Saturday, September 7, 2013

Who's on first

More than any other sport, fans of baseball appreciate the game's history.

I'm not saying there aren't buffs for other sports out there. I'm sure there are. But, most basketball fans I know probably couldn't tell you who George Mikan is.

Baseball, on the other hand, is much different. Most baseball fans I've met know a great deal about its past. They know who Stan Musial is. They know who Warren Spahn is. And they know about Cy Young's 511 career wins and Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak.

Also more than any other sport, the positions of baseball's greats become burned into the memories of its fans. Although I wasn't around to actually see it, I can picture Brooks Robinson manning the hot corner for the O's in my head. (Thanks to my baseball cards and old baseball highlights.)

I think that's why I've come to love anything out of the ordinary when it comes to baseball's rich history. Seeing someone like Roger Maris in a Cardinals jersey is odd because I so closely identify him as a New York Yankee.

And, getting back to the topic of positions, seeing some of the biggest names outside of their standout place in the field can cause a bit of confusion.

Position switches are fairly common for aging veterans. It's a topic I've written about in the past. However, a few future stars manned completely different positions than they would in their prime.

Jimmie Foxx was a catcher throughout most of his minor league career. And, although he caught sparingly in his early years, the A's would transform "Double X" into one of baseball's greatest first basemen.

Seeing shots of him in catcher's gear always makes me do a double-take.

Today's game has seen its share of catchers-turned-position players as well.

Bryce Harper was a catcher during his high school and college days. The Nationals put an end to that as soon as they drafted him, a move that was probably a smart one on their part.

The recently traded Justin Morneau originally a catcher as well. They moved him to first in order to make room for some guy named Joe Mauer.

Perhaps the most puzzling former backstop, though, is Pablo Sandoval. He may be big, which is ideal for a catcher, but the image of "Kung Fu Panda" behind the plate never quite sat right with me.

Still, most of the earlier cards of his in my collection list him as a backstop for the Giants.

Safe to say, I think Sandoval is better off as a third baseman these days.

The sheer unfamiliarity of this awesome card is what makes it one of my favorites.

At this point, the starry-eyed John Powell didn't have the rugged appearance he'd gain in later years with the O's. And he hadn't yet earned his famous nickname, "Boog". Or, at least Topps didn't know about it by the time his '62 Topps rookie hit the shelves.

To many fans, "Boog" is probably a first baseman, first and foremost. There's not much questioning that.

And, although he did play a fair amount of outfield in his first few seasons, seeing the little "OF" designation under Powell's name is just odd.

From 2006 until last year, card #7 in every Flagship checklist was occupied by "The Mick".

Even though it became a bit tiring in its dying days, the practice did still give me a few of the better Mantle cards in my collection.

Personally, the 2009 edition is my favorite. As evidenced by the ad-filled wall and palm trees in the background, this is a spring training shot.

Not to mention an early one for "The Mick". A very early one.

Whoever snapped this shot captured a young Mantle in the process of turning a phantom double play. Which is strange, considering that Mantle roaming centerfield at Yankee Stadium is such an iconic image for many of the game's fans.

What gets lost to history at times, though, is the fact that "The Mick" actually came up as a shortstop for the Bronx Bombers.

Thankfully, Topps slapped the appropriate (if unfamiliar) position designation on the front of this particular piece.

A lot of the game's greats have pulled off the third-to-first switcheroo.

Steve Garvey and Harmon Killebrew are a few that come to mind. Both started off their careers at the hot corner before shifting to first base.

Jim Thome and Albert Pujols, a couple of the best first sackers we've seen in the last few decades, were originally third baseman. (Pujols also played some outfield during his first couple seasons.)

In the grand scheme of things, seeing them at third shouldn't be all that strange. Both Thome and Pujols enjoyed some of their better seasons at the hot corner.

But, because both are so deeply ingrained in my memory as first basemen, anything else just seems a little off.

Of course, no post on this topic would be complete without mentioning "The Great Bambino".

By all accounts, Babe Ruth would've easily been a Hall of Fame pitcher had he stayed on the mound. All he did was go 94-46 with a 2.28 ERA in his career. (Including a league-leading 1.75 ERA with the Red Sox in 1916.)

But, for whatever reason, the guy chose to focus solely on his hitting. After giving up pitching, all he did was whack 714 career homers and revolutionize the game of baseball. Many believe him to be the greatest hitter who ever lived.

The position player-to-pitcher switch (or, the "reverse Babe Ruth") is fairly common. Guys like Tim Wakefield (a former first baseman), Jason Motte (catcher), and Trevor Hoffman (shortstop) became hurlers because they had good arms and couldn't hit a lick.

The pitcher-to-positon player swap, however, is far more rare. One of the few I can think of off the top of my head is Rick Ankiel. His resurgence as an outfielder made for one of the better baseball storylines in recent years.

My love for unfamiliar uniforms has been well-documented over the course of this blog's history.

Really, though, it's just part of a larger appreciation for some of baseball's stranger historical tidbits. These "out of position" cards are certainly under that category.

I mean, Jimmie Foxx as a catcher?

Come on.


The Junior Junkie said...

That Jimmie Foxx is a beaut

petethan said...

Ron Cey was the only one of the Dodgers record-setting infield who ended up at his natural position. You mentioned Garvey moving from first to third, and both Bill Russell and Davey Lopes move in from the outfield. But my favorite is 1960 Topps rookie Carl Yastrzemski, 2B.

Jamie Meyers said...

Somewhat obscure, but Adam Loewen made the pitcher to position swap as well. He was a pitcher for the Orioles from '06 to '08, when arm troubles got the best of him. He made it to the majors briefly as a hitter with the Blue Jays last year, but is not on any major league cards that I know of as a hitter.