Sonnanstine's Strange Day

Every so often, we see something rather peculiar happen in the sporting world. For instance, NASCAR held its All Star race this weekend, which, as far as I can tell, provides fans with their only opportunity to see the sport's biggest stars all competing on the same track for a whole week. But that's planned idiocy. Yesterday, we saw an even better kind. Due to a lineup card mistake, Rays pitcher Andy Sonnanstine replaced DH Evan Longoria in the 3rd spot in the batting order, and, in doing so, became only the 4th pithcer, along with Fergie Jenkins, Ken Holtzman, and Ken "George" Brett, to crack the starting batting order as a pitcher in the post-1973 American League. Sonnanstine's game was rare beyond even that small class, however.

All three of the other pitchers who batted in the DH-era AL were from the early years of the rule (all were in 1976 or earlier). They were all used to batting most of their careers to that point: Holtzman played 6 years for the Cubs and 1 year for Oakland pre-DH before he was penciled in to hit for himself, Jenkins was fresh off an 8-year stretch with the Cubs, and Brett played his first 4 years in the pre-DH AL before switching leagues in 1973 for the next 3 years. Holtzman and Brett were used to PH in their careers, and Brett, who is the only pitcher to bat for himself in the starting lineup twice in the DH-league, PH 28 times over his career, including 6 times in the 2 and a half months between his two occurrences. These three pitchers averaged 546 career PAs prior to hitting for themselves. Sonnanstine, on the other hand, had accumulated 14 career PAs hitting only in interleague games played in NL parks. Never before has such an inexperienced hitting pitcher been used in lieu of a DH.

Sonnanstine was also the only one of these to hit higher than 8th (which Brett did in one of his 2 games). In fact, he's the only pitcher dating back to the mid-50s, where Retrosheet has complete batting order data, to hit 3rd in the starting lineup, and in all of Retrosheet's batting order data, which includes data from a handful of years before the 50s, the only other pitcher to hit 3rd since the turn of the century was Babe Ruth for the Yankees in 1921. A number of pitchers did it in the 1800s, most notably all-around superstar Al Spalding (who, as a side note, left the game in his prime to found a sporting goods business).

Retrosheet's batting order data shows only 20 pitchers since the turn of the century (again, this is mostly 1950s on) who have even hit higher than 8th in the starting lineup. Mickey McDermott did it the most: 10 times in the available data, and probably more considering this instances were mostly right at the beginning of where the data becomes available. These 20 pitchers combined for 50 games where they hit higher than 8th. In 42 of these, the pitcher hit 7th. Of the other 8:

-Three were by Jimmy Lindell, and career outfielder who, at age 36, briefly revived his career in 1953, 3 years after he last played in the Majors, as a pitcher.
-One was by Cesar Tovar, the Twins leadoff hitter who played anywhere and everywhere on the diamond, in a publicity maneuver where he played every position in the same game. It was the only Major League game he ever pitched.
-One was by Jack Bentley, a pitcher the Phillies converted to first base in 1926. He also started 3 games on the mound that year, and in one, he hit in his normal 5th spot.
-One was by Alvin Dark, the Giants shortstop who regularly hit 2nd and occasionally led off. He pitched a game in 1953 and led off.
-The only game by a regular pitcher was from Gary Peters in 1968, when he hit 6th in the first game of a double-header against the Yankees on May 26. It was the only game Peters ever started in which he didn't hit 9th, but he was known as a decent hitting pitcher: he PH 75 times in his career, including once in the second game of that doubleheader.
-The other game was Babe Ruth's, whose, along with Dark's and Tovar's, fills out the group of games in the Retrosheet data where the starting pitcher has hit in the top 4 spots.

So Sonnanstine's only real match here is Gary Peters, if we're willing to count hitting anywhere 6th or better as close enough to hitting 3rd.

Beyond just being put in a strange position, Sonnanstine further distinguished himself by actually succeeding, going 1 for 3 with an RBI double. Of the other pitchers to bat in the starting lineup in the DH-era AL, only Fergie Jenkins got a hit. Of any pitcher to bat at any point in a DH game, only Eduardo Rodriguez (Game 1, Sept. 3, 1973), Mike Jeffcoat (Aug. 2, 1991), John Wetteland (Aug. 16, 1997), and David Howard, who was a shortstop but pitched a game in relief and came to bat as a pitcher (Apr. 12, 1994), have hit for extra bases. Jeffcoat, Wetteland, and Howard are joined by Mike Benjamin, another shortstop who pitched a game in relief and batted as a pitcher (June 21, 1997), and Buck Martinez, a catcher who did the same (Aug. 29, 1979), as the only other pitchers to knock in a run in a DH game. So only 3 other real pitchers have hit for extra bases in a DH game, and only 2 other real pitchers have tallied RBIs.

Quite the strange day for Mr. Sonnanstine. Even with all this, though, the strangest part might actually be the following:

Sonnanstine's night bumped his career line up to.385/.467/.462, which is actually better than Evan Longoria's.

Maybe it wasn't a mistake.


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