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As the Ankiel Turns
2007-08-10 12:10
by Mike Carminati

Rick Ankiel lived up to the hype. The once famous failed pitcher hit a homer in his first major-league game after becoming an outfielder in the minors helping the Cards to a shutout win.

Ankiel is not the first converted left-handed pitcher to become a power-hitting left handed outfielder. There's another player who went experienced a very similar circuitous path in the majors. He played for the Red Sox. You know who I mean.

Of course, I speaking of…Buck Freeman. You might have thought of someone else.

In 1891 Freeman was a 19-year-old rookie for the Washington Statesmen in the old American Association. He pitched five games for a 3-2 record and a 3,89 ERA, but he walked 33 men in 44. He also allowed 32 runs though just 19 were earned. The kid needed a bit more seasoning.

Well, he got six and one half years of it. When he returned the Statesmen were now known as the Senators and they were now in the twelve-team National League. And Freeman was now a right fielder. After purchasing his contract from Toronto of the Eastern League (now the International League), for whom he had toiled for the past three seasons. Freeman responded with a .364 batting average, a .424 on-base percentage, a .523 slugging average and an OPS 71% better than the park-adjusted league average in 107 at-bats.

He easily beat out the incumbent, Jake Gettman, in 1899 and went on to hit 25 homers, the most since Ned Williamson set a new record with 27 in the talented-diluted three-league 1884 season. In fact it was the first time that anyone had twenty home runs since the Phils' Big Sam Thompson hit exactly that many in 1889. It would be another twelve years until anyone recorded 16, let alone 20, homers (Frank Schulte's 21 in 1911). The next man to best Freeman was the other guy you were thinking of a few moments ago, George Herman Ruth, who set a new homer record with 29 in 1919.

Freeman went on to win a World Series with the Red Sox (actually "Americans") in 1903. Freeman never came close to 25 dingers again, but recorded double digits three times with Boston, leading the majors with 13 in 1903. He ended his career with 82 home runs and ratios of .293 batting, .346, OBP, .462 slugging, and a 132 adjusted OPS.

Ankiel is actually the 32nd left-handed pitcher turned outfielder in baseball history. The last previous was John Upham, who was used as an outfielder and a pinch-hitter in eight games while pitching two for the Cubs in 1968, his second and final season in the majors.

Another famous lefty cum outfielder was Lefty O'Doul, who began his career as a pitcher and part-time outfielder with the Yankees in 1919. He suffered through parts of four seasons in New York and Boston, and was out of the game for four years until he became a starting left-fielder for the Giants, Phillies, and Dodgers. O'Doul finished second in the MVP vote in 1929 when he hit .398 with 254 hits, 32 home runs, 122 RBI, and 152 runs for the Phillies. He lives on in a crappy anachronistic saloon that is definitely worth a visit when in San Francisco.

Other lefties who became outfielders include Cy Seymour, the first Elmer Smith, Reb Russel (who converted after age 30), Jack Graney (reportedly the first major-leaguer to appear in a game wearing a number in 1916), Lefty Good, and Cozy Dolan.

In total, 122 major-leaguers have switched from pitcher to position player in baseball history. 93 more have gone from position player to pitcher. The last two were Ron Mahay, a former scab outfielder with the Red Sox who is still active as a lefty specialist, now with the Braves, and Brooks Kieschnick who was a power pitcher/power hitter with the Brewers a few years back. Probably the most famous position player turned pitcher is Hall of Famer Bob Lemon.

2007-08-10 21:42:23
1.   Bob Timmermann
I assume you mean Ron Mahay.
2007-08-12 17:49:39
2.   rbj
So who was the best pitcher converted to outfielder? ;-)

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