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Yankees History: The odd two-way career of Joe Lucey

On one end of the spectrum is Shohei Ohtani, on the other end is careers like this one.

MSL. New York City FC Vs Sporting Kansas City. Yankee Stadium, The Bronx, New York, USA. Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

One of the biggest stories in baseball over the past couple seasons has been the emergence of Shohei Ohtani as a two-way star. He won AL MVP in 2021 for his exploits as both a hitter and pitcher, as he hit 46 home runs at the plate while also putting up a 3.18 ERA in 130.1 innings on the mound. For this season, there was even a “Shohei Ohtani rule” added to the books to allow teams to use better him and any other potential two-way players in both roles in the same game.

However, just because a player can theoretically do both aspects of the game, doesn’t mean they necessarily should. Joe Lucey was never really a two-way player in the sense that he mostly changed roles in between his two different major league stints. However, he did both play as a pitcher and position player in the majors and, well, neither went great.

A multi-sport star in high school, Lucey stuck with baseball in college and made his name attending Catholic University in Washington DC. It was said during his career in college, he never lost a game on the mound. However, he also played the field and when the Yankees signed him for 1920, they decided to stick with the hitting aspect of his play.

After the Yankees signed him, they brought him straight through to the majors in the middle of an eventful season for them. It was Babe Ruth’s first with the team, and he hit 54 home runs, breaking the single-season record for the second of the four times he did it. It was also the season where Ray Chapman was struck and killed by a pitch from the Yankees’ Carl Mays. Lucey later told a reporter that he was one of the players that helped carry Chapman off the field.

However in terms of playing time, it wasn’t a particularly eventful year for Lucey. He made his debut off the bench on July 6th, coming in as a defensive replacement in a game the Yankees won 17-0. (Side note: the Yankees had a 14-run inning in that game. They were one batter away from Sammy Vick, who led off the frame, coming to the plate for a third time in it.) Lucey got one at-bat, failing to reach base. His other appearances in 1920 were mostly the same as his debut. He came in as a defensive replacement at short in a blowout win, and pinch hit for the pitcher’s spot in a blowout loss, making the final out of the game, in the other.

Lucey ended up with the minor league Jersey City Skeeters for 1921, which would end up spelling the end of his Yankees’ career. However, the move would end up later extending his MLB career, albeit in an entirely different role.

The Skeeters were led by former MLB player and manager Patsy Donovan, who had heard of Lucey’s college exploits on the mound. Donovan decided to try him as a pitcher in addition to giving him some time in the field. Over the next couple seasons, Lucey’s pitching numbers began to become genuinely good, as his hitting numbers didn’t go anywhere. Eventually, his seasons on the mound led to an invitation to 1925 spring training from the Boston Red Sox.

Boston would sign Lucey and after some more solid innings in the minors, called him up. On April 23rd, he made his pitching debut, throwing a third of an inning in a loss. Through his first three appearances, Lucey hadn’t allowed a run in five innings. That led to the Red Sox giving him a start on May 21st. That didn’t go as well.

Against the White Sox, Lucey lasted just 1.1 innings, getting knocked out after allowing three earned runs and four in total. After a scoreless outing a week later against his former Yankees teammates, he got a second start on June 2nd. He made it one out further than his first start, but the damage was way worse. Lucey gave up eight runs in 1.2 innings against the Athletics. Following one last relief outing, he ERA settled at 9.82 in 11 innings, with his WHIP nearing three.

That would be the end of his MLB pitching career, but he did return to the field for a couple games. He got the start at shortstop in three other games, but failed to make a good impression at the plate. He did manage to pick up two hits over the course of the season, but his career .286 OBP wasn’t any more inspiring than his pitching stats.

Lucey would play a couple more seasons in the minors, primarily as a pitcher, but would never make it back to the big leagues.

On paper, a good two-way player is an exciting prospect. They just have to, you know, be able to do both things.