Second Baseman Pablo Sandoval and a Brief History of Brief Red Sox Second Basemen

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Second Baseman Pablo Sandoval

On Friday night, a take-out slide by Manny Machado in the bottom of the eighth took out Dustin Pedroia. Literally. With Pedroia having to leave the game due to injury, the Red Sox needed a new second baseman. Manager John Farrell looked at his options… and gave the call to the Panda.

Down 2-0, manager John Farrell had already exhausted multiple bullets from his bench. Utility infielder Marco Hernandez had started at shortstop, but was pinch-hit for in the top of the eighth by Chris Young, who was then replaced by regular starting shortstop Xander Bogaerts. Super-utility man Brock Holt would normally be called upon to replace Dustin, but he had been placed on the disabled list earlier in the day with vertigo (and replaced on the active roster by Jackie Bradley Jr.). On the bench were catcher Sandy Leon and bench warmer Steve Selsky – neither of whom had ever played in the middle infield.

Farrell decided to roll multiple dice at the same time. Pablo Sandoval – who has played catcher, first, and third base in his long professional career – moved from the hot corner to second base. And Selsky, whose six-year professional career has seen him play every outfield position and first base, was given his debut at third. At least he was given some time at the hot corner during the spring, Panda had no initiation to the vagaries of second base. It is probably lucky that Fernando Abad completely bypassed the infield for the final two outs of the eighth, generating a pair of fly balls to end the inning.

However, Sandoval at second is hardly the first time the Red Sox have been forced to get creative at second base.

Will Middlebrooks

From the time he was signed by the Red Sox in 2007 until August 21, 2013, Will Middlebrooks had known only one position on the baseball diamond: third base. And on that fateful Wednesday afternoon in San Francisco, the Red Sox were thumping the Giants 11-1 when Farrell decided to rest Dustin Pedroia. And, instead of making one move, he made two. His first move was to shift Middlebrooks from third to second, and his second move was to bring Xander Bogaerts off the bench to play third in his second career MLB game. Middlebrooks passed his first test at second as the pivot man in a 6-4-3 double play in his first inning work. He would also successfully corral a ground ball by Marco Scutaro in the ninth.

Six days later, the same moves would be made in the bottom of the ninth inning in Baltimore, with the Red Sox ahead by 11 over the Orioles. Middlebrooks would finish his second base career in fine fashion, ending the game as he capably handled Wilson Betemit’s grounder and threw to Mike Napoli for the final out.

Kevin Youkilis

In 2005, Kevin Youkilis was not yet a Gold Glove first baseman, or an everyday third baseman. He was just a young player with a tremendous batting eye trying to stay in the majors. And, on May 30, manager Terry Francona made a bevy of moves in the top of the eighth inning at Fenway, with the Red Sox down 7-0 to Baltimore. And, one of those moves was to get Youkilis in the game, at second base, a position he had not technically* played professionally. In his two innings of defensive work, only one ball was hit at him – a Brian Roberts grounder that he caught and flipped to shortstop Edgar Renteria for the final out of the eighth.

Youkilis would continue the second base experiment during the 2005 season, gaining two starts in Pawtucket before coming back to the Red Sox in September, where Francona gave Youks a start at second base against the Orioles on September 3. In his five defensive innings, Kevin made one play in the field, throwing out Eric Byrnes on a fourth-inning grounder. After striking out to end the fifth inning – an inning which saw Boston gain a 6-3 advantage – Youkilis was replaced by a true middle infielder, Alejandro Machado. While Boston’s infatuation with trying out Youkilis in different positions continued unabated over the seasons (with LF and RF next on the agenda), he would never again return to the middle of the diamond.

*Youkilis, despite being a third baseman, played a full nine innings at second base in the 2003 Eastern League All-Star Game as the North Division’s sole second baseman – Jose Castillo – was unavailable for duty.

Doug Mientkiewicz

Although Doug Mientkiewicz will be remembered as the 2001 American League Gold Glove Award winner at first base, his minor league path had a number of detours. In his second season with the Twins organization, Doug played eight games behind the plate. In his third season, he dabbled in the outfield. In 2000, he played in 36 games at third base and made his first forays at second, logging four games (and a perfect defensive record) at the position.

While Eye Chart had made his MLB debut at second in 2003 for Minnesota on June 16 – moving from his normal first base position in the bottom of the eighth inning after second baseman Luis Rivas (in the seventh) and Denny Hocking (in the eighth) were both pinch hit for as the Twins made a wild, albeit unsuccessful, comeback attempt against the Kansas City Royals, there was no expectation that Mientkiewicz would ever man the middle infield for the 2004 Boston Red Sox. After all, Boston had traded him specifically for his defense at first.

Yet, on August 16, Doug Mientkiewicz ran out of the Fenway dugout and began the game at second base. With ground ball maestro Derek Lowe on the mound no less. He was tested immediately in the first, and ended the frame with a 4-3 double play. In the second, he turned a Frank Catalanotto grounder into a forceout at second. After that, the ground balls would avoid Doug’s area, bounding to first, and short, and to Derek Lowe himself. In the bottom of the seventh, Ricky Gutierrez pinch ran for starting first baseman Kevin Millar, which moved Eye Chart back to his more familiar first base surroundings (with Gutierrez taking over at second). And despite his flawless day, Doug would never again in his career see time at second.

Damon Buford

In the bottom of the ninth inning on April 17, 1998, the Red Sox faced their final at-bat, down 2-0 versus the Indians of Cleveland. But, in a bit of madness only Jimy Williams could have performed, the “final” inning saw Williams utilize his entire remaining bench in an attempt to tie the game. Two pinch hitters and two pinch runners later, the Red Sox and Indians were knotted up at two and going to the 10th. They were also out of second baseman, having pinch hit for Mike Benjamin who two innings earlier had pinch run for starting second baseman Mark Lemke.

The top of the 10th saw a grand entrance of four players with the first pinch runner of the tenth, Damon Buford, making his professional debut at second. In fact, it was only his second time as a professional playing outside the outfield, having manned third base one time – in his second professional season in A-Ball Frederick in 1981.

While some managers are masters of chess and others are kings of checkers, Williams was a designer of his own game – best described as a mix of Stratego and Trivial Pursuit. In an attempt to keep the ball away from Buford in the infield, Buford and starting third baseman John Valentin would switch positions for each batter. With right-hander Manny Ramirez opening the inning, Buford was at second. With lefty Jim Thome up, he was at third. In the inning, Buford was at third for two batters and at second for three. But, only one ball was placed within his zone… as Thome placed a single between him and shortstop Nomar Garciaparra.

It was the only inning in Buford’s major league career he played in the infield. Luckily, managerial magician Williams somehow won the game in the bottom of the tenth after pinch running for first baseman Mo Vaughn with pitcher Steve Avery. Avery, of course, would score the winning run.

Billy Hatcher

From his professional debut with the Chicago Cubs organization in 1980 and through his six-team MLB career, Hatcher was known as a reliable outfielder – able to play right, left, or center. Yet, with the Boston Red Sox in 1993, he twice ventured out of his outfield home into the middle infield.

On May 30, Hatcher started the game against the Texas Rangers in his familiar centerfield. With the Red Sox down by one in the bottom of the ninth, manager Butch Hobson pinch hit Ivan Calderon for replacement third baseman Scott Cooper – two innings earlier, Cooper had replaced starter Ernie Riles defensively. When Hatcher walked to bring home the tying run, there was hope that no defensive shenanigans would be necessary. However, Mo Vaughn would tap into a 3-2-3 double play to end it, and a third base replacement would be necessary.

In the top of the frame, Scott Fletcher was the first of four defensive chess moves, moving from second to third. With second empty, Hatcher would come in from center (with Bob Zupcic replacing him and Calderon taking over for Zupcic in left) to make his infield debut. The Rangers managed to score a run in the 10th, but none of the balls put in play came anywhere near second base. Boston would tie the game in the bottom of the frame, however, and Hatcher would have to continue his second base experiment. As luck would have it, the Rangers would avoid hitting the ball on the ground towards second base in the 11th and 12th, and when John Valentin doubled home pinch-runner Tony Pena in the bottom of the 12th, Hatcher’s adventures in the infield was over – for a week.

On June 5, with the Red Sox down 9-2 at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Hatcher was once again called upon for an inning of work at second, replacing Fletcher. Although the White Sox would score two runs in the frame, they too would avoid hitting any balls near the neophyte infielder. And after Boston was unable to overcome a nine-run deficit in the ninth, Hatcher’s glorious infield career was well and truly complete.

Reid Nichols

In 1985, after four seasons as the primary utility outfielder for the Red Sox, young psycho Steve Lyons had pushed Nichols aside. However, Nichols remained on the roster and John McNamara utilized some previously unseen (in the major leagues) skills.

Nichols was not exactly a novice when he made his major league debut at second base on May 10, against the Oakland Athletics. In fact, in his debut professional season of 1976, Nichols was an infielder – playing five games at second and five games at third with only a pair of appearances in the outfield. Although outfield became his primary position in 1977, he did see ten games of action at second base… his last action at the position before 1985. However, the Red Sox were not unaware of his infield past – Reid saw action at the hot corner in 1981 and at shortstop in 1983.

On that Friday night in May at Fenway, the Sox trailed the A’s by one in the bottom of the eighth when McNamara rolled the dice, pinch-hitting for starting second baseman Marty Barrett (with Rick Miller) and starting shortstop Jackie Gutierrez (with Steve Lyons). While the gambit did not have any success, it left the Sox with a hole in the infield. Glenn Hoffman would come off the bench to play short, and Nichols would come in to play second. Nichols would get a putout in the top of the frame, receiving the ball from first baseman Bill Buckner for a force at second. When Dwight Evans took one out of the park in the bottom of the ninth, Nichols would receive another inning in the field – but received no action. Nichols took matters into his own hands in the bottom of the frame, driving in Buckner from second with the game winning single.

Two days later, Nichols would once again play second base after McNamara engaged the same exact pinch-hitting gambit in the eighth with the Sox down by one – which once again failed to produce a run. Nichols did not see any action at second in the top of the ninth, and the Red Sox failed to score in the bottom of the inning. Three days later, Nichols would get an actual start – only his second start and fourth appearance in 32 games – in right field. But when Lyons pinch hit for Barrett in the eighth, Nichols would move from right to second with Lyons taking his place in the outfield. Nichols would see double action in the field, being the pivot man on a 6-4-3 double play. It would be Reid’s last time in the infield for the Red Sox, as he was traded to the White Sox in early July.

Butch Hobson

Butch Hobson dabbled at many positions in his brief minor league career, playing some first, a bunch of games in the outfield, and even a pair at shortstop. But, he was primarily a third baseman. And, in his career with Boston, Butch only saw action at the hot corner with but one exception. In the second game of a doubleheader on July 31, 1979, Hobson started at third but would end the game as a second baseman.

In the top of the eighth, Manager/Gerbil Don Zimmer threw caution to the wind as the Red Sox attempted to come back from a three-run deficit against Len Barker of the Cleveland Indians. With both starting second baseman Larry Wolfe and shortstop Stan Papi pinch hit for in the inning, the Red Sox sported an entirely different look in the bottom of the frame – still down by three runs. Hobson would meander over to second with Rick Burleson coming off the bench to play shortstop and catcher Gary Allenson being asked to man third base. Of the three players, only Allenson was asked to make a play in the ninth, a tag out at third. While Allenson would make a couple of more appearances at third over his career, Hobson would never again be asked to make that move across the diamond.

Rico Petrocelli

Rico Petrocelli was a constant presence in the Boston Red Sox infield for over a decade beginning in 1965. In the 60s, he was the starting shortstop. In 1971, he moved a few feet to his right, taking over the third base position. Given his infield acuity, it is perhaps more surprising that Rico did not man second base in his professional career until his final season in 1976.

Petrocelli, however, did not play just part of a game at second. He didn’t even play just one game at the position. For five consecutive games, from June 28 – July 2, Petrocelli was the starting second baseman. And, in his five games – with the Red Sox going 4-1 over the stretch – Rico successfully completed all 22 chances he had without error. His final game was by far his busiest, as he handled a dozen chances and was the pivot man in three double plays.

But, once the week ended, so did his second base career. On July 4, he celebrated Independence Day back at his familiar third base.

Reggie Smith

Time is an interesting concept. For, it is the passing of time that makes Smith’s six games at second base in 1967 seem so strange. After all, over 15 major league seasons, Smith played nearly 1,700 games in the outfield and won a Gold Glove for his exploits in center field in 1968.

However, at the time when the Impossible Dream was becoming possible, Smith’s infield chops were well known. In his first professional season, Smith played shortstop. In his second, he played third base. By his third season of 1965, Smith had become primarily an outfielder, but his infield position of that season was second, where he played in 37 games.

So when the Red Sox stepped on the field on Opening Day in 1967, it was with MLB rookie Reggie Smith as their starting second baseman – a position he held for the first six games of the season. Smith was fine defensively, committing a single error while participating in eight double plays. However, the Red Sox had another young player who was chomping at the bit for playing time and he also was a second baseman. On April 21, Mike Andrews picked up his first start at second and Smith picked up his first start in centerfield – replacing Jose Tartabull. And with that move, the Impossible moved ever so slightly towards improbable with Smith paving the way for Mookie Betts – 50 years later.

Roxy Walters

Although Roxy Walters played 11 major league seasons, the catcher’s undistinguished record has much to do with the teams he played for. He started with the Yankees, before the Babe Ruth sale made them The Yankees. He played for the Red Sox after the Babe Ruth sale, when the team’s fortunes were on the wain. And he finished up with a highly mediocre Cleveland Indians club.

What little we can discern from the record shows Walters to be a strong-armed backstop, catching 46% of runners attempting to steal in his career. In his best season of 1916, he caught 75 runners attempting to swipe a bag while only 46 were successful, an unbelievable 61% caught stealing rate.

However, in his final season in Boston in 1923, Walters was seeing less time behind the plate as Val Picinich and Al DeVormer relegated Roxy to third-string. On August 18 in Detroit, manager Frank Chance saw a chance to get Walters some playing time… in a completely different position. After outfielder Mike Menosky lifted a sacrifice fly in the top of the seventh as a pinch hitter for second baseman Pinky Pittenger, Chance replaced Menosky with Walters, who went out to the infield for his second base debut. Unfortunately, full play-by-play is difficult to find for this game, but the record shows that Walters did not commit an error and had a pair of assists in his two innings.

While Walters would never see the infield again as a member of the Red Sox, he would parlay his successful audition into more time in the infield the following season for the Indians. Roxy would rock second base seven times – including two starts – in 1924; compiling eight assists, seven putouts, and one double play. But, those would be his final days outside of the mask. After five games as a backstop in Cleveland in 1925, Walters was out of MLB.

So, who will be the next contestant in the strange history of brief second baseman for the Red Sox? History shows us that while the player is likely to be well-known, they are unlikely to be a superstar. It also shows that it is rare for the player to move to second from first, catcher, and the pitcher’s mound. While the situation probably will not occur again this season, Chris Young may want to get a few reps in at second during infield drills. Just in case.


Follow Brandon on Twitter @cuzittt

Featured image courtesy of the Associated Press.

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