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posted: 4/20/2014 8:00 AM

No other sport does it quite like baseball

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  • White Sox infielder Leury Garcia now has something in common with Ted Williams, Wade Boggs and Jose Canseco. All of them had a chance to pitch in a major league game.

      White Sox infielder Leury Garcia now has something in common with Ted Williams, Wade Boggs and Jose Canseco. All of them had a chance to pitch in a major league game.
    Associated Press

 
By Matt Spiegel
Special to the Daily Herald

So … um … anybody know how to pitch?

On Wednesday, Robin Ventura took a look down his bench, asked a few questions, and then added Leury Garcia's name to a huge, fun list.

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According to baseball-reference.com, Garcia became the 501st non-pitcher with a pitching appearance since 1870.

But that includes some young pitchers who ended up as hitters, such as Babe Ruth and Rick Ankiel.

So we go deeper, we learn 330 have appeared as a pitcher in two games or fewer.

Some memories flood.

The first one I picture is Sal Bando, going 3 innings for the Brewers in 1981. Mel Allen told me about it on "This Week In Baseball."

Jose Canseco once badgered Kevin Kennedy into letting him take the mound, promptly blew out his elbow, and needed Tommy John surgery.

White Sox fans can picture Dewayne Wise a couple times, or Caspar Wells last June.

Cubs fans probably think of Doug Dascenzo: 5 career IP, 3 hits, no earned runs. Sign him up. Last Cubs player to do it was Joe Mather in 2012.

I remember reading about Honus Wagner going 5 ⅓ innings to finish a game. But he's not the only Hall of Famer to do so. Wade Boggs pitched twice, once throwing nothing but his knuckleball, which he'd boasted about for years. Tris Speaker threw an inning. Ted Williams threw two.

There is virtually no correlation to this feat in any other sport. Emergency quarterback is closest, but even in the unlikelihood the first 2 or 3 are not available, he can just hand it off. Plus, wildcat formations have made non-QBs behind center look commonplace.

The NHL has emergency backup goalies, which are good for their own stories. The Sabres had to call on their "Director of Hockey Technology" when they traded Ryan Miller two months ago.

I'll always remember a rookie Magic Johnson playing center in his first NBA Finals when Kareem was hurt. But that's just a star a bit out of position.

This is the key competitive conflict of baseball being carried out by someone already on the team who probably just raised his hand first.

I want to be in the dugout for those conversations. "I struck out 10 in high school once." "My slider is as good as Sale's." "I promise I won't Canseco myself."

I like knowing that in baseball, like soccer, once you're gone, you're gone.

Better know who that emergency catcher is. Better know who might be able to play first base in a pinch, like the Yankees Carlos Beltran did for the first time in his career this week. I love when managers put a reliever in left, bring in another for a batter or two, and then put that short-term outfielder back on the mound.

It takes all hands, gloves, and arms on deck to win or survive a game.

The realizations of a player's unknown flexibility can lead to more weirdness down the road.

Bert Campaneris was the first man to play all nine positions in a single game in 1965 during a September promotion by his bad Kansas City A's team.

Cesar Tovar was second in 1968, striking out Reggie Jackson in his inning pitched for the Twins.

For some reason, there were two in 2000: Scott Sheldon of the Rangers, and Detroit's Shane Halter.

But none since.

If the Cubs are toast in August, playing a meaningless game against another non-contender, Emilio Bonifacio ought to be allowed to play all nine positions. Have some fun.

It might be all we have.

Non-pitchers pitching almost always happens in a blowout. But suddenly everyone's interested, and probably smiling.

And sometimes a guy like Orioles slugger Chris Davis throws 2 innings, shows a 91 mph fastball with a killer change-up, and gets a win. The losing pitcher happened to be Red Sox outfielder Darnell McDonald. Yup, two in one game.

The Orioles made the playoffs in that 2012 season, beating out Tampa and the Angels for the final wild card spot.

These games matter, even when Leury Garcia pitches.

I thought his sinker looked pretty good.

• Matt Spiegel co-hosts "The McNeil & Spiegel Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670.

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