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Early Anks: Reb, Rube & Ruth, before Rick
By Derrick Goold
Friday, Aug. 17 2007

CHICAGO — As we try to put in context what Cardinals outfielder Rick Ankiel is attempting to do, history offers us little more than anecdotal help.

But what anecdotes.

If he reaches 150 at-bats this season — or next — he will become the sixth player since 1900 to pitch 100 innings one season and have that many at-bats in a subsequent season, according research done for The Rocky Mountain News. That list shrinks if the qualifiers are focused to players who shifted exclusively to positions or pitchers who went on to hit home runs as position players.

Ankiel is the 12th player in major-league history to hit his first home run as a pitcher and later homer as a position player, according to research by the Cardinals. He’s the sixth of that group to have left pitching completely behind and finish his career as a position player, by my count. Elias Sports Bureau counts two pitchers who had “significant playing time as a position player” later in their career.

They are Bobby Darwin (1962-77) and Willie Smith (1963-71).

Smith pitched mostly as a reliever before going on to hit 46 home runs in his career, spent mostly with the Cubs and Angels. Darwin hit 83 home runs and led the American League in strikeouts in three different seasons – all of which he spent as a hitter. He made four appearances as a pitcher.

To feed my curiousity and take a little traipse through history, I looked for precedent in the dozen pitchers-turned-players.

Their thumbnails (bold/italic = leader of the pack):

OTTO HESS, LHP/OF … Bats: Left … Played from 8/3/1902 to 6/13/1915 … 70-90, 1,418 innings pitched, 2.98 ERA … 5 HR, .216 BA … 198 games as a pitcher, 57 in the field … Pitched at least once in every season he played. … Played on the ‘14 “Miracle Braves”. … Not to be confused with the President of the Swiss National Council.

CHIEF BENDER, RHP/1B … Bats: Right … Played from 4/20/1903 to 7/21/1925 … 212-127, 3,017 innings pitched, 2.46 ERA … 6 HR, .212 BA … 459 games as a pitcher, 13 in the field … Hall of Famer, as a pitcher … Played other spots in the infield, but also pitched in every season he played. … Was nails in his first three postseasons. In the 1911 World Series, he pitched three complete games, had a 2-1 record and a 1.04 ERA. … Was roommates with another player on this list. … According to the entry on Wikipedia, when he was greeted with racial taunts, he would cup his hands and call back: “Foreigners! Foreigners!”

DODE CRISS, RHP/1B … Bats: Left … Played from 4/20/1908 to 8/25/1911 … 3-9, 111 innings pitched, 4.38 ERA … 3 HR, .276 BA … 30 games as a pitcher, 37 in the field … Played both first base and the outfield, though he pitched in every season he played. … Started as a pinch-hit specialist for the Browns and sort of won a batting title in his rookie year. He had 82 at-bats that season, 41 of which came as a pinch hitter, and he boasted a .341 batting average. It was better than Ty Cobb’s. But Cobb was awarded the title. Anybody know if this is what prompted the minimum at-bat requirements?

DOC CRANDALL, RHP/2B … Bats: Right … Played from 4/24/1908 to 8/31/1918 … 102-62, 1546 2/3 innings pitched, 2.92 ERA … 9 HR, .285 BA … 302 games as a pitcher, 84 in the field … Pitched every season he played. … Crandall kept on pitching after his career was done, according to the Baseball-Reference Bullpen. He pitched until he was 41 years old in the minors and finished with 249 minor-league victories.

SMOKY JOE WOOD, RHP/OF … Bats: Right … Played from 8/24/1908 to 9/24/1922 … 117-57, 1,436 1/3 innings pitched, 2.03 ERA … 23 HR, .283 BA … 225 games as a pitcher, 442 in the field … A common comparison to Ankiel, Smoky Joe spent three seasons exclusively as a position player and hit 17 of his homers in those seasons. He did, however, return briefly (two appearances) to the mound. … Went on to coach Yale University’s baseball team, and yes was George H. W. Bush’s coach. … Of Wood, Hall of Famer Walter Johnson said: ”Can I throw harder than Joe Wood? Listen, my friend, there’s no man alive can throw harder than Smoky Joe Wood.” … Find more at an official Web site here about Smoky Joe.

RAY CALDWELL, RHP/OF … Bats: Left … Played from 9/9/1910 to 9/29/1921 … 133-120, 2,242 innings pitched, 3.22 ERA … 8 HR, .248 BA … 343 games as a pitcher, 52 in the field … Pitched in every season he played. … In his next to last season in the majors, he won 20 games for Cleveland. … One of the spitballers grandfathered into the rule that banned the pitch. … He was struck by lightning when he was pitching in 1919 and went on to finish the game.

CARL CASHION, RHP/OF … Bats: Left … Played from 8/4/1911 to 5/30/1914 … 12-13, 255 2/3 innings pitched, 3.70 ERA … 2 HR, .242 BA … 43 games as a pitcher, 12 in the field … Pitched every season that he played. … Did pitch a no-hitter in 1912 against Cleveland. … He’s a Gemini.

REB RUSSELL, LHP/OF … Bats: Left … Played from 4/18/1913 to 9/30/1923 … 81-59, 1,291 2/3 innings pitched, 2.33 ERA … 22 HR, .268 BA … 242 games as a pitcher, 138 in the field … Spent two seasons exclusively as an outfielder and hit 21 of his home runs in those seasons (’22 and ‘23). … Shoeless Joe Jackson – who watches over a lot of what I write — said Russell was one of the toughest pitchers he faced. … Not to be confused with Hollywood Cowboy Reb Russell, who apparently had quite the athletic career himself. … Russell missed the 1920 season. Anybody know why?

RAYMOND BLOOM “RUBE” BRESSLER, LHP/OF … Bats: Right … Played from 4/24/1914 to 7/17/1932 … 26-32, 540 innings pitched, 3.40 ERA … 32 HR, .301 BA … 107 games as a pitcher, 987 in the field … Left pitching behind for good after the 1920 season. … May end up being the most comparable player to what Ankiel has done. … Hit 29 home runs in games he played exclusively as a position player. … As a rookie, was Chief Bender’s roommate (and you thought I’d leave you wondering). … According to Wikipedia, he toyed with being a position player before the Cincinnati Reds decided they’d be better served with Bressler playing in the field than getting injured on the mound. … Ryan Ludwick and he are in a rare big-league group.

BABE RUTH, LHP/OF … Bats: Left … Played from 7/11/1914 to 5/30/1935 … 94-46, 1,221 1/3 innings pitched, 2.28 ERA … 714 HR, .342 BA … 163 games as a pitcher, 2,273 in the field … Had a distinguished career as a hitter.

CLINT HARTUNG, RHP/OF … Bats: Right … Played from 4/15/1947 to 9/28/1952 … 29-29, 511 1/3 innings pitched, 5.02 ERA … 14 HR, .238 BA … 112 games as a pitcher, 46 in the field … Nicknamed the “The Hondo Hurricane”, as in his hometown of Hondo, Texas. … His three home runs while playing exclusive outfield, which he did in ‘51 and ‘52. … Was a star on the abroad ball fields while serving in World War II, going 25-0 as a pitcher and batting .567, according to various sources. … He was the pinch runner at third base when Bobby Thomson hit the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World.” … Probably best known by contemporary ball fans for the Clint Hartung Award, which Bill James gives out to the most over-hyped rookie of the decade. … Hartung was signed to a tremendous contract before his rookie season.

RICK ANKIEL, LHP/OF … Bats: Left … Played from 8/23/1999 to present … 13-10, 242 innings pitched, 3.90 ERA … 5 HR, .228 BA … 51 games as a pitcher, six in the field (so far) … Was leading the Pacific Coast League at the time of his promotion with 32 home runs. … Wait, let me check … yes … he still leads the PCL in home runs with a three-jack cushion.

So what have we learned from all this information?

Besides wondering why I’m up digging through Baseball-Reference.com and other baseball information hubs in the wee hours when I could be reading JSL!!!

We’ve learned … That this career transformation Ankiel has undergone is rare, to be sure. And it hasn’t been done in baseball’s modern era, not since Hartung left the game in 1952 or Ruth did in 1932, depending on which numbers you focus in on.

It’s end result could be anything from ultimately coaching an Ivy League university baseball team and a future president to being a roommate with the next pitcher turned position player. There’s something poetic about Ankiel sharing a list with a pitcher who was struck by lightning on the mound while he pitched — and continued to pitch until getting the final out of that game. That’s a game story that writes itself, eh? Maybe. Ankiel could also keep cranking. As one teammate said after his two-homer game the other day: “Only 700 or so more to go, Anks.”

What’s really clear is that nothing is clear. There is no precedent, no context, no comparables to cling to, no historical touchstone.

I mean beside the guy who could have been confused for a Hollywood Cowboy.

There is that. 

-30-

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