Jonah Keri has an interesting post on FiveThirtyEight.com about Ron Hunt‘s remarkable 1971 season, when he was hit by a pitch 50 times…still the all-time single-season record, and 43 percent more than the second-highest season total. But Keri had a footnote in the story that caught my attention:
Hunt’s manager in Montreal, the equally scrappy Gene Mauch, knew that his second baseman frequently played hurt, so he’d occasionally lead off with Hunt on the road, then pull him in for a pinch-runner if he reached base to start the game.
Turns out this is the kind of thing you can check easily enough…and after doing so I learned “occasionally” means “exactly never.”
I used Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index to generate a list of all the Expos pinch-runners from 1971 through 1974, the years Hunt played for the Expos (Mauch was the manager all four years). I then arranged them by the position in the batting order in which the pinch-runner entered the lineup, then checked the box scores for details. The only time Hunt left a game for a pinch-runner after his first plate appearance was on Sept. 2, 1973, when he led off at Philadelphia with a double and was replaced by Pepe Frias. But this seems to be more than a case of the kind of preventative maintenance described in Keri’s footnote; it was Hunt’s first game since he injured his knee in a game at San Francisco Aug. 8, and it would appear he was still hurt. (ADDED 8/5/15: Ian MacDonald made that clear in his Montreal Gazette game story published Sept. 4.) Hunt did not start Sept. 3, although he did appear as a pinch-hitter; he didn’t play again until Sept. 7, when he started the first game of a doubleheader but not the second. He took Sept. 8 off, then after starting Sept. 9 he was removed after five innings — and didn’t play again that season. Ian MacDonald wrote in The Sporting News of Sept. 29, “Hunt finally had to undergo surgery for the knee he damaged in August while sliding home in San Francisco.”
Hunt was primarily a leadoff hitter for the Expos, but he did have a few starts in other spots in the lineup, so I checked to see if this scenario (leave for a pinch-runner after reaching base in the first inning on the road) ever played out in any of those. Nope. ADDED 2/7/15: I did find one game in 1971 in which Hunt, batting second at San Diego, fouled out in the top of the first and Gary Sutherland took the field in his place in the bottom of the inning. ADDED 8/5/15: And in that 1971 game, Hunt was removed because of an injury. Ian MacDonald wrote in his game story in the June 7, 1971 Montreal Gazette (the Gazette didn’t publish a Sunday edition, and June 6 was a Sunday) that Sutherland was “inserted into the lineup when Ron Hunt injured a finger in the first inning.”
So I can say definitely: Ron Hunt was NEVER removed for a pinch-runner in the first inning of a game just to rest. The only times he was taken out of a game in the first inning was when he was hurt.
Hunt was removed for a pinch-runner on numerous occasions in his Expos career, but I suspect it was because he was neither terribly fast nor much of a defensive player at that stage of his career. He was removed from 90 of the 471 games (19%) he started as an Expo.
I have to assume Keri got the information about Mauch “occasionally” pinch-running for Hunt in the first inning from one of the four people he quoted in his story: Hunt, teammate Bill Stoneman, broadcaster Dave Van Horne and writer Jacques Doucet. Whoever said it, his memory was wrong…which happens after 40-some years. Hell, sometimes it happens after 40-some minutes. Memories make for good stories, but they don’t always make for good facts.