Fred Mitchell first broke into the major leagues with the Boston Americans in 1901. The 23-year old was born “Fred Yapp”, but changed his name to avoid jokes about his last name. Mitchell played primarily as a pitcher, and was around a league average one in his first season. He made 13 starts and appeared in 17 games during his rookie campaign, finishing the year with a 3.81 ERA. He also pitched in the first ever Boston Americans’ game. That’s fairly notable considering that team is now the Red Sox.
One other thing he did in his rookie year was play some infield. They weren’t lengthy appearances, as he played three innings at second base and two innings at shortstop that season. Playing all over the field, however, would become noticeable feature of his career’s twilight.
After one game with Boston in 1902, Mitchell was sent to the Philadelphia Athletics. He had a pretty solid year, putting up a 3.59 ERA in 107.2 innings. He also added the outfield to his repertoire, playing two innings there that season. His status as a jack-of-all-trades only grew.
Following the 1902 season, Mitchell moved across the city and signed with the Philadelphia Phillies. He struggled with control, walking over 10% of the batters he faced in 1903. Mitchell did not make any appearances at any other positions that year, but the following season would see a drastic switch on that front.
Mitchell pitched 109 innings for the Phillies in 1904. That was only 15 more innings than the amount he played as a non-pitcher. He appeared in nine games at first base, racking up 74 innings. Mitchell also played two games at third base and a couple more innings in the outfield.
You may be wondering: If he spent all this time playing the field even though he was a pitcher, he was probably a pretty solid hitter, right? The answer is no, not really. At the conclusion of the 1904 season, Mitchell was a career .201/.227/.265 hitter.
The Athletics traded him to Brooklyn in the middle of the 1904 season, but the team then called the Superbas didn’t use him anywhere but on the mound. The following season, however, they too saw whatever light they wanted to see and played him more in the field than as a pitcher.
At this point, the conversion was starting to make some sense. At least, the “not pitching” part made some sense. Mitchell hurt his arm during the 1904 season and was losing any effectiveness he had on the mound. Brooklyn cut ties with him after the 1905 season.
Mitchell then went and played in the minor leagues with a goal of making it back as a pitcher. After three seasons of pitching for Toronto Maple Leafs of the Eastern League, he was still having trouble finding success on the mound. Ahead of the 1909 season, he unilaterally said he was converting to catcher. He stuck around long enough in Toronto to get a chance behind the plate after a couple of the team’s catchers got hurt.
Mitchell started to hit a little better behind the plate, and eventually got himself noticed by the major leagues again. Five years after his last major league game, the New York Highlanders signed Mitchell to play a position he had never held in the majors before.
Fred Mitchell played 68 games for the Highlanders in 1910. He split time with Ed Sweeney and hit better than the 21-year old. Mitchell, however, was 32 and even though he was hitting better, he still wasn’t a good hitter. Despite the semi-success he found as a catcher, the Highlanders decided to move him on after the season and went with a younger option. At least that’s what it looks like on the surface.
There is another story of why Mitchell was possibly let go. It is thought that Mitchell was one of several players who were suspicious that Hal Chase was throwing games. Highlanders manager George Stallings eventually made the declaration that he wouldn’t manage a team with Chase on it. So naturally because it was baseball in 1910, Stallings was let go and Chase was made manager. Chase then rid the team of some of the players suspicious of him, including Mitchell.
After that, Mitchell would go into coaching in the minor leagues. He briefly reappeared in the majors, playing three games for the Boston Braves in 1913. After that, he would have stints as manager with the Cubs and Braves. He led the Cubs to the World Series in 1918, but they lost in six games and he was let go in the midst of the next season.
Fred Mitchell quite literally did everything in baseball. Well, maybe not everything, but he did quite a lot. That included a stint playing a position he had never played before five years after his last major league game.