Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Gimmick or No?

manute_bol_n_muggsy_boguesI have another confession to make; I love the sports oddity.

Actually, I am guessing every last one of us does. Who wasn't extra intrigued by Muggsy Bogues at 5'3 and Manute Bol at 7'7 playing on the same Washington Bullets team? How about when Mike Ditka lined the Fridge up at RB for the '85 Bears? Or, who didn't spend a few moments of their childhood interested in the stories about the great Pete Gray who played major league baseball with one arm during World War II and Eddie Gaedel who was a clear gimmick when he drew a walk at 3'7 back in 1951?

Part of being obsessed with sports as a kid with too much time on your hands is searching for the ways to get ahead by utilizing a special player or scenario that is not covered in the rule books. How many times have I been asked why the NHL has not considered putting a sumo wrestler in net to play goalie? Heck, wasn't the NFL career of Renaldo Nehemiah pretty much Bill Walsh thinking outside the box?

Which brings us to the New York Yankees, who today finish their time in Arlington for this year against Derek "Brick" Holland, and the Texas Rangers.


Well, I must tell you, it has nothing to do with the 2009 New York Yankees. But, perhaps the 2011 New York Yankees? Perhaps.

To you that eat, sleep, and worship baseball (I am writing this for Inside Corner, so that may mean everyone reading this) then you might already know the story of Pat Venditte a 23 year old pitcher who this morning wakes up as a member of the Charleston Riverdogs of the South Atlantic League.

Honestly, I wasn't very familiar with the guy until I read the Rick Reilly story on him in ESPN the Magazine from a few weeks ago...
His name is Pat Venditte, he's 23, and he's pro baseball's only ambidextrous pitcher. This living piece of history is more than a YouTube star; he's throwing almost daily for the Charleston RiverDogs, the Yankees' Single-A club. And he's not just throwing: He's blowing through hitters like a Cub Scout through Skittles. At one point in April, the closer's ERA was 0.00 in 6 1/3 innings, and he hadn't blown a save in five games.


There are a lot of "never befores" with Venditte. The pitching coach has to file two reports: Venditte the lefty and Venditte the righty. And he should; they're two different pitchers. The righty has a 90 mph fastball, a curve and a nice change. The lefty comes sidearm and has a murderous slider and a change. He's a five-pitch pitcher!

That's right. He throws left and he throws right. And according to his numbers that you can find with the links above, you will see that his performance is phenomenal since he turned pro.

He has pitched in 18 games so far this year for 20 innings for 2 wins and 13 saves. In those 20 innings, he has surrendered 2 earned runs (0.90 ERA) and has struck out 31 batters and walked just 1!

Yes, he is really old for that level of A ball, but he was in the 2008 draft after pitching for Creighton University for 4 years. And yes, his stuff is not really that great according to baseball scouts. The Great Jim Callis from Baseball America said this before the season started about Venditte:
He has some talent, but he's not a huge prospect and will have to prove himself every step of the way. His stuff is fringy from the right side and he works from a low arm angle from the left side. He's a great story, and it's hard not to root for him.

But as a resident sports dork, I cannot get past the applications that seem to be endless. Pitch count? Doesn't matter as much. Arm injury? Doesn't matter as much. Work load? Doesn't matter as much. Switch hitters? Pinch hitters?

What if he can get to the bigs? What a weapon. For the first time in my life, I would go to a game specifically hoping to see someone from the opponent's bullpen. I have to tell you I find myself checking his stats each morning and wondering if the Yankees have bigger plans for the guy, especially since they drafted him 2 drafts in a row (2007 and 2008).

It certainly brings back memories of former Texas Rangers pitcher Greg Harris who is the only guy in over 100 years to pitch with both hands in the big leagues. But, he did it once.

But just before his retirement, while pitching for the Expos in 1995, the veteran hurler finally became the only twentieth-century pitcher to throw from both sides of the mound. After Harris (pitching righty) retired Reggie Sanders to start off the ninth inning of a game against the Cincinnati Reds on September 28, 1995, he turned around to face the left-handed Hal Morris.

Harris issued a free pass, thus becoming the first ambidextrous major-league pitcher since Elton "Ice Box" Chamberlain of the American Association in 1888. Nerve-wracked, he stayed a southpaw and induced a ground-out from Eddie Taubensee, closing out the inning by retiring Bret Boone as a righty. The last pitcher to use both hands in a pro game had been Bert Campaneris, who did so in 1962 while playing for Daytona Beach in the Florida State League.

Now, if you are interested in Venditte, try to keep it down. Baseball people will roll their eyes. Like Lou Gorman kept Greg Harris from pitching with both hands when he played with the Red Sox, most baseball minds do see it as a side-show. But what if it could work?

You got to see this 2007 college profile on him from CBS:

Here is a story about a wild scenario from his wikipedia page with the video below...
On June 19, 2008, in his first minor league appearance with the Staten Island Yankees against their crosstown rivals the Brooklyn Cyclones (the respective Yankees and Mets affiliates are the only two minor league teams in New York City), Venditte pitched a scoreless ninth inning for a Yankees win. The appearance is notable because there was an unusual incident before Venditte faced the last Cyclone batter; the batter, Ralph Henriquez, is a switch-hitter, and upon choosing to bat left- or right-handed (with Venditte subsequently choosing to pitch with the same hand), Henriquez would then go to the other side of the plate (and adjust his shin guard--which is worn on the front leg when a batter takes his stance) to regain the advantage. After this had happened several times the teams appealed to the umpiring crew, which ruled that the batter must first select from which side of the plate he intended to hit, and that the pitcher would then be allowed to declare with which arm he would pitch. Venditte subsequently struck out a very frustrated Henriquez (who slammed his bat against the dirt in anger) to end the game.

Crazy, eh? But, tell me you aren't interested at all. I dare you.

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