One of the talking points that was seemingly least divisive between players and owners during CBA negotiations was the expansion of the designated hitter to the National League. That was one of the first changes that they appeared to agree upon, and now that they’ve finalized it, the concept of pitchers hitting in MLB games is all but officially dead (aside from mid-game DH removals and two-way outliers like Shohei Ohtani).
Obviously as an AL team, the Yankees have only dealt with pitchers hitting in interleague and World Series games during the past couple decades. However, they obviously played several decades before the institution of the DH in the AL in 1973. While, having been raised on AL baseball, I don’t lament this change, it is unquestionably the end of an era.
Now that it won’t happen ever again (excluding some sort of truly bizarre occurrence), let’s dig back through the history books and remember some of the best hitting performances by pitchers in Yankees’ history.
On three occasions, a Yankees pitcher has hit more than one home run in a game. Spud Chandler did so on July 26, 1940, driving home six runs in a win over the White Sox. The other two occasions came from the same man, Red Ruffing, once in 1930 and once in ‘36. Ruffing hit 36 career long balls (third most all-time for regular pitchers) and had the reputation as one of the best hitting pitchers of all time. He was also used as a pinch-hitter over 200 times over his career.
However, maybe the most famous pitcher home run in Yankees’ history came from a man who was decidedly not a good hitter. Mel Stottlemyre had a .436 OPS for his career, which was good for a 28 OPS+. Yet on July 20, 1965, he came to the plate with the bases loaded, and managed to split the Red Sox outfielders, who had been playing shallowly, with a line drive that made it to the wall. He was waved all the way around and made it home safely for an inside-the-park grand slam. The homer also proved decisive, as it put the Yankees up 6-1 in a game they eventually won, 6-3.
Despite me saying that Stottlemyre wasn’t a great hitter, he did have at least one other notable hitting game. His five-hit performance on September 26, 1964 is tied for the most hits in a game by a Yankees’ pitcher, equaling performances by Hank Johnson and Johnny Murphy (normally a relief ace, and on the right in the above photo).
In terms of impact on a game, Ruffing tops that list, having had one game where he had a +0.786 Win Probability Added at the plate. On August 18, 1931, with the Yankees down to their last out, Ruffing hit a two-run home run, putting the Yankees up a run in the top of the ninth. However, he allowed a lead-off double in the bottom of the ninth and got removed. Lefty Gomez couldn’t hold onto the lead, and the Yankees eventually lost in extra innings.
We can also use Championship Win Probability Added to find out who had arguably the most consequential hit belongs to Vic Raschi. With the Yankees down 3-2 in the 1952 World Series, Raschi came to the plate in Game 6 in a 1-1 game in the seventh inning. With two outs and runner on second, he singled home a run, putting the Yankees up 2-1. The hit added +9.16 percent* to the Yankees’ World Series chances. The Yankees eventually won the game, 3-2, and then captured Game 7 to complete a championship-winning comeback.
*For those curious, Andy Pettitte’s game-tying RBI single against Cole Hamels in Game 4 of the 2009 World Series was worth +4.42 percent cWPA.
Raschi also leads another Yankee pitcher hitting leaderboard, having once recorded seven RBI in a single game. On August 4, 1953, Raschi went 3-4, driving home seven runs, including three on a bases-clearing double.
Of course, it would be remiss of me not to mention the funniest plate appearance by a Yankee pitcher.
On June 28, 2009, in an interleague game against the Mets, the Yankees let Mariano Rivera step to the plate. He had come in for the eighth inning with the Yankees up 3-2, and then in the top of the ninth, the Yankees had gotten to his spot in the lineup. The Mets intentionally walked Derek Jeter to load the bases for Mo, much to the Captain’s amusement.
Obviously wanting to keep their legendary closer in for the ninth, they let him go, and this happened against Mets closer Francisco Rodríguez:
It was one of just four career plate appearances by Rivera, and the only time he either reached base or recorded an RBI. It also happened to be the very same day that he recorded his 500th save.
Despite all these notable performances, one of the main reason that pitchers hitting is disappearing is that these type of games just don’t happen enough to be worth it. While some of these games would’ve been fun to see, I can’t say that I’m in mourning right now.