He won’t do it, but Terry Francona should maybe – just maybe – consider being Mayo Smith this weekend.
The question creating the most buzz at Fenway Park the last two nights has centered on what happens once the Series moves to Colorado. Namely, with no DH in Denver, who does Francona play, and who sits? The most likely scenario is that it will be a rotation, with David Ortiz taking over at first base for the red-hot Kevin Youkilis for one game, and then sitting one out himself to rest an aching knee. A Game 5 decision might be to move Youkilis to third base, giving Mike Lowell a night off. A much less likely scenario – the one that would be the most intriguing — is playing Kevin Youkilis at shortstop in place of Julio Lugo.
Youkilis, who came up as a third baseman and has played 118 games at that position, 13 this season, has never played shortstop. Of course — and perhaps someone could remind Francona of this — with the exception of nine games, neither had Mickey Stanley when the 1968 World Series got under way.
Wanting more offense in the lineup, Tigers manager Mayo Smith inserted Stanley, his centerfielder, at shortstop for the ’68 fall classic against the Cardinals. Stanley replaced the slick-fielding but light-hitting Ray Oyler, who had hit only .135/.213/.186 with one home run on the season. Oyler’s backup was Dick Tracewski, who at .156/.239/.236 didn’t offer much of an upgrade. Stanley, meanwhile, could swing a productive bat. Alternating between the leadoff spot and the two-hole in the Tigers order, he had hit .259/.311/.364 with 11 home runs. (In what is often called “the year of the pitcher,” Stanley’s .311 OBP was league average and his .364 SLG was north of the .357 league mark.)
Stanley, who was awarded the first of his four Gold Gloves as an outfielder in 1968, started all seven World Series games at shortstop, playing a total of 54 innings and handling 30 chances cleanly. He committed two errors, although neither contributed to a Cardinals run and the Tigers won both games in which he mishandled a ball. Oyler came in as a defensive replacement in four of the games.
Much as the Red Sox would like to have Youkilis, Ortiz, and Lowell all in the lineup, the Tigers faced a similar challenge in 1968. With future Hall of Famer Al Kaline (.287 with a team best .392 OBP) recovered from a wrist injury, Smith went into the World Series with four outfielders who were major contributors to the Detroit offense. Jim Northrup had led the team with 90 RBI while ranking fifth in the American League in total bases. Willie Horton had finished second in the league in home runs with 36.
Some have made the argument that the Red Sox should keep Youkilis in the lineup by playing him at second base, with Dustin Pedroia moving over to shortstop. Pedroia was drafted as a shortstop, and played more games (132) at that position in the minor leagues than he did at second base (130). Youkilis has appeared in two games at second base with the Red Sox (in 2005), and earlier played two games there in the minor leagues. When Smith made his bold move in 1968, he had a similar option, as his second baseman, Dick McAuliffe, had actually been the Tigers regular shortstop as recently as 1966. However, putting Stanley at second and McAuliffe at short would have resulted in weakening two positions, which is what Francona would be doing with Youkilis at second and Pedroia at short. (Of note, while not as good defensively as Stanley, Northrup was an experienced and capable centerfielder.) For Francona, Youkilis at shortstop would be the wiser move.
Of course, in the end none of this really matters, because while it’s fun to imagine, Terry Francona isn’t Mayo Smith and we’re not going to see it happen. The Tigers won a World Series with an outfielder playing shortstop, but bold moves like that have gone the way of the 1960s. Youkilis, and perhaps Big Papi, will simply have to sit.