The recent usage of pitchers in the 8th spot got me thinking about this. I assumed (incorrectly, as you'll see) that there was a time before true positional specialization in baseball that some pitchers were better hitters than some fielders. Here are the number of times a pitcher batted somewhere other than 9th since 1920:
- Babe Ruth pitched and batted 3rd or cleanup four times between 1920 and 1933.
- In the 1950s, most of those starts were for teams managed by Lou Boudreau. He was fired by the Kansas City A's in 1957 and the practice died.
- Casey Stengel batted Don Larsen and Tommy Byrne further up in the lineup numerous times. Neither one was a particularly good hitter, and Phil Rizzuto was usually batting 9th.
- Bobby Bragan also did it with the Pirates, batting Bill Mazeroski 9th - making his iconic home run all the more unlikely.
- Johnny Lindell was the only pitcher to bat 5th in the 1950s. He won three World Series as an outfielder for the Yankees and ended up in AAA at age 33. He decided to take up pitching and was back in the majors at age 36 after going 24-9 at AAA Hollywood.
The practice of batting the pitcher anywhere other than 9th basically disappeared. In one game, Cesar Tovar played every position, batted leadoff and was the starting pitcher. In another game, Don Drysdale batted 7th.
With the advent of the DH, pitcher hitting obviously became even less common. Starting pitchers have only batted seven times since 1973: Fergie Jenkins, Ken Holtzman and Ken Brett all got to hit. Brett had a .698 OPS for his career, which was better than many full-time AL hitters. Jenkins hit 6 home runs in one season. And Holtzman, I have no explanation for. We also have three pitchers who batted because of a manager's error in filling out the lineup card - Andy Sonnanstine last year, Charles Nagy in 1999 and Frank MacCormack in 1976.
Pitchers have intentionally batted 7th just four times since 1958: the aforementioned Drysdale appearance; Steve Renko in 1973; and, famously, Dontrelle Willis twice.
As we've seen, Tony LaRussa made it ok to bat the pitcher 8th. He did it a lot in 1998, and then brought it back in 2007. It's not a bad idea either - teams tend to score slightly more runs as a result, and allow fewer - it forces them to pinch-hit for the pitcher one batter earlier. But the practice of batting the pitcher further up in the lineup disappeared before the end of the dead ball era, aside from by a handful of managers during a brief period of time in the 1950s.