Neyer: When Tigers manager Mayo Smith started center fielder Mickey Stanley at shortstop

From SABR member Rob Neyer at The National Pastime Museum on May 5, 2017:

As the Detroit Tigers entered the stretch run in 1968, Manager Mayo Smith had a small problem.

The good news was that Smith’s Tigers looked like a great bet to win their first American League pennant since World War II. They’d grabbed first place in the middle of May and never let go; by the middle of September, they had a double-digit lead in the standings and the pennant race was over.

The large lead allowed Smith the space, both temporally and intellectually, to give some serious thought to a small problem.

The Tigers had three shortstops in 1968: Ray Oyler, Tommy Matchick, and Dick Tracewski. They had three shortstops because Oyler, the best fielder of the three, also ranked among the worst hitters in Major League history. Oyler would wind up with only 215 at-bats in 111 games, and a nearly impossible .135 batting average. Granted, this was 1968—the Year of the Pitcher—but still: Having Oyler in your lineup was like having two pitchers in your lineup. Matchick and Tracewski (especially Tracewski) were better, but not that much better.

While Smith had three shortstops who didn’t really deserve to play in the World Series, he had four outfielders who did, including future Hall of Famer Al Kaline.

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Originally published: May 5, 2017. Last Updated: May 5, 2017.