May 22, 2021

The Last Two Position Players To Allow At Least Eight Runs (1942 and 2021)

Wilmer Difo, an infielder by trade, was sent to the mound in the eighth inning this past Friday because his Pirates were getting beat 12-1 in Atlanta. Difo pitched the entire inning, although it took him 40 pitches and he allowed eight runs. 

Difo walked three of his first five batters and surrendered a first-pitch grand slam to pinch-hitter Ehire Adrianza. On the plus side, he struck out Ronald Acuña Jr.! Jayson Stark tweeted that Difo was the first true position player in almost 80 years to surrender at least eight runs. On September 25, 1942, Hank Lieber of the Giants allowed nine runs on nine hits, five walks and an HBP.

However . . . Leiber, an outfielder, did not make his mound appearance late in a blow-out. No, he pitched a complete game! He got the start in the second game of a doubleheader and lost 9-1. It was his only time on the mound in his 10-year career and it was also his last major league game! The regular season ended the following day and the Giants finished 20 GB, so I wondered if Leiber had been planning on retiring (although he was only 31), but had always dreamed of pitching and his manager (and fellow outfielder) Mel Ott said "Why the hell not" and gave him the start as a parting gift?

I checked Leiber's Wikipedia page:
Leiber had a tendency to crowd the plate while hitting. During spring training in 1937, he was beaned by one of the fastest pitchers in history, Bob Feller. Leiber suffered a concussion and was bothered by dizziness for the rest of the season. . . .

On June 23, 1941, Leiber was beaned again, this time by Cliff Melton. He missed the rest of the season and was traded back to the New York Giants. He did play in 1942 but suffered a calf injury, and his production suffered. Although he had never pitched at the major league level, in the final game of his MLB career, Leiber took the mound in a game against the Phillies on September 25, 1942. Leiber was able to pitch a complete game in a 9-1 loss. With World War II going on, Leiber went back to his home in Arizona. He did not return to the majors when the war ended.
Wikipedia cites Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Legends, which notes (in a chapter centered on Bob Feller's fastball) that although a calf injury in 1942 had rendered Leiber, according to one report, "of little value", the Giants wanted Leiber back in 1943.
He had a choice, though; with the war raging, he could stay in Arizona and tend his chicken ranch, or he could be classified 1-A for the draft. Either way, he wasn't going to play baseball in 1943. Now did he play afterward.

Neyer does not mention Leiber's one-time pitching appearance. Also, The Sporting News had no information beyond a short recap that noted Leiber had pitched in college and was serving as the Giants' batting practice pitcher "since his hitting knack had left him". In August and September 1942, Leiber had been reduced to mostly occasional spots as a pinch-hitter, and was 2-for-9.

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