On Wednesday, the Yankees gave the start in center field to Aaron Judge. While it wasn’t his first time playing in spot in the majors (he played there in a 2018 game), it was more than a bit unusual. On occasions where he’s not playing his normal right field spot, it’s usually because he’s spending the day at DH. He’s talented enough to pull it off in a pinch, but it’s strange to see someone that large playing that spot.
However, he’s far from the first notable Yankee to play at an unusual position. In fact, there’s enough to make an entire lineup out of them.
Pitcher: Nick Swisher
Typically, the position players that come in to pitch are utility/bench guys as you don’t want to have a star hitter get hurt pitching in a blowout loss. The one real recent semi-exception for that for the Yankees is Swisher.
Early in his first season in pinstripes — when position player pitching was still relatively rare — Swisher came in for the eighth inning of a game the Yankees trailed 15-5. He struck out a batter in a scoreless inning and retired with a career ERA of 0.00. The lucky strikeout victim? Current Giants manager Gabe Kapler.
Honorable mention goes out to Wade Boggs and his knuckleballs.
Catcher: Hank Bauer
There aren’t a ton of notable Yankees that made a random appearance at catcher, probably because it’s such a specialized position that you always carry a backup for. Bauer is one exception to that rule.
On September 10, 1955, Yogi Berra exited a game after the fifth inning, with the Yankees up 6-3. The White Sox rallied to take the lead going into the bottom of the ninth, and a pinch-hitter was sent up for light-hitting backup catcher Charlie Silvera. The Yankees scored a run, sending the game to extras. Needing a catcher, Bauer, who spent every other game of his career in the outfield, was sent behind the plate. He allowed a passed ball, advancing a runner who eventually scored the winning run. It’s not entirely his fault as Eddie Robinson made an error with two outs in the inning.
First Base: Joe DiMaggio
An outfielder for the rest of his career, DiMaggio played one game at first base in his penultimate season in 1950. This odd situation came about from manager Casey Stengel seeking more versatility and a better first baseman than Joe Collins. The legend was not happy about it at all, and his unease was evident:
It was a press frenzy—the iconic “Yankee Clipper” at first and not in center? Photos had to be taken, and the results weren’t pretty. As recalled in Jerome Charyn’s Joe DiMaggio: The Last Vigil, although DiMaggio did not make any errors, he stumbled a couple times, was nervous the whole game, and drenched his uniform in sweat. The immensely proud Yankee was furious at Stengel for not coming to him directly about the idea and that he made him look bad. It was indeed the only game of DiMaggio’s career spent away from the outfield.
Nonetheless, DiMaggio made 13 putouts without making an error. Weirdly, the Yankees lost arguably more due to his offense, as he went 0-for-4.
Second Base: Jorge Posada
Posada played some at first base pretty much every season, but he only appeared at second once, despite originally being signed to play the position as a youngster.
In a memorable blowout win of the A’s where the Yankees hit three grand slams, Posada was thrown in at second base in the ninth with the Yankees up big. He recorded the final out of the game, cleanly fielding a grounder, although the throw to first was a bit of an adventure.
Shortstop: Robinson Canó
Canó was a pretty good defensive second baseman, in part because of his strong arm. In one 2013 game, he (sorta) got to test that arm as a shortstop.
After starting shortstop Jayson Nix was pinch-hit for in a game the Yankees were losing, the team did some rearranging for the ninth inning. Chris Stewart took Nix’s spot in the lineup and took over as catcher, Francisco Cervelli, who started behind the plate, went to second, and Canó went over to short. The inning went flyout, strikeout, flyout, depriving us of seeing Canó making any play.
This one doesn’t get the spot since he didn’t actually play at the position, but Lou Gehrig was listed as the starting shortstop in one 1934 game. He was apparently well enough to hit, but too injured to play the field. In a pre-DH era, the Yankees apparently wanted his bat in the lineup for at least one at-bat, and had him lead off the top of the first before removing him after he singled.
Third Base: Don Mattingly
Don Mattingly famously played second upon the resumption of the Pine Tar Game, but he actually played as a left-handed third baseman on three separate occasions in 1986. Two of them, he moved position during the game, but on August 31st, he played all nine innings there.
Left Field: Gio Urshela
Urshela was a utility man coming through the minors and in his first couple MLB seasons, but he’s mostly stuck at third since coming over and breaking through with the Yankees in 2019. However in one July 2019 game, he got in at a position he had never even played when he was doing utility duty.
On July 25th, the Yankees were getting crushed by the Red Sox, to the point where they brought in Austin Romine to pitch the eighth inning. They also decided to pull some people and do some rearranging to the defense to give some people some rest. Starting left fielder Mike Tauchman was moved from left field to center, and to fill in for him, Urshela was put in left, for what is still the only inning there in his professional career. It ended it being a busy one, as he record two outs himself and fielded another ball as the Yankees allowed three runs and lost 19-3.
Center Field: Ron Guidry
Another Pine Tar Game deliberately weird position placement dictated by the annoyed Billy Martin, Guidry manned center for the final out of the top of the ninth in the resumption of the game against the Royals. Four years earlier, though, he played an entire inning there. Late in a September 29th blowout win over the Blue Jays, Martin let his pitcher play a inning out there, where he wouldn’t end up being tested.
Right Field: Jack Warhop
Like Guidry, Warhop was a pitcher who roamed the outfield for a bit. After being used as a pinch-runner late in a 1914 game, Warhop remained in the game in right field, and the Yankees eventually won in extra innings. That wasn’t even his first game in the outfield, as six years earlier, he spent part of a game out in left.