On top of old Smoky

Pablo Sandoval

Kung Fu Panda’s become Kung Fu Pincher this season . . .

Pablo Sandoval is making more noise at the plate this season than he’s made since the 2012 World Series. Some guys are lucky to hit one pinch home run? Sandoval’s hit three of them in twelve plate appearances in the role. Some guys are lucky to hit .250 in the role? He’s  hitting .333 with a 1.833 OPS in the role so far this year.

As a matter of fact, Sandoval’s lifetime slash line as a pinch hitter (he’s batted in the role 149 times) is .309/.362/.537 with an .899 OPS. Full-time players with career slash lines like that might fantasise about their Hall of Fame plaques, sooner or later.

At 34, who would have thought Kung Fu Panda—the roly-poly third baseman who hit like a Hall of Famer one minute (especially when he blasted three home runs in Game One of the 2012 World Series) but looked like a Hall of Shamer the next half hour—would find a home in both a Braves uniform and what’s normally the most thankless job in baseball?

You think relief pitchers have a stressful existence? Pinch hitters live “a baseball lifestyle that would drive a saint to drink,” Thomas Boswell wrote in an early 1980s profile of the breed, “then they expect you to play it like a straight man . . . Pinch hitting is baseball’s mission impossible.”

If you think that’s overstating the case, be advised that only one pinch hitter was ever added to an All-Star team because he was that prolific a pinch producer. “Pinch hitting was great to me,” that man told Boswell, when he was a robust 58 and claiming he might still be playing then if they’d let him use an aluminum bat. “I can sit right here in my den and look at a plaque they gave me with every one of the 145 hits and who it was off, where, and when.”

That man was Smoky Burgess. A catcher by trade, a pinch hitter by early enough co-trade, and owner of the most pinch hits in Show history when he retired after the 1967 season. Not every man who wore the pinch hitter’s fatigues could be as sanguine as he was about the job.

“If I had to do it all over again,” said Gates Brown, whose first major league plate appearance was pinch hitting for Tigers pitcher Don Mossi in the fifth inning on 19 April 1963—and hitting one into the right field seats, “I wouldn’t. Hell, nobody wants to be a pinch hitter. I had to do it to survive.”

Survival of the pinch fittest. Brown should only know. According to my Real Batting Average metric, Brown remains the number eight pinch hitter ever. The Gates of Wrath was certainly number one among pinch hitters who got the call after he’d gotten himself a couple of hot dogs, thinking he wasn’t going to get the call. Until he did.

He all but inhaled one of the hots and stuffed the other quickly into his jersey, lined what proved the winning run home, then slid into second on his belly subsequently—and felt the doggie  explode upon landing. He looked as though he’d been opened for heart surgery without being undressed and shaven first.

Some of baseball’s most famous hits were pinch hits. Two of them—Dusty Rhodes in 1954, Kirk Gibson in 1988—won World Series games by flying over fences. Most of the time, the pinch hits aren’t that dramatic even if they do prove bank for a game. Sometimes too-early success in the role marks you for life, or so you think.

“I was Old Terry Crowley before I was thirty,” said Terry Crowley to Boswell. Crowley’s mistake: a .290 hitting average as a pinch hitter in his rookie major league season; the Orioles outfielder/first baseman averaged 58 games a year in fifteen seasons. “Being known as a pinch hitter adds five years to your age.”

Many are called, few enough are chosen. Fewer than that survive at all, never mind shine in the role. Lenny Harris is the pinch-hit volume leader (212); Matt Stairs is the pinch home run leader (23). Crowley and Brown may have doomed themselves in their estimation to the wrong baseball life with their early pinch hitting success, but it could have been worse.

Smoky Burgess

Smoky Burgess, the patron saint of pinch hitters . . .

They could have been Brooks Conrad. He pinch hit a pair of game-winning grand slams in 2010. Then he committed three errors at second base in Game Three of that year’s division series against the Giants, prompting manager Bobby Cox to keep him out of the Game Four starting lineup. He was sent up to pinch hit to lead off the bottom of the ninth—and flied out for the first of the final three outs and the Atlanta series loss.

Conrad’s career lasted only three more MLB seasons and one Japanese season from there. He finished with 29 MLB pinch hits in 181 pinch appearances. He still holds the record for most pinch hit game-winning salamis in Show history. It could have been far worse.

“You pitcha the ball, I hitta the ball,” said Manny Mota, the man who broke Burgess’s lifetime pinch hits record. Harris broke Mota by 62 before he retired after 2005; Mark Sweeney got past Mota by 75 before his 2008 retirement, not even close to Harris. But remember we’re talking volume alone there.

Harris played eighteen seasons with 883 pinch hit appearances. To call him the greatest pinch hitter of all time requires an imaginative stretch. (Well, so does calling Pete Rose the greatest hitter of all time on the sole basis of 4,256 lifetime hits.) As a matter of fact, when looking at 33 players with 300+ lifetime pinch-hitting plate appearances each, then calculating their Real Batting Averages in the role (total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances), Harris comes out dead. last.

That was only slightly less shocking than who came out on top of the RBA heap. Relax, folks—Smoky’s still in the top five:

Cliff Johnson 344 138 59 11 6 2 .628
Matt Stairs 490 198 64 10 4 6 .576
Smoky Burgess 589 218 74 21 9 5 .555
George Crowe 303 134 22 5 3 1 .545
Oscar Gamble 334 105 57 10 2 6 .539
Jerry Lynch 491 187 51 17 3 2 .530
Merv Rettenmund 305 96 59 3 1 2 .528
Gates Brown 500 178 70 8 5 2 .526
Rusty Staub 418 144 49 16 10 1 .526
John Vander Wal 624 218 87 11 3 0 .511
Johnny Blanchard 408 167 34 1 5 1 .510
Jose Morales 486 189 31 17 5 3 .504
Steve Braun 482 158 70 6 4 2 .498
Gerald Perry 429 134 64 5 6 0 .487
Ed Kranepool 370 126 36 8 8 1 .484
Jim Dwyer 502 152 68 11 11 1 .484
Dave Hansen 703 212 104 14 4 1 .477
Mark Sweeney 799 258 99 6 10 7 .476
Denny Walling 438 159 42 4 2 0 .472
Dave Clark 413 143 42 5 5 0 .472
Matt Franco 399 116 53 12 5 0 .466
Manny Mota 594 183 63 14 12 4 .465
Del Unser 323 89 45 6 6 1 .455
Terry Crowley 494 145 63 5 7 1 .447
Mike Lum 473 150 47 4 6 4 .446
Dave Philley 337 119 26 1 3 1 .445
Dalton Jones 351 107 34 7 5 2 .442
Greg Gross 733 168 117 19 13 4 .438
Jay Johnstone 454 138 43 11 2 2 .432
Red Lucas 474 154 39 3 6 0 .426
Orlando Palmeiro 525 157 50 2 4 3 .411
Vic Davalillo 390 131 20 3 3 0 .403
Lenny Harris 883 271 63 8 5 2 .395
Cliff Johnson

Cliff Johnson—has Hammerin’ Heathcliff really surpassed Smoky and the pinch-bandits?

If Lenny Harris’s partisans think they’re shocked to see him at the bottom of the RBA heap, would it be fair to guess a bigger shock from everyone seeing Cliff Johnson at the top?

Old Mets fans can smile broadly seeing old favourites Rusty Staub (ninth) and Ed Kranepool (fifteenth) among the top fifteen. I’m willing to wager that nobody thought number two would be Stairs, right smack in between Johnson and Burgess. Or that Oscar Gamble would nudge ahead of Jerry Lynch, the semi-legendary pinch hitter on the Reds’ 1961 World Series team, for fifth place by nine points.

But Cliff Johnson?

The bad news may still be that Johnson’s remembered mostly, if at all, for the incident that helped make him an ex-Yankee: his April 1979 locker-room fight with Hall of Fame relief pitcher Goose Gossage. All it took was Gossage kidding Johnson about being unable to hit righthanded pitching and Johnson to shoot back, “I sure could hit you” before giving Gossage a punch Johnson only meant to be playful.

Johnson was “a bruiser who didn’t know his own strength . . . who often, like Lenny in [John Steinbeck’s] Of Mice and Men, hurt people without meaning to,” wrote Bill Madden and Moss Klein of Johnson in Damned Yankees. The playful punch turned into a swing back, a pair of hard pushes, and the torn thumb ligament that knocked Gossage out of action for twelve weeks.

“I knew I was gone,” rued Johnson, who was indeed traded to the Indians in mid-June 1979. “After the thing with Goose, I was an outcast.”

Harris, Sweeney, Burgess, John Vander Wal, and Dave Hansen are the total bases champions among the pinchers, but RBA says Burgess gave you more heft. Longtime Phillies pincher Greg Gross is his profession’s Eddie Yost—the Walking Man—but RBA puts him sixth from the bottom.

If you believe the intentional walk equals a fear factor, then Ol’ Smoky remains the pincher most likely to strike fear into the hearts of enemy pitchers with his 21, followed by Gross (nineteen) and, in a dead heat, Lynch and Jose Morales (seventeen).

If Pablo Sandoval really is taking up a second act as a pinch hitter, he’s got time but a lot of work to do. The single-season pinch home run record (seven) belongs to Hansen and Craig Wilson. The single-season record for pinch hits (28) belongs to Vander Wal. Sandoval should hope the Braves set men on base up for him continuously if he wants to make some RBI noise: the single-season pinch rib record (25) is shared by Lynch, Staub, and Hall of Famer Joe Cronin.

And however low Harris sits on the RBA survey, he still has those record 212 pinch hits to be proud of, however long it took him to nail them. The Panda has a measly 170 to go to catch him.

Decades ago, William Conrad playing Marshal Matt Dillon on radio’s Gunsmoke described his line of work before each episode thus: It’s a chancy job, and it makes a man watchful . . . and a little lonely. Dillon should only have tried pinch hitting. One minute, you might be the man of the hour. The next, you might be handed a message to get out of Dodge—on the stage that left town five minutes ago.

Right now, Sandoval’s the man of the hour. Right now, he’s also the brightest offense on the Braves this side of Ronald Acuna, Jr. Right now, manager Brian Snitker must ponder the wherefores if he could somehow send to the plate a lineup of one Acuna and eight Pandas—when he isn’t reminding himself of the chancy side of Sandoval’s current line of work.

Kung Fu Panda’s RBA as a pinch hitter (149 lifetime appearances and counting) is .597 at this writing. He’s playing in Smoky’s league and beyond. Imagine if he keeps that up over his next 149 pinch hitting calls. He may not be quite in Johnson’s league, but he might  be numero two-o on the survey.

But Johnson held the record for lifetime pinch homers (twenty) until Stairs passed him with 23. A first baseman by original trade, whom the Astros (then in the National League) tried perhaps foolishly to turn into a catcher, Johnson was really a DH type who was more or less wasted by his five and a third early seasons in Houston. He deserves to be remembered for more than the Gossage incident.

So let us remember Johnson as one of Smoky’s Children—who went above and beyond Pop. For as long as he sits there, until Sandoval or someone else passes him, let us remember Hammerin’ Heathcliff as what Real Batting Average calls him. The Crown Prince of Pinch.

Opening Day: Snow fooling

There was nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. The snow took control of the transmission when Miguel Cabrera hit this Opening Day home run . . .

Just because the expected Opening Day marquee battle between Jacob deGrom (Mets) and Max Scherzer (Nationals) had to be postponed (COVID-positive Nats players and a team staffer to quarantine), that didn’t mean Wednesday was going to lack for the good, the bad, and the bizarre. This is baseball. Where anything can happen—and usually does.

Especially if Opening Day is also April Fool’s Day. The part that wasn’t a gag—fans in the stands again, at long enough last. The sound was glorious, even if reduced from most normal capacities thanks to the continuing if only slightly receding pan-damn-ic.

Comerica Park should have been playing “Winter Wonderland” Wednesday. The Tigers’ aging star Miguel Cabrera shouldn’t be blamed if he was singing “Let it Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow.” Especially when he more than a little hard on the Bieber, turning on the Indian ace’s rising snowball, hitting a two-run homer, and . . . sliding into second base, unable to tell through the snow that the ball flew out.

I don’t know if the Coors Field public address people had it cued up, but they could and should have sounded “Don’t Pass Me By” after Dodger first baseman Cody Bellinger hit an RBI single . . . off Rockies left fielder Raimel Tapia’s glove and over the left field fence. The problem: Justin (Who Was That Unmasked Man) Turner not seeing the ball reach the seats and retreating to first, compelling Bellinger to pass him on the basepath.

Oops. On a day the Rockies thumped Clayton Kershaw and managed to squeeze a win out after doing what Rockies usually do in the off-season—in this case, unloading their franchise player and all but reveling in front office dissembly and mission abandonment—Turner was the gift that . . . added insult to injury for the defending World Series winners.

The sleeper star in waiting in Blue Jays silks might have thought about singing an ancient  T. Rex number called “The Slider.” Gerrit Cole’s was just too juicy for Teoscar Hernandez to resist in the sixth. He sent it into earth orbit or 437 feet and into the left field bleachers at Yankee Stadium—whichever came first. Who needed Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.?

Just one thing was wrong. Hernandez needs to work on his bat flips. He didn’t have one. A blast like that was just begging for him to go Willson Contreras. Hernandez just ambled up the base line carrying his bat, then kind of nudged it away to the grass. He’s young, with plenty of time to learn, though. And his blast tied the game the Jays went on to win, 3-2.

Which is the score by which the Phillies beat the Braves in ten innings—after Bryce Harper began the inning as the free cookie on second base, took third on J.T. (Nothing Is) Realmuto’s ground out, waited patiently as Didi Gregorius was handed first on the house, then came home with the winner when Jean Segura sliced a single to left.

The game got to the tenth in the first place because Phillies manager Joe Girardi decided he wasn’t quite ready to trust the National League’s leading arsonists with taking over from certified innings-eater Aaron Nola with a 2-0 lead in the seventh. The Braves were far more ready to trust Pablo Sandoval—erstwhile Giant, one-time World Series hero, all-time poster child for Slim Slow—to pinch hit for Max Fried’s relief Tyler Matzek with a man on.

. . . and slid into second unable to tell at first whether the ball or the snow cleared the fence.

Kung Fu Panda turned out to be more than ready to hit Nola’s 0-2, slightly down and slightly in fastball into the right field seats. Girardi is many things but a crystal ball operator isn’t one of them. If he had been, he could have lifted Nola safe and sound because the Phillies’ bullpen apparently forgot to refill the gasoline cans for a change. Not even a bases-loaded jam in the eighth could keep Archie Bradley, Jose Alvarado, Hector Neris and Conner Brogdon from keeping the Braves scoreless over the final three and a third.

Does Philadelphia believe in miracles? Don’t ask too quickly, folks. Remember: this is the baseball town in which a typical wedding concludes with the minister pronouncing the newly-married couple husband and wife—then addressing the gathering with, “You may now boo the bride.” As much as I hate to drop a cliche so worn you see more holes there than in an oil field, the Phillies have 161 games left to play. Ruh-roh.

That was last year’s pan-damn-ically irregular season: Twins center fielder Byron Buxton, who sometimes evokes Willie Mays when he’s not on the injured list, walked twice all year long. This was Opening Day: Buxton should have had “Cadillac Walk” as his entrance music—he walked twice. He also blasted a two-run homer to the rear end of American Family Field in the seventh and had his arm calibrated so well that the Brewers didn’t dare to even think about running wild on him.

Buxton’s blast made it 5-3, Twins. Proving that no good deed goes unpunished, the Twins undid their own sweet selves with a badly timed error, making room for a ninth-inning, three-run, game-tying comeback that turned into a 6-5 Brewers win on—wait for it!—a chopped ground out that left just enough room for Lorenzo Cain to score the winner from third. (A transplanted Minnesotan of my acquaintance thinks, only, “That’s so Twins!”)

The Twins were saved from Opening April Fool’s Day ignominy by the Reds, alas. The Cardinals spotted Jack Flaherty a six-run lead in the first—abusing Reds starter Luis Castillo with an RBI infield hit, a bad error by Reds third baseman Eugenio Suarez playing shortstop, and Dylan Carlson ringing a three-run homer off the foul pole—before he had to throw a single competitive pitch in the game.

Flaherty didn’t quite have his A game. A C+ might be more like it. Lucky for him and the bullpen that the Cardinals felt in the mood to abuse the Reds the rest of the way: An RBI single and a run home on a wild pitch plus a two-run homer in the fifth, and it didn’t matter if the Cardinal arms let the Reds have all six of those first-inning runs back. Let the Cardinals’ song for the day be “The Eleven,” as in the 11-6 final.

The bad news for the Angels opening at home against the White Sox: the lineup struck out ten times. The good news: only four of them came in the final six innings. Meanwhile, they beat the White Sox 4-3 like pests instead of power drivers: walking here, working counts there, game-tying single here (Justin Upton), solo homer (Max Stassi) there, RBI single (Mike Trout) and RBI ground out (Albert Pujols) yonder, the bullpen keeping the White Sox quiet the final three.

Not to mention the Still Best Player in the Game ending his Opening Day with a .750 on-base percentage: that RBI single plus a pair of well-worked walks in four plate appearances. Trout could also point proudly to something not usually associated with the Angels the last couple of years: they didn’t let the game get away early, and they nailed it late with a two-run eighth and a shutdown ninth by reliever Raisel Iglesias.

Unfortunately, time will tell if a triumph like that proves an April Fool’s joke that wasn’t half as funny as Miguel Cabrera’s home run slide.

But here’s no joke: There were 222 hits on Opening Day and a mere 35 percent of them went for extra bases, including a measly thirteen percent being home runs, while fifteen percent of the day’s hits were infield hits. The games produced a .311 batting average on balls in play. There were even nineteen tries at grand theft base and 79 percent of them succeeded.

Maybe the rumours of the all-around game’s death are more than slightly exaggerated for now. When there’s a slightly higher percentage of infield hits than home runs on a day, the small ballers should take their victories where they can find them. But you wonder if Cabrera will inspire more than a few players to think it’s time to work on their home run slides.

Lord, have mercy—no mercy rule

2019-08-17 MikeFord

Mike Ford had a ball pitching Thursday night—but his Yankee manager was anything but amused over using a position player to pitch.

Baseball Reference defines a blowout as a game won by five runs or more, which seems a particularly liberal way to define it. By that measurement, though, the Yankees—nestling quite nicely atop the American League East with a season-high ten-and-a-half-game advantage—are 20-11 in blowouts this season.

If  you define a blowout as a game won by a larger margin than five, say eight runs or more, the Yankees have won four such games and lost four such games this year. The latest of those: the 19-5 destruction laid upon them by the American League Central-contending Indians Thursday night.

By Baseball Reference‘s definition, the Indians are 22-16 in blowouts this year. But defining a blowout as an eight-run difference, the Tribe is 4-3. And the Yankees recovered nicely enough from the 19-5 beatdown to beat the Indians 3-2 Friday night.

Yankee manager Aaron Boone is still not amused over Thursday night’s thrashing. Or, what it compelled him to do the better to spare his actual bullpen in a lost cause.

He sent one of his non-pitchers, rookie first baseman/designated hitter Mike Ford, assuredly no relation to a certain Hall of Fame Yankee pitcher, for the final two innings of the massacre.

Rest assured, Boone wasn’t exactly thrilled that the Indians battered Ford for five runs in three consecutive plate appearances in the top of the eighth, on an RBI infield hit, a three-run homer, and a solo homer.

Rest assured further that Boone probably doesn’t want you to remind him that Ford somehow retired the Indians in order in the top of the ninth, half an inning after Gleyber Torres hit a one-out solo home run to close the Yankee deficit to a mere fourteen runs. Or that Ford isn’t the first and probably won’t be the last, rookie or otherwise, to take one for the team on the hill where he doesn’t normally work.

But rest assured, too, that Ford had far more fun on the mound than his skipper had having to put him there. Ford had a blast, even if he did get blasted in the eighth. Boone by comparison almost had kittens.

That blowout began the same weekend during which the Little League World Series will be played. Little League Baseball features a mercy rule: a six-inning game ends when one team leads by ten or more after four innings, or fifteen or more after three innings. Boone would kinda sorta like to see the Show implement a comparable rule.

“If you get to this point after seven innings or whatever,” Boone told a news conference Friday, “there might be something to that, some merit to that and worth exploring. Because it’s not fun to have to put in a position player in that kind of situation.”

Try asking the position player himself. Ask Pablo Sandoval how much fun it wasn’t to put him in that situation against the Reds in May. With his Giants on the wrong end of what finished as a 12-4 blowout, Kung Fu Panda ran, hit, and pitched his way into the record book.

Sandoval stole third in the third and hit a three-run homer in the sixth. With the game too lost a cause for Giants manager Bruce Bochy to even think about kidding himself, he let Sandoval pitch the eighth. And he didn’t get murdered, either.

Kung Fu Pitcher plunked his first batter, got a fly out, and then lured an Area Code 6-4-3 for the side. He faced three hitters, got three outs, and didn’t let one Red cross the plate against him. The fact that he resembled a Venezuelan Jumbo Brown only heightened the entertainment value.

The fact that he became the second Giant ever to steal a base, hit a home run, and pitch a shutout inning in the same game—Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson did it in 1905; that he was a pitcher and threw a complete game shutout at the Reds seems a mere technicality—was gravy.

But the entertainment value sometimes works the other way, too. On Thursday night the Mets in Atlanta started blowing out the Braves early and often enough to have a 10-3 lead after seven innings. Think of the fun the Braves would have missed, never mind the aggravation the Mets and their faithful would have missed, if the Braves could have evoked the kind of mercy rule Boone kinda sorta wants to see.

Think of the optics, too, in a pair of division leaders invoking mercy rules when they’re on the wrong end of an occasional big blowout. Try to imagine the great white shark telling the bluefish to pick on someone his own size.

As I write the Yankees and the National League West-leading Dodgers share baseball’s best record thus far, 84-42. Baseball Reference‘s blowout definition has the Dodgers with a 33-10 blowout record this year. My less liberal blowout definition shows the Dodgers with a 5-4 blowout record.

For the sound enough reason that managers don’t want to waste their bullpens in apparent lost causes, you won’t see position players on the mound unless their teams look to be getting blown out big time. A five-run deficit isn’t as likely to prompt a manager to reach for his bench to pitch; an eleven-run deficit is something else entirely.

One fine day last year, the Cubs faced a fourteen-run deficit in the sixth inning against the Cardinals. So manager Joe Maddon, unwilling to subject Randy Rosario, Steve Cishek, Justin Wilson, Pedro (Razor) Strop, or Carl Edwards to any further misuse or abuse in an apparent lost cause, turned to three position players—Tommy LaStella, Victor Caratini, and Ian Happ—to just get them through to live to play another day.

The good news: Happ pitched a scoreless ninth with only one hit off him. The bad news: Before that, LaStella got the final out of the top of the sixth but surrendered a leadoff homer in the seventh before pitching scoreless the rest of the inning. And Caratini, a catcher by trade who knows a little something about pitching, shook off a leadoff single to get two swift ground outs before surrendering a two-run homer and then retiring the side.

There’s no record of Maddon calling for anything resembling a mercy rule.

Nor was there one known to have come from Mariners manager Scott Servais last month, when the Angels—playing their first home game since the unexpected death of pitcher Tyler Skaggs in Texas—not only threw a combined no-hitter at the Mariners but blew them out, 11-0, in a game so emotional all of baseball cast their eyes upon Angel Stadium and nobody accused the Angels of being bullies.

Some position players itch for the chance to pitch even once, to even one hitter. The Cubs’ All-Star third baseman Anthony Rizzo was such a player. He’d only hankered to pitch to even one major league hitter his entire career when, on the wrong end of a 7-1 loss, last 23 July, Maddon granted his wish.

Caratini started pitching the top of that ninth, surrendering a leadoff single and luring a double play. Then Maddon sent Rizzo to the mound. To pitch to Diamondbacks relief pitcher Jorge de la Rosa. The count actually went to 2-2 despite the slop-tossing Rizzo, before Rizzo threw de la Rosa something that approximated Rip Sewell’s once-famous eephus pitch, and de la Rosa flied out to center.

Despite the likelihood of the Cubs finishing the loss they started, Wrigley Field went nutshit the moment de la Rosa’s fly landed in center fielder Happ’s glove and Rizzo began walking off the mound with an even bigger boyish grin on his phiz than he normally flashes in moments of joy.

In 2016, a Cub catcher named David Ross, on the threshold of retirement after a fine career, made up for an error in Game Seven of the World Series by hitting one over the center field fence an inning later. It was the final major league hit and homer in his final major league at-bat for a man whose first major league home run was hit against a position player in a blowout. Grandpa Rossy may be the only major league player to hold that distinction.

On 20 September 2002, rookie Ross’s Dodgers entered the top of the ninth blowing the Diamondbacks out 18-0. Ross took over for Paul Lo Duca behind the plate in the seventh and came up to bat in the ninth. Diamondbacks first baseman Mark Grace, who wasn’t in the starting lineup, volunteered to take one for the team and manager Bob Brenly assented.

With two unexpected fly outs to open that inning, Ross checked in at the plate against Grace. He hit Grace’s first float ball over the left field fence. “His first major league home run, and he hits it off Mark Grace,” Grace cracked after the game ended 19-1, “I feel sorry for that kid.”

What was then known as Bank One Ballpark shook with unexpected amusement over the sight of Grace on the mound. He got big laughs on both sides of the field and from the stands when, at one point, pitching from the stretch, he performed a dead-on impersonation of veteran reliever Mike Fetters, a portly fellow with the countenance of a grizzly bear suffering indigestion when taking a sign from his catcher.

The crowd didn’t even seem to mind one bit that Ross piled onto that severe a blowout with a shot into the seats.

“Position player pitching opportunities raise the likelihood for weird baseball stuff,” wrote MLB.com’s Jake Mintz, “without significantly reducing the potential for close and competitive game action.”

Position players also aren’t likely to even think about busting moves on the mound such as trying to throw ungodly fastballs or big sweeping curve balls. They know how to stay within their selves and their limitations. Boone may be admirable to worry about injuries, but position players on the mound are actually brainier than that.

If you’re looking to make and keep baseball fun again, well, who says it isn’t fun to see the big boys humbled by a real blowout now and then? Who says it isn’t fun to see even Yankee position players having to take one for the team now and then?

Apparently, Boone isn’t amused. There are times you’d think the greatest comedians in history couldn’t amuse the Yankees. Let a Yankee position player take the mound on the wrong end of a blowout and actually have a little mad fun with it, and don’t be shocked if he’s fined for conduct unbecoming a Yankee, the poor guy.

Let’s not let those sourpusses from the south Bronx spoil our fun. Lord have mercy, the Show doesn’t need a mercy rule. It needs more fun potential.