Thanks to Phil Ploquin for mentioning this incident in the Retrosheet Yahoo group recently, because I was not aware it had happened: in 1976 New York Yankees manager Billy Martin used Catfish Hunter as a pinch-hitter, even though Catfish was already in the game. Yes, it was illegal, and Martin apparently knew it, but it happened anyway.
Hunter was the Yankees’ starting pitcher September 5, 1976 at Baltimore. Thirty-six-year-old Cesar Tovar, who had signed with the Yanks just days earlier, was New York’s designated hitter (the rule allowing for someone to bat for the pitcher throughout the game had gone into effect in 1973).
In the top of the sixth inning, with the game tied 2-2, the Yankees had Graig Nettles on first base with two out and second baseman Sandy Alomar due to bat. But Alomar had gotten sick with a virus (according to Murray Chass’ account in the next day’s New York Times, my source for this post). Martin had decided he would put Tovar at second base (a position he hadn’t played for nearly a year) in the bottom of the inning, meaning by rule he would no longer have a designated hitter and Hunter would have to bat for himself going forward. So Martin decided to have Hunter bat for Alomar.
The move was illegal under Major League Baseball rule 6.10(b), which read then (and still does), “The game pitcher may only pinch-hit for the Designated Hitter.” Meaning Hunter could have batted in place of Tovar, but nobody else — although once DH Tovar moved into the field to replace Alomar, pitcher Hunter would go into the batting order in Alomar’s spot. But Tovar had not yet gone into the field, meaning Hunter could not yet bat in Alomar’s spot.
Here’s what Martin had to say after the game, according to Chass:
I knew that’s what the [rule] book says [that Hunter could only pinch-hit for the DH]. I told the guys on the bench I don’t think I can do this, but I’m gonna try it. If they told me I couldn’t do it, then I would’ve put [Otto] Velez up, but I wanted to save Velez for later. I told the umpire my second baseman was sick so I was putting the DH into the game and he said O.K.
I was surprised [Orioles manager Earl] Weaver didn’t protest. I can’t fault the umpire. When the hell did you ever see anyone do it? The guy who looks bad is Earl. All he had to do was protest.
Weaver said home plate umpire Marty Springstead assured him the move was legal. “It was my fault,” Chass quoted Weaver as saying. “I didn’t know the rule.” Chass said Springstead admitted he didn’t know the rule either and said Springstead called it “a stupid rule.”
At any rate it worked out fine for the Orioles. Hunter made the third out of the inning on a ground ball to Baltimore shortstop Mark Belanger. And the Orioles went on to win the game, with two runs scoring in the eighth inning on an error by the Yankees’ second baseman. Only it wasn’t Tovar, as Martin removed Tovar from the lineup at the start of the bottom of the eighth and moved Fred Stanley from shortstop to second base (Jim Mason entered the game at shortstop). “Tovar hadn’t played second base in a long time,” Martin said. “I wanted defense out there.” With the Orioles leading 3-2, Stanley mishandled a bases-loaded ground ball by Tony Muser that allowed two runners to score. (Although he was a much more experienced infielder than Tovar, Stanley had played only one inning at second base in 1976 prior to this game.)
Hunter had the chance to bat again, leading off the ninth, but this time Martin did bring in Otto Velez. In the Retrosheet box score of the game Hunter appears with the unique designation “p, ph, p.” His sixth-inning appearance was the last at-bat of Hunter’s major league career, which he finished with a respectable .226 batting average (including a .350 mark in 1971) and six home runs. He even had three hits as a pinch-hitter, the last of which came in 1973 (the year the DH rule went into effect) when he batted for Bert Campaneris in a wild game in Oakland. That was the only time, other than the 1976 game, that Hunter batted after the DH went into existence.