I was thinking about Brooks Kieschnick the other day (don’t ask) and got to wondering why more teams don’t employ — or at least try to employ — two-way players, guys who can provide some utility on the mound as well as at the plate and in the field. Granted, it’s difficult enough to acquire the skills necessary to survive at the big-league level as a hitter or a pitcher, but given the modern tendency toward larger staffs (and hence smaller benches), wouldn’t it make sense for teams to try and develop another Kieschnick?
Aside from the challenges inherent in actually developing a two-way player, there is also the matter of risk, which always accompanies innovation. Perhaps, like batting the pitcher eighth, this falls into the novelty category and it will never gain widespread acceptance because if it doesn’t work (or is perceived not to work, a la Boston’s “closerless bullpen” from a few years ago), the public — not to mention the folks responsible for implementing such an idea — won’t soon hear the end of it.
It’s amazing the things that can kill innovative thinking.
Looking back further, I’m reminded of Rick Rhoden, who once served as DH for the Yankees in a June 1988 contest against the Orioles (he batted seventh, grounding to third and driving home Jay Buhner on a sac fly in two trips to the plate, both against Jeff Ballard… an excellent pitcher against whom to deploy another pitcher as DH, but that’s a story for some other day). Rhoden was — and still is (he has played golf profesionally for many years since retiring from baseball) — a tremendous athlete who might have been able to help his teams in multiple capacities had it not been for childhood osteomyelitis that resulted in limited range of motion in his right leg.
Earlier in his career, while a member of the Pirates, Rhoden teamed with Don Robinson, another good hitting pitcher. (In 1982, Pittsburgh’s pitchers outhomered its center fielders — one of the many joys of starting Omar Moreno every day).
Robinson, who battled injuries throughout his career, might also have made a good two-way player if not for his own chronic leg problems. He hit .231/.252/.330 in 665 plate appearances, knocking 13 home runs in the process. Not great, but certainly respectable for a guy who wasn’t employed to do that sort of thing. Presumably Robinson could have honed his skills and gotten better results had hitting represented a more significant part of his job.
Still, on the final day of the 1984 regular season, Robinson must have enjoyed himself in Philadelphia. In the first game of a doubleheader, he struck out the side in order in the ninth to notch his 10th save of the year. Then in the nightcap, he went 1-for-3 with an RBI while batting third and playing left field.
There may well be solid reasons for not trying to develop two-way players — the necessary skill set is hard to find and develop (guys who are good enough at either are already doing either), we might look like idiots if it doesn’t work, etc. But it seems to me that a player that can fill multiple roles with a single roster spot should have value.
Besides, having someone on the bench who might work the seventh or pinch-hit for whoever worked the seventh is just plain fun. I like to think there’s still room for that in baseball.