Let's take a break from the Winter Hot Stove for some lineup shenanigans!
In Little League, rarely are there set positions. Sometimes little Jimmy will play shortstop, then move to left-field the next inning. For example, when I was in Little League, I played both right-field and Designated Candy Bar Seller. The point is to give players a chance to learn different positions and keep everyone involved in the game.
As players get older, they begin to specialize. Generally, by high school, the most talented athletes are playing shortstop and pitching. Once they get to college or the pros, they begin to play just one position. Occasionally you will have utility players like Willie Bloomquist who can play several positions terribly, but most players will play just one or two positions for the overwhelming bulk of their career.
Occasionally though, you get a weird ballgame where the lineup is torn asunder. A player gets hurt, the manager pinch-hits, the roster is thin due to injuries or trades, and players have to play a position they may be unfamiliar with. There is genuine clubhouse confusion. Here are ten hilarious examples of Royals players playing out of position.
Catcher - Bill Pecota
Nearly all of the players that have played the catcher position in Royals history played catcher the majority of their career. The one exception was ol' "I-29", utility infielder Bill Pecota. Pecota was a jack-of-all-trades, which increased his utility and made him a folk hero of sorts, enough to become the namesake of a baseball player projection system. Pecota played every single position on the baseball field at one point in his career, including three innings of work on the mound (lifetime ERA of 6.00, lower than Jonathan Sanchez last year!). Pecota even spent one inning of one game behind the plate. In the ninth inning of a blowout game against the Toronto Blue Jays in August of 1988, Jamie Quirk was pulled and replaced behind the dish by Pecota. I don't know if Quirk was hurt and they were short on catchers, or if they just put Pecota in as a gimmick because manager John Wathan lost a bet, but its the only inning of catching Pecota ever did.
First Base - Brayan Pena
The happiest player in Royalsville made his only career appearance at first base just a months ago. The Royals were engaged in a 3-3 tie with the Twins, when Lorenzo Cain injured his hamstring. With Jarrod Dyson also sitting on the shelf, MITCH having been dismissed some time ago, and Dayton Moore apparently unaware that MLB permits clubs to expand rosters in September, the Royals were left to do some lineup shuffling. Jeff Francoeur shifted to centerfield because of his amazing range, and the Anointed One - Eric Hosmer - moved to right field to turn water into wine. This left an opening at first base.
Ned Yost stared down the motley crew of has-beens, and never-weres populating his bench. He wrenched his lips. These were not ideal options. Ned, from his years of experience, could tell some of these players had checked out. They were thinking about vacations plans for October, hunting trips for November, golf trips for December. Ned spied a figure at the end of the bench, jumping up and down excitedly and clapping like a trained seal as his teammates took the field. It was Brayan Pena, the Cuban immigrant who annoyingly, but endearingly treated every day in the big leagues like it was Christmas morning.
"Penney!" shouted Ned tersely. "You ever played first base?"
"No," replied a surprised Brayan. "Not since grammar school."
Brayan's eyes were filled of awe and wonder. Ned recollected the time the young man had spent three innings of a game fascinated by a praying mantis seated on the dugout rail. He had a childlike curiousity Ned recognized, but had been extinguished in himself long ago.
"Grab a mitt," Ned smiled. "You're going in."
Two batters later, the Royals lost on a walk-off double.
Second Base - Jaime Quirk
Quirk was actually a tremendous athlete who passed up a Notre Dame football scholarship to become a professional ballplayer. He would spend his entire career as a backup catcher and utility player, never making more than 300 at-bats in a season, leaving him perhaps to wonder how he could have been an overhyped Notre Dame quarterback. His athleticism allowed him to fill in all over the field, and he eventually played every single position except centerfield and pitcher.
Quirk actually spent 22 games and 31 innings at shortstop, which is perhaps more unusual than second base, but I listed him at second because there aren't any other really good options. Joe Randa and Pat Tabler both appeared at second base, but I was surprised to see they played there quite a bit, with Tabler a full-time second baseman as a rookie.
Quirk spent one inning at second base, after entering a 1981 game against the Yankees as a pinch-hitter to replace Dave Chalk. Quirk would double, cleanly field a ground ball from Graig Nettles, then that night play wingman to George Brett at the Gran Falloon on the Plaza as they nailed a pair of blondes from Lee's Summit.
Third Base - Hal McRae
If you grew up seeing the oft-injured, plodding designated hitter Hal was in his later years, you might be surprised by his inclusion here. But if you were a Reds fan in the late 60s, you may remember that Hal came up as an infielder and spent his entire rookie season in Cincinnati at second base. McRae would split time between third base and the outfield in the next few seasons in Cincy, but once he came to Kansas City, he was primarily an outfielder or designated hitter. He did make four appearances at the hot corner for the Royals, spanning ten innings with three putouts, one error, and one telephone toss.
Honorable Honorable Mention: Jason LaRue. More on him in just a moment, but let's take a moment to reflect on how truly awful he was. His OPS+ was 35. THIRTY-FIVE. Has anyone ever failed to out OPS+ their age?
Shortstop - Alex Gordon
Wil Myers spent some time at third base this season in an apparent attempt to increase his utility. Did Dayton Moore set that template back in 2007 by having Alex Gordon play shortstop? No, this was just stupidity on the part of Buddy Bell.
In a game against Detroit, second baseman Esteban German had to leave the game with an injured shoulder. Rather than move a former infielder like Mark Teahen in from right-field to replace him, Bell instead decided to have catcher Jason LaRue make his third base debut, then moved Alex Gordon to shortstop for the first time since high school, and moved the team's best infield defender, shortstop Tony Pena Jr., to second base. Why hurt yourself at one position, when you can hurt yourself at multiple positions?
In fairness, LaRue ended up making a nifty play on Magglio Ordonez, and Gordon fielded his only chance cleanly. And let's be real, the pitching staff gave up twelve runs. Its not like Jason LaRue was going to prevent that from happening unless he was ten feet beyond the left-field fence.
Honorable Mention: George Brett. George actually spent his first minor league season as a shortstop and would fill in there from time to time early in his Major League career. By 1988 however, he was 35 and had such limited range he was confined to first base. Nevertheless, manager John Wathan had him fill in at shortstop in the last inning of the last game of the year. Fortunately, today teams are too wise to put aging, iconoclastic veterans with no range at shortstop.
Left Field - Ken Harvey
Remember that sports blooper where Ken Harvey was chasing down a foul ball, before mysteriously disappearing over a giant tarp-roller? It was replayed quite a bit. Now imagine that possibility exists multiple times a game, except with even more hilarious potential. Could Ken fall into the bullpen somehow? Into the Kauffman fountains? Might he somehow even stumble his way onto I-70? Anything was possible with Ken.
Comedic purposes aside, you may ask what strategic thinking may have led the Royals to start Ken Harvey in left-field for four games during the 2004 season. Well you see, it was interleague play, where American League managers like to show how clever they are. The Royals had Mike Sweeney come out of his mylar-enclosed Designated Hitter tomb designed to protect his fragile physique to play first base in Atlanta and Philadelphia. This bumped Ken Harvey from his usual position at first. But dammit he was an All-Star with a .300 batting average and manager Tony Pena was sure as hell going to find a way to get his singles-hitting bat in the lineup somehow.
Ken made four putouts in those four games with no errors, and a Total Zone Rating of WTF.
Center Field - Kevin Seitzer
Before he was a hitting guru, Kevin Seitzer was a below-average third baseman defensively. He also played a little shortstop and some first base. But he wasn't really the most versatile player in the world. He was in the big leagues for his bat.
In this July 19, 1989 game against the Brewers, manager John Wathan done lost his mind. In the ninth inning, he moved catcher Rey Palacios to third base, Seitzer to centerfield, first baseman George Brett to left field and left fielder Pat Tabler to first base? Why? I guess just to show managers can still do things.
Honorable Mention: Mark Teahen. Mark Teahen actually started four games in center field for the 2007 Royals. Why? I don't know. I think most of the 2007 season was just the Royals trolling us.
Honorable Honorable Mention: Jeff Francoeur. I mean, seriously Ned.
Right Field - Frank White
Frank White epitomizes great second base play. Our long-lasting image of Frank is him playing near the infield/outfield line on the Astroturf at Royals Stadium, crouched and ready for a white laser beam to shoot across that green carpet. So it would be fitting that the last game Royals fans would ever see of Frank would be him in right field.
In 1990, Frank was 39 years old, on an expiring contract, and putting up a pretty crummy season. The writing was on the wall. The 1990 Royals were playing out the string, some 25 games back of first place in a disappointing season in which they were expected to contend. So you might think the Royals would give Frank some starts at second to give him a victory lap to a long and illustrious career.
Nope. Frank started just five of the last eighteen games at second base. And its not like they were getting a long look at some hot prospect. It was utility infielders like Steve Jeltz and Bill Pecota starting at second, and for whatever reason Kevin Seitzer got some time there as well.
Even more bizarre, on September 27, Wathan pulled right fielder Gary Thurman in the middle of an inning, to put Frank in right field for the first time in his career. This was the bottom of the ninth inning of a tie game. Frank had no plays, and two hitters later, the game was over.
This might have been the last image Royals fans ever had of Frank, but he was given one last start at second in the second game of a doubleheader a few days later, before being pulled for a pinch hitter. And you wonder why Frank is a tad bitter.
Designated Hitter - Lucas May
If I had told you that a lineup just a few years ago had the following player:
How many guesses would it take before you guessed Lucas May? You'd probably think - Darryl May? Lee May? Derrick May? Matilda May?
Lucas May was the catcher we acquired from the Dodgers in the Scott Podsednik deal. He lasted twelve glorious games with the Royals and on September 8, Ned Yost decided to have him as the designated hitter hitting eighth. Even more hilarious, is he is hitting in front of Alex Gordon. Even funnier than that, is May is playing over Kila Ka'aihue, who later pinch-hits for May. That is so utterly Royals.
Pitcher - Tony Pena Jr.
By my unofficial count, there have been seven position players in Royals history that have been called upon to pitch. They are, in chronological order: Jerry Terrell, Leon Roberts, Bill Pecota, David Howard, Shane Halter, Tony Pena Jr., and Mitch Maier. Terrell and Maier are the only ones to be called upon twice.
But it was Tony Pena Jr. who gave us perhaps the most scintillating performance. In a 19-4 blowout loss, Pena was called upon to clean up Jimmy Gobble's mess (this was the ten-run "hang him out to dry" game for Jimmy). What Tony did was the unthinkable - he made Royals fans cheer for Tony Pena Jr.
Tony faced three Tigers hitters and retired all there, including a sensational strikeout of Ivan Rodriguez on a curveball at the knees. Pena's velocity was in the high 80s, even touching 90 mph. It was a performance so great, it led to him abandoning hitting altogether (although many argued he had done that several years prior to that) and take up pitching full-time, which he still does to this day.