During batting practice before a recent Cubs-Braves game, Chicago's Doug Dascenzo was heading for his position in the outfield, which happened to be in the same general direction as the Wrigley Field bullpen. "Hey Doug," someone yelled from the Cubs' dugout. "You going to go out there and teach those pitchers how to pitch?"
Dascenzo demurred with a sheepish laugh, but actually, the idea isn't so outlandish. Dascenzo, a utility outfielder, has pitched three times this season and has the lowest ERA on the Cub staff: 0.00. "He's got excellent control and an outstanding curveball," says Chicago pitching coach Billy Connors. Dascenzo has taken to the hill four times in his career and has yet to give up a run in five innings. To find a non-pitcher who has made more career mound appearances, you have to go back to Philadelphia's Bob Bowman, who got the call five times, all in 1959.
Even so, Dascenzo prefers to talk about his defensive streak in the outfield. He holds the National League record for consecutive errorless games in the outfield—236 through Sunday—having not committed an error since he came up in 1988. Or he'll mention his efforts to improve his hitting last winter, even though he was batting only .239 at week's end. Unfortunately for Dascenzo, though, the topic of pitching is irresistible. He has shone while the rest of the Cub staff has looked like the Bad News Bears. Through Sunday, the team's ERA was 4.08, dead last in the National League. It's because Chicago's pitchers are so bad that Dascenzo has gotten so much work. "When you're getting your butts kicked," says manager Jim Essian, "there's no sense in wasting one of your relievers, whom you might need to win tomorrow."
The Cub pitchers find Dascenzo's success amusing. Says Dave Smith, "We've finally found the perfect short man." (Dascenzo stands 5'8" in cleats.) Said Paul Assenmacher after a Dascenzo performance, "Doug had good stuff. He should. He was well rested."
Dascenzo even got in on the fun by trying to crash a pitchers' meeting. Connors told him to beat it. "Anytime a pitcher gives me flak," says Dascenzo, "I ask what his ERA is."
Dascenzo's pitching career began at Brownsville (Pa.) High, where he struck out 90 batters in 56 innings. He also pitched 6.3 innings in college at Oklahoma State, the most memorable being the 7th inning of a game against South Carolina in the 1985 College World Series. "With the bases loaded, I walked two batters with eight straight balls," he says. "I was totally embarrassed."
Because blowouts can't be predicted, Dascenzo doesn't spend much time working on his pitching. "On the road, [second baseman Ryne] Sandberg and I play catch and pretend we're pitching," he says. "Ryne's good, but I don't think they'll be putting him on the mound anytime soon."
And what about Dascenzo? Does he secretly long to be a full-time pitcher? "No way," he says. "Look at those pitchers after a game. They have ice all over their bodies. And the next day they have to run, like, eight miles. I'd rather just hang out in the sun and catch fly balls."