#Hot Corner

Weaver the Innovator

From the "Hey Bill" section of Bill James Online:

My favorite Earl Weaver story ... during one season, when the Orioles were on the road, he would not have Mark Belanger in the starting lineup, but would leadoff another player (I think it was Royle Stillman) and list him as the shortstop, and then put Belanger in the game in the bottom of the first. This way, he got an at-bat out of a good on base guy instead of Belanger, sort of an inverse pinch hitter, but still got Belanger's defense from the start of the game. Belanger hated him for it, but I think he said Stillman got on base something like 8 of the 14 times he tried it. Then he said that at the end of the year, baseball outlawed the practice, requiring players in the starting lineup to play one full inning. Bill, do you know much about this, and is Weaver's move still against the rules?
Asked by: joeashp

Bill James: Man, I don't remember ANY of that. I don't remember any rule requiring players in the starting lineup to play an inning of defense, and I don't remember Weaver doing that.
Some of it seems to check out a little bit. Royle Stillman was a good on-base guy, with a minor league on base percentage of .399. Stillman did start six games between September 10 and September 17, 1975, getting just one plate appearance a game.
I don't understand why baseball would prohibit THAT but permit the annoying practice of bringing in a left-handed reliever to face one batter. But again, I can't confirm that they DID prohibit it.

According to research by Jeff Burd for SABR, the American League did NOT outlaw this maneuver, but they did put the kibosh on another brilliant Weaver-ism:

In 1980, [Weaver] fell into the habit of listing [starting pitcher] Steve Stone as his designated hitter. The motivation was simple: If the opposing pitcher was knocked out of the game early, Weaver wouldn’t lose a position player if he wanted to change the DH to match up better with the reliever. It was perfectly legal, but the league passed a rule against it, citing that the stunt distorted hitting statistics.

It's hard to think of another managerial tactic as creative as these. Whitey Herzog moving pitchers between the mound and right field to keep the platoon advantage without burning a pitcher certainly qualifies, though Herzog didn't invent the practice. But that was 30 years ago. Maybe the most creative managerial maneuver of the last decade, besides Joe Maddon's wacky defensive shifts, was Tony La Russa batting his pitcher 8th, which probably says something about the state of managing today.

Anyway, leave it to Major League Baseball to punish innovation while turning a blind eye to batters stepping out of the box between pitches, or home plate collisions, or intentional walks.

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