BABE RUTH JR.?
On May 1, Braves pitcher Derek Lilliquist hit two homers in a 5-2 win over the Mets. The same night, Expo pitcher Zane Smith's pinch-hit double in the 13th inning beat Houston 2-1. Every time a pitcher does something remarkable with a bat, the thought occurs: Why don't any major league pitchers double as every-day players?
It's not that there aren't any good prospects. John Olerud, the Blue Jays' rookie designated hitter, batted .464, hit 23 homers and went 15-0 in 1988 for Washington State. A's pitcher Rick Honeycutt was an All-America first baseman at Tennessee who was drafted in '76 by the Pirates. That season, he played 59 games at first base and was a regular starter for Class A Niagara Falls. He batted .301 with four home runs and had a 5-3 pitching record with a 2.60 ERA. Another Oakland prospect is slugger Jose Canseco. According to his teammates, he can throw 90 mph and has a good knuckleball.
Olerud has the best chance of anyone to become the first full-time two-way player since Babe Ruth, who batted .312 with 40 homers and went 22-12 with a 2.55 ERA as a pitcher-outfielder for the Red Sox in 1918 and '19. Olerud made his major league debut as a hitter last September and went 3 for 8 in six games. In the off-season, he worked on his pitching in the Instructional League, and though he showed promise as a hard-throwing lefthander, Toronto manager Cito Gaston subsequently told him to concentrate on hitting. Says general manager Pat Gillick, "If I had my way, I would have done it with John [made him a two-way player]. But I would have gone against the advice of most of the organization."
Gaston says he might let Olerud pitch in a blowout. He needs more work than that, though, to become a regular on the mound. He hasn't pitched in three months, and the longer he stays away from pitching, the less lance he'll have of becoming a two-way player.
Says Oriole manager Frank Robinson, "The game has gotten away from using its imagination. Baseball people are afraid to go against the grain. They're afraid they'll be criticized. It's not just pitchers. How often do you see any position change anymore? I'm not talking about making a second baseman into a shortstop. When's the last time you saw an outfielder changed into a catcher? A first baseman into a catcher? A centerfielder into a shortstop, as the Dodgers did with Bill Russell? When an outfielder is moved to the mound, he's usually a nothing-type player."
Most of the objections to the two-way-player concept are groundless. Take the most common plaint: There isn't enough time to work at both.
"Bull," says Robinson. "You make time."
"I agree," says Brewers manager Tom Trebelhorn. "There's always lots of time for hard work. What better things do players have to do? Play cards? Sign baseballs?"
Some people in the game believe that hitting too often can lead to injuries for pitchers. A's righthander Scott Sanderson, who admits he's a terrible hitter, says the arm "needs recovery time after a start; swinging a bat won't help your shoulder much."