It takes a certain amount of panache and athleticism to play all nine positions during a major league career. I read that 22 players in major league history have accomplished the feat. The Baseball Almanac claims that 47 players have done the deed, but Almanac credits a player with having just played the outfield. It doesn’t break it down if the player has played all three outfield positions. Of the 22 I foound, four have ties to Kansas City baseball. Those men are: Bert Campaneris, Cookie Rojas, Bill Pecota and Shane Halter.
In fact, Campaneris was the first man in major league history to play all nine positions in one game. Campy, who just turned 80 on March 9th, pulled off the feat on September 8th, 1965, in a much-ballyhooed game at Municipal. Athletics’ owner Charlie O. Finley arranged for Campy to play all nine positions in an attempt to boost attendance. It worked. The Athletics drew 21,576 for the game against the Angels, who seemed downright offended by the ploy. The following night, the two teams were only able to get 1,271 fans to come out to the stadium. Can you imagine that? That’s nothing. A few nights later a game against the Washington Senators only drew 690 fans. You read that right. No wonder Finley wanted to leave Kansas City. Of the stunt, Angels manager Bill Rigney was quoted as saying, “Well, Finley got what he wanted, a big crowd. Big deal. It was bush.” As if providing some entertainment and trying to draw fans was a bad thing?
First a bit about Campaneris. Campy was signed by the Athletics as a free agent in 1961 and made his major league debut on July 23rd, 1964. He announced his arrival by hitting a home run on the first pitch he saw, from Hall of Famer Jim Kaat, no less. Just in case anyone thought it was a fluke, he added another off Kaat in the seventh inning. He also added a single, a walk and the first of his 649 career stolen bases.
Campy ended up playing for 19 seasons, with 13 of those coming with the A’s. I’ve always felt like Campaneris deserved more Hall of Fame consideration. After all, he ended his career with 2,249 hits on a slash of .259/.311/.342. He was a six-time All-Star who played on three World Series championship teams. He led the American League in steals six times, triples and hits, once. He ended his career as a 53 WAR player. He got 3% of the vote in his first year on the ballot and that was it.
The Angels let him walk after the 1981 season, but at age 39 Campaneris wasn’t ready to retire. He spent the 1982 season playing in Mexico, where he hit .277. Partway through the 1983 season and desperate to give his team some energy, George Steinbrenner signed Campy. He played 60 games that season, mostly at second and third. Campy, who had to know this was the end of his glorious career, played every game with a joyous countenance. His inspired play, he hit .322, helped the Yankees stay in the pennant race. They ended the season at 91-71, seven games back of the 98-win, soon-to-be World Champion, Baltimore Orioles. Campy played second base in the Pine Tar Game, going 2 for 4 and scoring a run. Talk about coming full circle. Campy was the first baseball player I noticed when I was a child watching the Athletics. Now, here he was eighteen summers later, with me as a young man, still watching Campy play.
In his nine-inning game, Campy started at his usual shortstop position. By turn, he moved to second, third, left, center, right, first and finally for the final two innings, pitcher and catcher. Angels shortstop Jim Fregosi said, “He has a fair curve, but he’s kind of wild. Baby, you had to stay loose up there.”
Things got interesting in the ninth. Future Royal Ed Kirkpatrick, then a fresh-faced 20-year-old, started the inning with a single. Kirkpatrick, known as “Spanky”, always played the game full tilt and this night was no exception. Spanky decided to test Campy’s arm, so he promptly swiped second. With two outs, and Kirkpatrick on third, Spanky decided to try to steal home. Campaneris cousin, Jose Cardenal was at the plate for the Angels. Campy caught the pitch from Aurelio Monteagudo and applied the tag to Kirkpatrick, who crashed into Campy. Campaneris, held onto the ball for the final out. After the collision, Campy, always a bit of a hothead, jumped to his feet and appeared ready to go after Kirkpatrick, only to be restrained by Cardenal. ”They (fans) threw rocks, beer cans and what looked like chicken bones. I thought Campaneris was going to swing at me, then someone grabbed him. I wasn’t going to swing first.” said Kirkpatrick.
Once the melee died down, Campaneris was taken to St. Luke’s hospital with a left shoulder injury. He missed a week before returning to play. But Finley got what he wanted, a large crowd, even if it meant endangering the career of his young star.
Royal Hall of Famer, Cookie Rojas, played all nine positions during his time in the National League, checking off the final one, pitcher, with a 1967 appearance for the Phillies on the mound.
Pecota completed his scorecard while playing for the Royals when he made it to the pitcher’s mound in a June 1991 game against the California Angels. The game was played at Royals Stadium and drew over 32,000 fans who got to witness another piece of history that day. In his last at-bat of the game, Hall of Famer Dave Winfield nicked Pecota for an 8th inning triple, giving Winfield the only cycle of his 22-year career. The Royals’ favorite umpire, Don Denkinger, worked first base that day.
Shane Halter was a scrappy utility infielder who broke in with the Royals in 1997. He actually holds the distinction of playing all nine positions at different times and also in the same game. He played eight positions during his Kansas City tenure, then added the final piece, catcher, while playing for Detroit. Then in the final game of the 2000 season, Halter played all nine positions in a game against the Twins. If that weren’t enough, Halter also went 4-for-5 at the plate and drove in three runs. Halter only faced one batter, issuing a walk. The Tigers ended up beating the Twins, 12-to-11 that day, with Halter scoring the winning run in the bottom of the ninth. That’s what makes baseball fun.
Do the 2022 Royals have a player who could play all nine in one game? It’d make a great promotion. I know I’d pay to see it. This team has some good athletes. Whit Merrifield, Hunter Dozier, Andrew Benintendi, Michael Taylor, Bobby Witt Jr., and Adalberto Mondesi come to mind as players who have the athleticism to pull this off. Maybe M.J. Melendez? If the season goes in the tank, Mike Matheny should give one of them a shot at it.