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What’s the Solution to the Problem of Position Players Pitching?

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San Francisco Giants rookie outfielder Luis Gonzalez was called in to pitch during a blowout in the 2022 season. Courtesy image

By Linda Kay Hardie |

It used to be a rare occurrence in baseball, and it was fun to watch. One of the most memorable examples of a position player pitching was the game in San Francisco on May 6, 2019, against the Cincinnati Reds, when Giants third-baseman Pablo Sandoval pitched during a blowout. But part of the charm of that effort was Sandoval also stealing a base and punching a three-run homer for the offense as well.

As a fan, I’m getting tired of the manager sending in position players to screw around as pitchers late in the game in a blowout. Luis Gonzalez does it for the Giants this season without embarrassing the team, as did Sandoval against the Reds. I know there are others on other teams. But as it becomes more and more common, it’s starting to kill the game. At least my enthusiasm for it. As Giants play-by-play announcer Duane Kuiper says, “It’s only fun if they get outs.” And they often don’t.

Oh, there’s lots of merriment if the guy does get outs. Pablo Sandoval did it three years ago and managed to look almost like a real pitcher. He was responsible for a plethora of T-shirts stating “Let Pablo Pitch,” and it was all great fun. But the Panda (as Sandoval was affectionately known to Giants fans) was an anomaly. Now? I’m squirming most of the time.

It’s become all too common. I do understand the need to protect your pitching staff, but it’s gotten ridiculous. During last Tuesday’s game in San Francisco, both teams used position players to pitch at the end of the game. Starting catcher Carson Kelly took the bottom of the eighth for the Arizona, and right fielder Luis Gonzalez pitched the ninth.

If it’s going to be so common, maybe the teams need another man on their pitching staff just for this purpose. This isn’t my idea; it comes from Giants color announcer Mike Krukow, mentioned when the Diamondbacks sent in their catcher in the eighth at Oracle field in a recent game. This was a practice back in Kruk’s pitching days, where there was someone in the bullpen, who had an ERA of around 6, who was there to take up the slack in a blowout game, and finish off the game without wasting arms.

I know. It’s never going to happen in these analytical days, when the numbers are everything. A pitcher with such a large ERA, even if he himself didn’t worry about it, would skew the bullpen’s numbers, and no one would be happy. And with smaller rosters, teams don’t have any room for experimentation.

I don’t have the answer. I guess I can use those late-game substitution innings to go to the bathroom or get another scotch. Or maybe just go to bed early and catch up on my sleep. I don’t see the teams making changes anytime soon.

Linda Kay Hardie is a college instructor and writer living in Reno, Nevada. Her most recent publications include horror, crime, and dark fantasy short stories published in a variety of anthologies, including a story in Peace, Love, and Crime, a beach read from Untreed Reads.

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