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Musial faced MLB’s last left-handed shortstop – sort of

In a jesting comment made here at The Cardinal Nation blog, reader blingboy wondered if the St. Louis Cardinals medical staff must have looked at the wrong elbow of shortstop Rafael Furcal when recently proclaiming him to be completely healed.

That led me to wonder about the identity of the last left-handed thrower to take the field as a shortstop in a Major League Baseball game. With the help of Baseball Reference’s Play Index, we can chase down the answer – or at least an answer.

While Mark Ryal of the 1987 Angels is the most recent to appear in a box score and take an at-bat while assigned to the position, he did not play defense. Same with Tom Chism of Baltimore in 1979. Prior to them, Baltimore’s Royle Stillman made six road starts at short in September 1975. He batted in the top of the first inning each time and then was replaced by light-hitting shortstop Mark Belanger.

On May 22, 1954, it did happen – though not exactly and not for long. In the bottom of the eighth inning at Busch Stadium I (Sportsman’s Park), Red Schoendienst singled with two out. Before Stan Musial stepped to the plate, Reds manager Birdie Tebbetts brought in left-handed throwing Nino Escalera to take over for shortstop Roy McMillan.

At least that is what the official scorer designated. To be fair, McMillan did leave the game and Escalera took the field as his replacement.

The reality was a bit more complicated, however.

Trying to protect his two-run lead, Tebbetts actually deployed shortstop-replacement Escalera as a fourth outfielder. It was a most unique attempt to retire “The Man” in any way possible. Escalera was stationed between centerfielder Gus Bell and rightfielder Wally Post, with the shortstop hole wide open. It did not matter as pitcher Art Fowler fanned Musial.

In the ninth, Rocky Bridges took over at short for the Reds, meaning Escalera “played the position” for exactly one batter with no fielding chances and no plate appearances.

It was the first and last “appearance” at short for Escalera, whose entire MLB career consisted of 77 plate appearances in 73 games for the 1954 Reds, during which he posted a .159 batting average.

One cannot fault Tebbetts for his creativity, a move he tried against Musial again later in the season by shifting McMillan. After all, in 1954, Musial was virtually unstoppable. He led the National League in runs (120) and doubles (54), while batting .330 with 35 home runs and 126 RBI.

Bringing this story full circle, sort of, after his playing career ended, Escalera became a scout in his native Puerto Rico. Among the now-82-year-old’s discoveries there was a 15-year-old he signed for the Mets back in 1979 – a (right-handed throwing) shortstop named Jose Oquendo.

P.S. The “real” answer – if playing the position is defined as having a fielding chance – is Hal Chase of the New York Highlanders. Before going on to perform as a first baseman for 15 seasons, the left-handed throwing Chase made three putouts in two games as a rookie shortstop in 1905.

In another footnote, between Chase and Escalera, future Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig started a 1934 game for the New York Yankees, leading off and playing short. Though no play-by-play data is available for the game, it appears The Iron Horse batted once and left the game without taking the field in a successful attempt to keep his consecutive-games streak alive.

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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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17 Responses to “Musial faced MLB’s last left-handed shortstop – sort of”

  1. crdswmn says:

    I have always found it fascinating how many baseball players learn to hit and throw (statistically there cannot be that many naturally ambidextrous people) with their non dominant side in order to play a certain position or be a switch hitter. It fascinates me because I am so right hand dominant that my left hand is practically useless and I can’t fathom how they do it.

    On a side note, I’ve noticed that Chris Carpenter signs autographs with his left hand. Do you think he is really left handed or he does that on purpose for some reason? It seems strange to me that a left handed guy would pitch right handed.

    • Brian Walton says:

      I write and eat right-handed but bat and throw from the left. I can play racquet sports either way (badly). Probably could have been a mediocre switch-hitter had I tried. A broken left arm as a child played into the oddity.

      Good question about Carp. If I think about it, I will try to ask him at Winter Warm-Up, which is only about six weeks away.

      • blingboy says:

        My second son is just the opposite. He does everything left handed but bats and throws right handed. When he was little and we got him his first glove we got him a left hander’s glove and it was pitiful trying to see him throw with his left hand. He fixed the problem by using his brother’s right handers glove until we wised up.

        I have often said it is proof of something not hooked up right upstairs. 🙂

      • Nutlaw says:

        Mostly right handed, myself, but apparently I do a few things left handed. Taught myself how to switch hit poorly. That led to me occasionally accidentally trying to putt left handed. That didn’t go well.

        • crdswmn says:

          I cannot do anything of significance with my left hand. Even holding a cup with that hand is awkward. That is why I could not play many sports that require using both hands like basketball and tennis. I can’t dribble or shoot with my left hand and I cannot backhand a tennis ball effectively, even gripping the racket with both hands. I could play softball because I could catch the ball with both hands though I could not throw or hit from the left.

  2. blingboy says:

    By the way, I have not been able to find the P-D article that mentions Skip asking to be traded. Can anyone provide a link?

    • Brian Walton says:

      It was in a recent Bernie Miklasz column.

    • blingboy says:

      Thanks for the tip Brian. Finally found it. I had stupidly failed to look for Cards news in a Rams column titled “Calling Bradford a Bust is Absurd”.

      Perhaps the most important aspect going forward :

      “If Schumaker goes, it raises one concern: Schumaker and Berkman were a positive influence in the clubhouse.”

      I have previously voiced my opinion that underperformance and failure to rise to the occasion are signs of leadership/chemistry problems. I guess I’ll fret about that now.

      As long as I was there, I also noticed TLR was at Left Bank Books again Monday. Dang. I’m sure I would have run into crdswmn.

      And appearing on the court at the Pujols Foundation B-ball game in St. Louis were a few Pujols era Cardinals (including ‘ankles’ Freese – yikes, not a good idea IMO) plus post-Pujols era player Rosenthal. I thought Rosenthal was interesting. Not sure why.

  3. blingboy says:

    Any thoughts on what the Reds will look like with Chapman in the rotation and Broxton the closer?

    As a starter, I would think Chapman won’t be throwing any harder that Rosenthal, but maybe he’ll steal the spotlight from that face kicking little twerp.

    I’d like to see a Chapman/Miller matchup.

  4. blingboy says:

    I think of the Dominican Winter League as a way for young guys to get some reps and work on their game during the winter. That’s about it. But it can be so much more, and for top prospect Oscar Taveras it is. He’s hitting fifth in the order for the Aguillas team, which makes him the ‘protection’ for their clean-up hitter. That would be Manny Ramirez. Now that is experience. Surely, ‘protecting’ Holiday or Craig would be childs play for him now.

    • CariocaCardinal says:

      I wont lie and tell you it doesn’t scare me a little to have the young Mr Taveras hanging around with the experienced doper Manny. There is a lot of good Manny can teach him but also a lot of bad.

  5. Nutlaw says:

    Five years and $75M for BJ Upton? How much would he have been paid if he hit above a .300 OPS last year?

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