When you think about a pinch-hitter, you probably imagine a team sending up a guy who, for whatever reason, was on the bench that day for a key at-bat in a game. However, that’s far from the only time players get sent up a pinch-hitters. Often, clubs will send in a new player just to get the starter out of the game. It’s in those situations where you can get some moves that look funny in a box score.
There are many players who appeared as a pinch-hitter for the Yankees and also went 0-for-whatever over the course of their Yankee careers. In all of those cases, those players only played a handful of games in pinstripes, and very well might’ve gotten a couple hits had they stuck around longer. Then there are the players that did stick around longer, and put up some impressively bad batting lines by getting just a handful of hits. It’s from that group that we can find maybe the worst pinch-hitter in Yankees history.
For a guy who was mostly a back end of the rotation starter for just a handful of years, Jim Bouton is a fairly well-known figure in Yankee history. Pretty much all of that is down to him being the author of his book “Ball Four.” Bouton’s diary of his 1969 season with the Astros and the Seattle Pilots also touched on his Yankee career, and not all of it was totally flattering.
While he’s probably most known for the book, Bouton was still a pitcher, and a pretty solid one. He was even good enough to be an All-Star, getting a couple MVP votes in 1963. On the hitting side of things, Bouton was not great. For his career he hit .101/.142/.110 in nearly 400 plate appearances. His OPS+ was -28. Yet, in one 1962 game against the White Sox, he was manager Ralph Houk’s choice for a pinch-hitter.
With the Yankees trailing 1-0 on September 29, 1962, Bouton was sent up as a pinch-hitter in the third inning and struck out against White Sox pitcher Juan Pizarro. That took his season line for 1962 down to .063/.139/.063, as he went just 2-for-32 as a hitter in his rookie season. Now, let’s get into the circumstances of it, because they take some of the shine off the weirdness of it, while putting some other weirdness on it.
Ok, so here is why a guy who finished the season with an OPS barely over .200 was sent up as a pinch-hitter that day: September 29th was the penultimate day of the regular season. The Yankees had already clinched the AL pennant and had nothing to play for. Bouton was sent up to hit in the pitcher’s spot in the order for Whitey Ford. The Yankees were just giving Ford a couple innings ahead of the upcoming World Series. Bouton was a rookie and unlikely to get much playing time in the Fall Classic. (He didn’t end up appearing at all in the series.) He was just sent up as someone they could use to get Ford out of the game without using risking anyone crucial to the team getting hurt.
Here’s the thing, though. He came up for the pitcher’s spot and was a pitcher. You might expect Bouton to then stay in and pitch. He didn’t. Jim Coates then immediately came in to pitch for the Yankees in the next half inning. Coates wasn’t someone who was used extensively in that year’s World Series, but he did play more than Bouton, throwing 2.2 innings. It would be one thing if Bouton pinch-hitting was just the way he entered the game with the Yankees needing him to eat up innings in a game that didn’t matter for anything. Instead, he just pinch-hit, despite being a notably poor hitter, even for a pitcher, and then bowed out.
The Yankees went on to win the game 8-6, scoring five runs in the bottom of the ninth. Just a couple days after that, they began the World Series, eventually defeating the Giants in seven games.
There are almost certainly other times where a less than stellar hitter got a chance in a situation much more crucial than that. However, Bouton has a strong argument to being the worst hitter in Yankee history to be exclusively a pinch-hitter in one particular game.
New York Times, September 30, 1962
Baseball Reference Stathead