by Rob Joyce
History was made Monday night at Citi Field. No, not because it was the Yankees playing the Rays at the home of the Mets (Hurricane Irma forced the series to move from Tampa). For the 31st time in his career, outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury reached base via catcher’s interference – in other words, his bat hit the catcher’s mitt on his swing, and he was awarded first base. The previous major league record belonged to Pete Rose, who had nearly three times as many plate appearances as Ellsbury.
It’s an obscure record to hold, but it’s a record nonetheless, bringing to mind some other unusual marks that are held by these players in baseball history:
Craig Biggio holds the modern-day mark with 285, but in professional baseball history (per Baseball-Reference.com) no one has been hit by more pitches than Jennings’ 287. A Hall of Fame infielder, Jennings played full-time from 1891-1902, predominantly with the original Baltimore Orioles. In his prime he was a human target, leading the league in hit by pitches five straight years, including a whopping 51 times in 1896 and 46 times each in 1897 and ’88. For perspective, Miami’s Jose Urena leads the majors in HBPs this year, with 14.
The idea of “three true outcomes” in baseball is that a pitcher can control home runs, strikeouts and walks, with everything else being essentially luck. No batter has done all three in one game more than Thome, who 154 times hit a homer, walked and struck out in the same game. With all three of those totals skyrocketing in today’s game, it’s possible that Thome’s record could be broken. Aaron Judge, for instance, has accomplished the feat 16 times this year alone.
Teams are obsessed with pitch counts today, but they weren’t on the radar in 1940 – pitchers pitched until either they became ineffective or the game ended. But even the 1940 Yankees had to be driven mad by the Hall of Famer from the White Sox, who in one at-bat against New York fouled off 24 pitches in a single at-bat against Red Ruffing. More maddening was that after all that work, Ruffing didn’t even record the out – Appling drew a walk. There is not an official mark, but it’s fair to say that a 28-pitch at-bat is the record.
Tampa Bay Rays:
It’s not exactly clear if any one individual gets credit for the record, but none of the nearly 550 documented triple plays in baseball history were as unusual as the Rays’ was against the Mariners in 2006. Why? Because Tampa Bay managed to turn a triple play without the ball being put in play. With runners on the corners Raul Ibanez struck out, the man on first (Adrian Beltre) was thrown out trying to steal second, and the man on third (Jose Lopez) was thrown out trying to steal home. Credit whoever you want to – Ibanez the batter, Rays pitcher J.P. Howell, the catcher Dioner Navarro – but it’s the only one of its kind in baseball history.
A “replacement level” baseball player is worth 0.0 wins above replacement (or “WAR”). In theory when a player plays below replacement level for too long they are replaced. Sadly, that wasn’t the case for the 1933 St. Louis Browns, who day after day kept putting Levey out at shortstop. For 141 games he hit .195 with 16 extra base hits while committing 42 errors at a key defensive position. Add it up and he played to a -3.9 WAR, the worst for a single-season in major league history. On the bright side, the 1933 Browns finished 55-96, good for last place in the American League and 43.5 games behind the first place Washington Senators, so those four games wouldn’t have made much of a difference.