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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

On McGwire and Berkman – at second base?

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.

Wouldn’t an at-bat from Berkman – even in his hobbled state – have the chance to be more productive than another one from Daniel Descalso, Ryan Jackson or Pete Kozma, for example?

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.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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16 Responses to “On McGwire and Berkman – at second base?”

  1. crdswmn says:

    Jake Westbrook has an oblique injury and will miss his next start and perhaps more. Since Carp is not ready, I assume a Shelby Miller start is in our future?

    I see our best hitter is out of the lineup yet again. I have not heard that he is injured. This is his third day off in a week. We are in a pennant race and about to get swept by the Brewers. Unless he has an injury that keeps him from playing he should be in the lineup today.

    If asked to grade Matheny today I would give him an F.

  2. Bw52 says:

    Could it be the rookie manager is concerned about Hollidays back? Trying hard to give Matheny benfit ……………………..

  3. Bw52 says:

    Craig and Lynn redeem themselves.Cards pick up a game on the scumbag Reds.

  4. Bw52 says:

    I never gripe about gaining on a team ahead.I doubt Cards can catch the Reds ………………although stranger things have happened……………remember 1964.

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