This is another post where you are going to have to trust me for a few minutes, but it should make sense by the end.
The other day, I wrote about a trio of 2012 St. Louis Cardinals being among tallest at the second base position in team history.
There was a related story which would have been lost in the longer initial article, so I am instead sharing it here.
In the process of discussing how to define which players should be considered legitimate second basemen versus brief pretenders, researcher Tom Orf reminded me of a most unusual situation.
Current Cardinals hitting coach Mark McGwire, then better known as the slugger Big Mac, was once written into former second baseman Tony La Russa’s Cardinals lineup at second base.
While I remembered it vaguely, I was interested enough to wander off from the topic at hand to conduct my own research into this interesting side subject. The boxscores quickly provided a reminder that La Russa did it, not once, but four times late in the 2000 season, after rosters expanded.
On September 8, 2000, a hobbled Big Mac was returning after having missed over two months and was not yet ready to play in the field. He was listed as the Cardinals’ starting second baseman, batting second.
After McGwire’s first-inning at-bat, he was replaced for defensive purposes by regular second sacker Placido Polanco (or in some games, utilityman Craig Paquette). In the two games immediately after those four, Mac was listed as La Russa’s starting left-fielder and shortstop, respectively, only to be replaced in the same manner.
In the four contests “at second base,” McGwire went 1-for-3, including a two-run home run. He was hit by a pitch in the other lone-at-bat start as the listed second sacker, immediately replaced by Polanco as his pinch-runner.
However, since the 6-foot-5 McGwire never took the field defensively at second in any of the four games from September 8-11, 2000, he is not listed as ever having played there. As such, despite having his name listed as the starting second baseman and having an at-bat in four consecutive games, he was excluded from our database pull of the tallest second basemen in Cardinals history.
Taking that idea ahead to today, it raises some interesting thoughts about more creative deployment of the Cardinals’ current highly-paid veteran first baseman with bad knees – Lance Berkman – more average in height at 6-foot-1.
During his late-August rehab stint at Triple-A Memphis, Berkman played four games at first base. Yet since his return from the disabled list, the switch-hitter has just six plate appearances in St. Louis’ seven September games. The 36-year-old has made only one start and was called upon to pinch hit twice. Berkman has a single and a walk for a .333 OBP in this very small slice of playing time.
With more late-game pinch-hitting and double-switch options available to manager Mike Matheny since rosters expanded in September, it might be more advantageous to deploy Berkman early to try to get a first-inning lead. After all, the offense has been far from prolific recently.
Matheny could take a page from La Russa’s book on this one. Try something different. Putting in Berkman as the McGwire-esque starter at second base – even though he wouldn’t actually play there – would truly be an interesting move.