitters competitive desire to get on base one way or the other that carries over on the base paths.

SEASON RECORDS FOR SWITCH HITTERS

 

Year

Department

Season Leader and Club

Total

 

 

 

 

1962

At Rats

Maury Wills, Los Angeles NL

695

1922

Runs

Max Carey, Pittsburgh NL

140

1923

Hits

Frank Frisch, New York NL

223

1970

Doubles

Wes Parker, Los Angeles NL

47

1893

Triples

George Davis, New York NL

27

1961

Home Runs

Mickey Mantle, New York AL

54

1897

Walks

Mickey Mantle, New York NL

146

1897

RBI

George Davis, New York NL

134

1889

Batting

Tommy Tucker, Baltimore AA

0.372

1956

Slugging

Mickey Mantle, New York AL

0.705

 

LIFETIME RECORDS FOR SWITCH HITTERS

 

Runs Batted In

 

 

Bases on Balls

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mickey Mantle

1509

 

Mickey Mantle

1734

George Davis

1426

 

Donie Bush

1158

Frank Fristh

1244

 

Lu Blue

1092

John Anderson

976

 

Max Carey

1040

Charles Farrell

913

 

Jim Gilliam

1036

Tom Tucker

848

 

Miller Huggins

1002

Augie Galan

830

 

Augie Galan

979

Tom Daly

811

 

George Davis

867

Max Carey

800

 

Roy Cullenbine

852

Red Schoendienst

773

 

Wally Schang

849

 

 

Batting Average

 

 

Slugging Average

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frank Frisch

0.316

 

Mickey Mantle

0.557

Pete Rose

0.309

 

Rip Collins

0.492

Mickey Mantle

0.298

 

Pete Rose

0.436

Rip Collins

0.296

 

Roy Cullenbine

0.432

George Davis

0.294

 

Frank Frisch

0.432

John Anderson

0.290

 

Augie Galan

0.419

Tom Tucker

0.290

 

George Davis

0.405

Red Schoendienst

0.289

 

John Anderson

0.404

Lu Blue

0.287

 

Lu Blue

0.401

Augie Galan

0.287

 

Wally Schang

0.401

Walter Holke

0.287

 

 

 

 

 LIFETIME RECORDS FOR SWITCH HITTERS

 

At Bats

 

 

Runs

 

Max Carey

9363

 

Mickey Mantle

1677

Frank Frisch

9112

 

Max Carey

1545

George Davis

8983

 

Frank Frisch

1532

Red Schoendienst

8479

 

George Davis

1529

Mickey Mantle

8102

 

Donie Bush

1280

Maury Wills

7588

 

Red Schoendienst

1223

Donie Bush

7210

 

Jim Gilliam

1163

Dave Bancroft

7182

 

Lu Blue

1151

Jim Gilliam

7119

 

Tom Tucker

1084

Tom Tucker

6479

 

Maury Wills

1067

 

 

 

 

 

Hits

 

 

Doubles

 

Frank Frisch

2880

 

Frank Frisch

466

Max Carey

2665

 

George Davis

449

George Davis

2645

 

Red Schoendienst

427

Red Schoendienst

2449

 

Max Carey

419

Mickey Mantle

2415

 

Mickey Mantle

344

Maury Wills

2134

 

Augie Galan

336

Dave Bancroft

2004

 

John Anderson

328

Pete Rose

1922

 

Dave Bancroft

320

Jim Gilliam

1889

 

Lu Blue

319

Tom Tucker

1882

 

Pete Rose

313

 

 

 

 

 

Triples

 

 

Home Runs

 

George Davis

162

 

Mickey Mantle

536

Max Carey

159

 

Tom Tresh

153

Frank Frisch

138

 

Rip Collins

135

John Anderson

124

 

Reggie Smith

128

Lu Blue

109

 

Roy Cullenbine

110

Tom Daly

103

 

Pete Rose

109

Dan McGann

102

 

Frank Frisch

105

Walter Wilmot

91

 

Augie Galan

100

Wally Schang

90

 

Don Buford

93

George LaChance

86

 

Dave Philley

84

 

 

 

Red Schoendienst

84

 

 

 

Roy White

84

 

August 14, 1929 was Charlie Gehringer Day in Detroit.  The “mechanical man” responded with a homer, three singles, and a steal of home.

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