It’s not unheard of for players who begin their professional career as a position player to be switched to pitching, as the result of a strong arm, a weak bat or both. Relief pitcher Joe Nathan comes to mind; others I can think of off the top of my head are Troy Percival and Mike Marshall.(Marshall played four full seasons at shortstop, making 68 errors one season in the California League and playing a full year at Class AA before being sent to the mound.) But they all made the transition to the mound before they reached the majors, when they were relatively young. Ron Mahay reached the majors as an outfielder, then went back to the minors to become a pitcher. Mel Queen never pitched an inning in the minors before reaching the majors as an outfielder, then was moved to the mound in the bigs. Skip Lockwood got a taste of the big leagues as a third baseman, then went back to the minors and played two more years before being converted to pitching.
In days of yore, Bucky Walters was converted from a third baseman to a pitcher at the major league level and went on to be an outstanding hurler, although he had pitched 80 innings in addition to playing the infield as a first-year minor leaguer at the age of 19. Bob Smith reached the majors with the Boston Braves as an infielder, then was turned into a pitcher during his third season in Boston at the age of 30; he went on to win more than 100 games in the majors. Bob Lemon came to the major leagues as a third baseman and also played center field before moving to the mound. Tom Sturdivant spent three years as a minor league infielder before becoming a pitcher. Jack Harshman got to the majors as a first baseman, went back to the minors and put up a 40-homer season, then decided his route back to the bigs was on the hill. Johnny Lindell had some good seasons as an outfielder, then went down to the minors to pitch for two years and came back to the majors as a full-time hurler at age 35, leading the National League in walks in 1953. But he had reached the majors as a pitcher and was turned into an outfielder at the big league level.
What’s much more unusual is for a player to make the conversion to the mound after his major league career. I’ve come across four men who didn’t become pitchers until they left the majors to become minor league managers. And two of them actually pitched their way back into the majors. Here are their stories…and please, if you know of anyone else who fits this description, let me know.
Ben Chapman was an outstanding outfielder in the 1930s. He led the major leagues in stolen bases four times and played in four All-Star Games; it would have been more except the All-Star Game didn’t begin until 1933, when he was the first batter ever to go to the plate for the American League. He was traded by the Yankees to make room for rookie Joe DiMaggio in 1936, then traded by the Red Sox to make room for rookie Ted Williams in 1939. But to the extent he’s remembered today it’s usually for his racist verbal abuse of Jackie Robinson in Jackie’s first major league season. 1947, when Chapman was managing the Phillies.
All but forgotten is Chapman’s return to the major leagues as a pitcher after going to the minor leagues to manage. At that time he was believed to be the first former infielder or outfielder to have gone from the majors to the minors, then come back to the majors as a hurler.
Chapman was released twice in 1941, finishing the season with a .237 batting average, and at the age of 32 he went to the minor leagues to make a living. That winter he signed as a player-manager with the Richmond (Va.) Colts of the Class B Piedmont League. He was the Colts’ regular third baseman in 1942, finishing third in the league in batting average at .324 (teammate Luis Olmo won the league’s triple crown), and for some reason tied for the league lead in sacrifice hits, which seems odd for a former major league all-star playing in B ball.
And Chapman took the mound for the first time in his professional career. Here’s how Jeff Moshier told the story in the August 8, 1944, edition of the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Evening Independent:
[Chapman’s] club was taking a 10-1 beating and since a Class B league club only carries six pitchers, Chapman saw no sense in wasting another, decided to pitch himself.
Although he hadn’t pitched since 1927, when as an 18-year-old semi-pro the first eight men who faced him hit safely, the veteran ex-big leaguer surprised even himself by holding the opposing team to one hit, a home run, and the Colts rallied to tie the score at 11-11.
That started Chapman on his new career…
Well, apparently that was close to being the truth. I dug up an account of Chapman’s mound debut by Laurence Leonard in the June 11, 1942, issue of The Sporting News:
Ben’s pitching debut [on Friday, June 5] came against the Portsmouth Cubs, managed by his former New York Yankee teammate, Tony Lazzeri [who, like Chapman, also played for his team]. And the Richmond Colt manager was successful in the six innings he worked, holding the Cubs to two hits, one a homer by Cecil Garriott, for the only run, and striking out five.
When Chapman went to the mound his Colts, in the throes of a batting slump and suffering various injuries, trailed, 9 to 3. But when the game was called at the end of the ninth to allow Richmond’s players to catch a bus for Asheville, the score was tied at 10-all, thanks to the manager’s relief work…
ADDED 8/23/15: The game story in the Richmond Times-Dispatch says Chapman moved himself from third base to the mound at the start of the fourth inning. “The manager was just wild enough to be good and effective,” wrote Laurence Leonard, “and, after hitting [Bill] Kramer, the first batter to face him, he fanned five and walked four.” Leonard didn’t make any kind of a big deal about Chapman using himself as a pitcher.
Two years later, when Chapman was due to make his major league pitching debut, he was quoted in an AP story: “Little did I think, when I started to pitch one day in 1942 because my Richmond club had five double-headers in six days, that I would succeed in making a career of it.” [ADDED 8/24/15: On checking the Times-Dispatch, this turns out to be a bit of an exaggeration. Richmond had played doubleheaders on three of the six days prior to Chapman’s pitching debut; they were rained out on another of those days, and in another the game was postponed by rain in the fourth inning.]
Chapman’s son Bob was interviewed for a story on the minor league Nashville Sounds web site in 2006. (Chapman is the only man born in Nashville ever to manage in the majors.) Asked about his father’s move to the mound, he said, “All the young men were drafted into the war. He was managing in Richmond and they ran out of pitchers and he said he’d pitch.”
Chapman went on to pitch 95 innings for the Colts in 1942, posting a 6-3 record with a 1.71 ERA. But he didn’t pitch at all in 1943, because he was suspended for the entire season.
I have not found a news account with complete details of the incident, but in a playoff game at Portsmouth, Va., on September 16, 1942, Chapman punched umpire I.H. Case in the face several times. Two weeks later, minor league president W.G. Bramham suspended Chapman “from all professional baseball activities” for a full year. This was the account of the incident in The Sporting News issue of October 8:
The trouble started when the Colt manager was called out on a play at first base…Verbal exchanges followed, which resulted in Chapman being ordered out of the game, whereupon, it is alleged, “he informed Umpire Case that he would sock him, if ejected. Advised that he was out, Chapman struck Case several times in the face,” testimony showed.
Here’s the way Bob Chapman told the story:
Basically, he [Ben Chapman] told the umpire that if he did something, he was going to hit him. The umpire did it, and he hit him. He did have a temper on the ball field. He was very competitive. Everything he did he was competitive. He could not stand to lose.
ADDED 8/23/15: The Richmond Times-Dispatch did not have a staff reporter at the game, but it did have a story from a reporter at the scene (“Special to The Times-Dispatch”). Chapman came to bat in a tie game in the top of the fourth with a runner on second and was called out on a ground ball to the second baseman. “The Richmond pilot didn’t like Umpire Case’s decision,” according to the Times-Dispatch report, “and when he continued to voice disapproval with [Portsmouth] at the bat, Case ordered him out of the game. The hot-tempered Richmond manager then tore into Case with both hands swinging. The umpire received several good blows to the face before the players pulled Chapman away. It took several policemen to escort Chapman off the field.” Piedmont League president Ralph H. Daughton, who was at the game, fined Chapman $100 and suspended him for 30 days on the spot while referring the matter to Bramham, who announced the one-year suspension two weeks later.
After Chapman’s suspension ended, he regained his position as Richmond’s manager for 1944. He was lucky to be in a baseball uniform, as only ten minor leagues operated that season. (I have found that Chapman was classified 4-F for the military, but I haven’t found why. [ADDED 8/24/15: Bill Nowlin explains in his biography of Chapman for the SABR Baseball Biography Project: “Chapman was classified 1-A for the World War II draft, and was called for a physical…But the war was coming to an end, and he had a trick knee. Ultimately, he was declared 4-F and was never inducted into military service.”] This time he played only a little bit of third base, still hitting a healthy .303. But he was the Colts’ top hurler, with 17 complete games, a 13-6 record, two shutouts, a 2.21 ERA and 147 strikeouts in 163 innings. From the Jeff Moshier story:
Chapman is a smart pitcher. One observer remarked after watching him work a Piedmont League game that he is likely to throw the ball underhand, sidearm or overhand and knows how to keep batters off balance. He’ll get the hitter in a hole with a sidearm pitch and then get rid of him with an overhand fireball.
Wilbur Jennings wrote a feature about Chapman that was printed in the June 8, 1944, issue of The Sporting News, under the headline “Chapman Hitches Colts to Van, Hopes for New Ride to Majors:”
Ben still remembers his major league days and he’s still young at 35. He can’t figure why some Big Time club hasn’t made an offer for his services. “I’d take a cut in salary, or do just about anything to get a chance to play up there again,” he said. “[Richmond owner] Eddie [Mooers] has been grand to me, but he knows how I feel.”…
It irks Ben to see players hitting .200 with major league clubs today. “Why, I could bunt that much,” he declared. “My fielding is far better than that of most of the fellows up there and I could hold my own at pitching, at nights anyway. If I get a chance, I will show them I’m far from done and that I’m a changed man when it comes to respecting the other fellow on the field.”
With quality pitching at a premium due to the manpower shortage, Chapman indeed began to draw interest from major league teams. This from the Evening Independent on July 19, 1944: “The Richmond club of the Piedmont league recently turned down an offer of $8,000 for its manager-pitcher-infielder Ben Chapman, erstwhile American league star. . . . the Philadelphia Athletics offered $8,000 for the one-time based stealing champion of the American league.” A story published the next day in The Maple Leaf, a newspaper published in Italy for members of the Canadian armed forces, said Richmond “has rejected an ‘attractive offer’ from Athletics for Manager Ben Chapman . . . Owner Eddie Moerrs said he believed selling Chapman would be an injustice to Richmond fans.”
Or maybe Moerrs meant settling for $8,000 would be an injustice to his bank account. When Brooklyn general manager Branch Rickey came up with $12,000, Moerrs sold Chapman to the Dodgers on August 1, meaning Chapman would be making his major league pitching debut at the age of 35. “I don’t know whether I can fool ’em up here as I did in the Piedmont league,” Chapman said on the eve of his first Dodger start, “but one thing you can bet on–old Ben is going to give ’em both barrels.”(Chapman is on the left in this photo, Dodger manager Leo Durocher in the center. On the right is another player who joined the Dodgers at about the same time: Tommy Brown, who made his big league debut on August 3 as one of the handful of 16-year-olds ever to play in a major league game. Below is a photo and cutline from the August 10, 1944 edition of The Sporting News.)
Chapman made his Dodger debut on August 4 at Ebbets Field and was a smashing success. He went the distance, striking out five, as Brooklyn beat the Braves 9-4. Batting ninth (even though he had a career average of better than .300 in his earlier big league career), Chapman singled, doubled, scored three runs and drove in three. From Roscoe McGowen’s game story in the New York Times:
Chapman was a marked success for the first four innings, shutting out the Braves with one hit, while the fans got a kick out of his varied deliveries, especially the slow ball, somewhat like Rip Sewell’s famous “ephus” pitch, that he tossed up occasionally.
Chapman went on to perform very well for the rest of the season, completing six of his nine starts and finishing with a 5-3 record (for a team that finished 63-91) and a 3.42 ERA, slightly better than the league average. He also hit .368 in 38 at-bats, and while he didn’t play any other positions, he did some pinch-hitting.
Chapman returned to the Dodgers in 1945 but didn’t fare as well, starting seven times, making three relief appearances, and going 3-3 with a 5.53 ERA. On June 15 he was traded to the Phillies…who two weeks later named him manager, succeeding Freddie Fitzsimmons. Over the rest of the season with Philadelphia Chapman played ten games in the outfield and four at third base while making only three appearances on the mound, all in relief. He made one final pitching appearance with the Phillies in 1946 and remained the team’s manager until being relieved in mid-season in 1948.
He was back in the minor leagues managing in 1949, with Gadsden (Ala.) of the Class B Southeastern League. At age 40 he made his final appearances as a pitcher, going 0-1 with a 4.92 ERA in nine games.
Myril Hoag, just a few months older than Chapman, was a teammate of Ben’s with the Yankees in 1931-32 and again from 1934 until Chapman was traded to Washington in June 1936. (I should point out that Hoag remains the only player born in Davis, California–where I lived when I wrote this post–ever to reach the majors.) Like Chapman, Hoag was an outfielder but played a backup role with the Yankees; he was traded to the Browns after the 1938 season and, given a chance to play regularly, earned a spot in the All-Star Game in 1939.
After the 1942 season the 34-year-old Hoag entered the Army Air Force. He was stationed at Mather Field, just east of Sacramento, and played baseball there. (Among his teammates was Tony Freitas, who had just pitched Sacramento to the Pacific Coast League championship on his way to winning 342 games in his minor league career.) According to a profile of Hoag on the Baseball In Wartime web site, he often pitched and played shortstop because of his powerful arm. Hoag never played shortstop in the majors and to that point had pitched just one inning in a mop-up appearance for the Browns in ’39.
Hoag was discharged from the military in November 1943 because he was suffering from recurring headaches and dizzy spells. Those stemmed from a head injury after a 1936 outfield collision with Yankee teammate Joe DiMaggio in Detroit. Hoag finished the inning, then played the complete game the next day, saying he felt fine. But he couldn’t sleep the night after that game and was hospitalized after losing consciousness. It turned out he had a blood clot on the brain that required surgery. While the surgery was successful, he missed the rest of the season before returning to action in 1937.
Hoag had been with the White Sox when he entered the military; he returned to them to play the 1944 season at age 36, then was bought Cleveland in June of that year and finished his major league career with the Indians in 1945. He got a little more pitching experience with the Indians that year, pitching a total of three shutout innings in two appearances. His major league career ERA was 0.00 in four innings.
In 1946 Hoag began the next phase of his career, as player-manager for the Palatka Azaleas of the Class D Florida State League. The team finished sixth in an eight-team league, but Hoag showed he still had some life as a player at age 38. He led the league in batting average with a .342 mark and tied for the league lead in homers with eight. His 37 doubles were one off the league lead, and he stole 21 bases to boot. But while he typically played the outfield or first base, he also gave himself some mound duty, going 6-8 with a 3.62 ERA in 87 innings. He pitched four complete games.
The next year he moved to the Gainesville G-Men in the same league, again as player-manager, and had one of the most remarkable seasons in minor league history. Not only did he lead the league in batting average again, at .350 (and again stealing 21 bases), he also led the league with a 1.82 ERA in 173 innings and posted a 17-3 record. Not even Jack Bentley, who had some incredible seasons both at the plate and on the mound in his minor league career, ever pulled off a batting championship and an ERA title in the same season. (Bentley had two mind-boggling seasons with the International League’s Baltimore Orioles. In 1920, he led the league in ERA at 2.11, with a 16-3 record. He also led the league in RBI with 161 (!) while hitting .371. The next year he led the loop in batting average (.412), doubles (47) and homers (24) while going 12-1 on the mound with a 2.35 ERA. Teammate Joe Reddy won the ERA crown at 1.98.)
Hoag played the outfield only occasionally after 1947, but his pitching got even better. Back at Gainesville in 1948, Hoag went 24-4 with a league-leading 1.32 ERA. Included in that was a remarkable stretch…on August 7, he pitched a one-hitter against Leesburg. Then on August 12 he hurled a no-hitter against St. Augustine, and THE NEXT NIGHT pitched a shutout against DeLand. Myril Hoag was believed to be 39 years old at the time, but according to his birth date now listed in the records he was actually 40.
That pitching streak led to an item in The Sporting News, from which the photo at right is taken. Writer Whitey McMullen provided a little insight into Hoag’s new career.
“I was a schoolboy pitcher and always wanted a shot at the mound,” Myril explained . . . Hoag, who always has possessed a strong throwing arm, is a control pitcher, mixing a fast ball and sidearm curve with a sinker. “I pitch to spots,” he says.
Michael Rychlik wrote a novel, “Journeymen,” in which the 1948 Gainesville G-Men provide the backdrop and Hoag is a central figure. Mychlik talked to a Gainesville teammate and close friend of Hoag’s, Red Dulaney, who said Hoag had hopes of getting back to the majors as a pitcher.
In 1949 Hoag moved up to the Class B Florida International League, again as a player-manager with St. Petersburg. But after the Saints started the season with a 2-11 record (one account I’ve read said the team had Class D talent), Hoag resigned. According to a report in the St. Petersburg Times, Saints business manager Howard Wrentmore “said that Hoag had received a better offer.” Hoag had pitched just 12 innings for the Saints, with an 0-1 record.
The better offer sent Hoag back to Gainesville, this time as a player only, and he helped the G-Men win the Florida State League pennant (although they were knocked out in the first round of the league playoffs). Hoag went 24-9 with a 2.92 ERA and led the league with 280 strikeouts in 271 innings.
Hoag moved to the Class D Georgia-Alabama League in 1950, again as a player-manager, at Valley. On July 17 he was transferred to the Rome franchise, which finished in the league cellar; he was also a player-manager there. Pitching 206 innings, the 42-year-old Hoag went 15-11 overall with a 2.60 ERA, fourth-best in the league. Then in 1951, back in Gainesville, Hoag ended his professional career with a 5-10 record and a 4.14 ERA. He started the season as a player only but replaced Chuck Brewster as manager on July 21.
William “Whitey” Wietelmann was a regular for the Boston Braves for three seasons (1943-45) during World War II. He was classified 4-F “because of a nervous affliction,” according to a 1944 Sporting News story by Fred Lieb. Wietelmann was born in Zanesville, Ohio, where his father had owned the local baseball team. Young Billy grew up as the team’s batboy. Billy’s father lost his sight, and when the family home caught fire in 1938 the 18-year-old Billy broke away from firefighters to run into the house and save him. From the Lieb story:
“Dad was in that burning house; he was blind, and I simply had to try to get him out,” said Billy. “My hair and eyebrows were burned off, and I was badly burned on the face and hands. Fortunately, just around that time the medical profession discovered a remarkable remedy for burns. I was covered with it, and though I was hospitalized for some time as the result of the burns, the treatment was so effective that I do not have scars today.”
Wietelmann was already a professional ballplayer at the time of the fire, having signed with Zanesville of the Class C Middle Atlantic League as an 18-year-old in 1937. After signing him, Zanesville sent him to Beaver Falls of the Class D Penn State Association. By the end of the 1939 season Wietelmann had reached the majors as a 20-year-old with the Braves after leading Class A Eastern League shortstops in putouts, assists and errors. Whitey didn’t break into the regular lineup until 1943, when he played every game for the Braves and led the National League with 581 assists (and 40 errors).
Wietelmann played 125 games in 1944 but was plagued with eye problems. At the time Lieb’s article was published in late June he had undergone four operations already that year to remove a total of 11 cysts. (The operations were performed by Dr. William Wrangler, who had recently become a part-owner of the Braves.)
“It seems to be a germ in my system, and the doctors are trying to eradicate it,” said Whitey, “But, it has been darned annoying, and I try not to be discouraged. As the condition comes on, my vision in the right eye seems to become affected. A certain dimness comes up in front of the eye.”
Wietelmann took to wearing eyeglasses during the 1944 season. After the war he hung on as a backup with the Braves and Pirates through the 1947 season, then spent five years in the Pacific Coast League with Sacramento and San Diego. Then came his first job as a manager, in 1953, with Wichita Falls (Tex.) of the Class B Big State League.
Wietelmann had a little bit of professional pitching experience: 16 innings in three appearances with Hartford in 1941, an inning with the Braves in 1945 (in which he allowed six runs), 6-2/3 innings in three appearances with the Braves in 1946, then a total of 16 innings in a handful of games with San Diego in 1951-52. But once Whitey started calling the shots, he started pitching more often.
The Spudders won the Big State pennant in 1953 under their 34-year-old rookie manager. Wietelmann helped the cause by playing 33 games at shortstop, 27 at first base and 14 at second. But he also took the mound 20 times, completing seven of his ten starts, going 8-3 with a 3.47 ERA. (He also led the league in balks, with two.) An item in the August 26, 1953, Sporting News said Whitey “turned to pitching when his mound staff collapsed in July.”
In 1954 Whitey moved up to Lincoln (Neb.) of the Class A Western League. It didn’t work out so well; he was replaced as manager on August 6 with the team in sixth place, and he was strafed on the mound, going 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA in 37 innings. But in 1955 Wietelmann got another chance, in a city that was getting another chance in professional baseball.
Yuma, Arizona, had a team in the Class C Sunset League in 1950, then after the Sunset merged with the Arizona-Texas League to form the Southwest International League, Yuma was in that league for two more seasons. But there was no professional baseball in the city in 1953 or 1954…and it didn’t look like there would be a team there in 1955 either, but nine days before the start of the season the directors of the new Arizona-Mexico League awarded its eighth franchise to Yuma. Needing to put together an entire roster in a hurry, the team’s owners contacted former major leaguer Bob Elliott, manager of the PCL’s San Diego Padres. Elliott recommended his new assistant, Wietelmann, to be Yuma’s manager.
Wietelmann accepted, but according to the July 27, 1955, issue of The Sporting News, he walked into a bare-bones situation.
[T]hey had no equipment and local sporting goods stores could not supply their needs. An appeal was made to the local citizenry. Three bats were located. Retired players residing in the area loaned them additional equipment and [team co-owner Dick] King came across a youngster who had saved 28 baseballs, of various types. He bought the lot for five bucks.
Wietelmann himself borrowed a set of gray uniforms from the Padres for the Sun Sox to wear in their opening game in Mexicali, Mexico.(Humberto Barbon, pictured above, led the Arizona-Mexico League in home runs in 1955 with 38, while driving in 153 runs with a .349 batting average.)
Yuma went on to have a good season, finishing a close second in the standings as well as second in the league in attendance. Wietelmann played 22 games at second base, but his major contribution on the field was as a pitcher. He led the league with 55 pitching appearances, completed 16 of his 28 starts, and was third in the league in wins (21), strikeouts (195) and innings (258). His record was 21-13, and his 4.86 ERA doesn’t look so bad when you learn teams in the Arizona-Mexico League scored an average of almost 6.7 runs per game. That July 27 Sporting News article said Wietelmann “has just come up with a knuckleball and controls it so well that he wins his share of games.”
Wietelmann returned to Yuma in 1956, only to be released when the Sun Sox got off to an 8-18 start. But the team brought him back when the second half of the splits season started in July, and Whitey led Yuma to the second half championship with a 37-18 mark before being swept in the playoffs. He wasn’t as effective a pitcher as he had been in 1955, posting a 5.74 ERA in 138 innings, but he did finish with a winning record at 9-7.
Yuma dropped out of organized ball after the 1956 season, and Wietelmann never managed again. He spent the next two years out of baseball but returned in 1959 and was in the game for more than 30 years, most of it with the San Diego Padres, first in the Pacific Coast League and later in the National League.
The last of the players-turned-minor-league-pitcher/managers was Granny Hamner, a three-time All-Star with the Phillies who played a key role on Philadelphia’s “Whiz Kids” 1950 National league pennant winners. Granny (his given name was Granville) grew up in Richmond, where his paths crossed with Ben Chapman. Granny’s older brother Garvin played for Chapman with the 1944 Richmond Colts, and Granny spent time working out with the team. Chapman tried to get several major league teams to sign Granny, and the Phillies wound up signing the 17-year-old that summer. Hamner wound up playing for Chapman after Chapman took over as Phillies manager.
Hamner made his pitching debut on July 22, 1956 at Milwaukee. With the Phillies trailing, 16-5, manager Mayo Smith moved Granny from shortstop to the mound in the bottom of the eighth, and Hamner retired the Braves in order, striking out pitcher Taylor Phillips and Danny O’Connell. A month later, with the Phils trailing 10-4 at Cincinnati, Smith brought Hamner off the bench to pitch three shutout innings, in which he allowed just one hit and struck out Smokey Burgess.
Five days after that, on August 31, Smith listed Harvey Haddix on his lineup card to pitch at Pittsburgh. But when Haddix was unable to take the mound due to back spasms, Smith turned to Hamner as an emergency fill-in, and Granny held the Pirates to just one run over the first four innings. (Because Haddix was actually on the lineup card, he and not Hamner was considered the starting pitcher, even though Haddix never took the mound.) Hamner tired in the fifth, allowing hits to four of the five batters he faced before being lifted, and wound up taking the loss. But Smith was impressed. “I wouldn’t hesitate to use him again in such an emergency,” Mayo said. “Certainly I’ll use him as a relief pitcher if the occasion arises.” But the occasion did not arise again in 1956.
Hamner had undergone surgery on his left (non-throwing) shoulder before the 1956 season and the shoulder acted up after the season started. He felt that was a factor in his .224 batting average. So when the pain was still there as he prepared for spring training in 1957, Hamner decided to try to become a full-time pitcher. Dan Daniel wrote about it in his column in the February 22, 1957, Sporting News:
Working with the early-bird kids of the Phillies is Granville Hamner, who has embarked on a serious adventure which he hopes will result in finishing his career as a pitcher. There was a time when it appeared certain Hamner would be one of the all-time greats at short. . . . Now, says Mayo Smith, Hamner’s career as a big league shortstop is finished, and his career as a pitcher has been launched in all seriousness, and with determined intention. . . . Now the die is cast. One career lies behind him, a new one beckons.
Hamner expressed confidence in the switch. “I know I’ve got a lot to learn,” he said in that same issue of The Sporting News, “but I can get the fast ball over the plate. The other stuff might give me trouble.” Catcher Stan Lopata was encouraging: “Hamner has control, speed and a fair curve. He also has thrown me a good knuckler.”
Hamner made the team, but pitched only once, pinch-hitting for the pitcher on April 27 and then taking the mound for a shutout inning with the Phillies trailing the Giants 10-1.
In a story in the May 22, 1957, issue of The Sporting News, Allen Lewis said Hamner “had only moderate success [as a pitcher in spring training] and the inactivity was unbearable, so he decided to give the infield one more try.” The team trainer worked on him daily starting in late March, and Granny finally returned to the lineup at second base on May 7. He went on to finish 23rd in the National League MVP voting, despite hitting just .227 and leading the league in grounding into double plays.
Hamner was traded to Cleveland in May 1959 and was released by the Indians after the season. He then caught on with the Yankees’ top farm team in his hometown of Richmond, signing as a player-coach for 1960. He hit .270 as a reserve third baseman and got back on the mound, but pitched without distinction, putting up a 5.68 ERA in 19 innings with 14 walks.
In 1961 Hamner got his first managing job, with the Athletics’ Portsmouth-Norfolk (Va.) team in the Class A South Atlantic League. He still played some infield and batted .294, and he did a good job on the mound. Appearing in 30 games, with three starts, he went 5-4 with a 3.43 ERA in 99-2/3 innings.
The next year the A’s made Hamner the manager of their Binghamton (N.Y.) farm club in the Class A Eastern League. He no longer played the infield, but his pitching career took off. Granny completed all 14 of his starts and posted a record of 10-4; his team was shut out in three of his losses and scored just one run in the other, while Hamner allowed nine runs in the four games combined. And his 2.08 ERA led the league. In a feature in the August 11, 1962, issue of The Sporting News, John Steadman described how Hamner became the ace of his staff:
The team’s pitching was thin in the spring and when injuries further handicapped Manager Hamner’s outfit, he volunteered. Manager Hamner decided to give Pitcher Hamner what he asked, mainly out of desparation. . . .
Hamner always had a strong arm when he was shortstopping for the Phils. When he’d throw on the sidelines before a game, he’d often toss knuckleballs. So it was the knuckler he went to as his main stock-in-trade when he handed himself the ball and wrote his name on the lineup card as the starting pitcher.
As the season wore on, the parent A’s started to think they might have use for a 35-year-old knuckleballer who could get people out. On July 27 team officials had him join the A’s in Baltimore for a tryout. They liked what they saw and signed him the next day, with Hamner making his American League pitching debut that same night.Hamner entered the game in the sixth inning with the A’s trailing 3-0 and held the Orioles scoreless for two innings, allowing just one hit. At that point his career major league ERA was 3.18.
Three days later came the big test. The A’s were leading 5-3 in the bottom of the ninth in Detroit, and after Danny McDevitt retired the first two Tigers the A’s were just one out away from the win. But McDevitt then issued a pair of walks to bring the winning run to the plate, and Kansas City manager Hank Bauer — who played against Hamner in the 1950 World Series — called on his new pitcher to wrap up the win.
Granny couldn’t get the third out. Wild pitch, walk to Al Kaline, game-tying single by Rocky Colavito, intentional walk to Norm Cash, game-winning single by Dick McAuliffe. Blown save, losing pitcher, Hamner.
Bauer gave Hamner another shot in the second game and it was ugly as well. The A’s were trailing 4-1 when Granny entered in the seventh inning; he went the rest of the way, allowing five runs, seven hits and two walks in two innings. It would be Granny Hamner’s last appearance in a professional game.
Hamner did not go back to Kansas City with the A’s at the end of the road trip, telling team officials he was voluntarily retired. He didn’t return to Binghamton either and never managed again. “Granny Hamner has decided he can’t make the grade as a major league pitcher,” according to an item in the August 18 Sporting News.
If you know anyone I’ve overlooked as a major leaguer who became a pitcher-manager in the minors, please leave a comment below.