White Sox' southpaw catcher-third baseman is a baseball rarity
A lot of people who sit in director's chairs in Hollywood are convinced that Manager Tony LaRussa of the Chicago White Sox, if he had the chance, would cast Orson Welles as Peter Pan!
The reason they have reached this conclusion is that LaRussa, an independent thinker, has chosen to ignore baseball's unwritten law that says you never use a left-hander at either third base or catcher.
Several times this year Tony has employed defensive specialist and part-time first baseman Mike Squires in just that way, usually in the late innings. Twice he has even started Squires at third - and both times White Sox pitchers have turned in shutout victories.
The case against using a left-hander at third is that he might be handcuffed by slowly hit balls down the line, particularly bunts, which often place him in awkward positions from which to throw. The supposed problem for a southpaw behind the plate is that anytime a right-handed hitter is up, he must compensate for the batter's obstruction whenever it becomes necessary to throw to second base.
''Nonsense,'' says Squires, pointing out that a right-handed catcher has the same problem, if not quite as frequently, anytime a left-handed batter is up there.
''Actually catching is easier in some ways than third base because everything is right in front of you,'' Mike said. ''The tough part is finding a mitt that feels comfortable on my right hand because there just aren't that many to choose from.''
As for having to handle bunts at third base, Squires says that so far nobody has tested him, except in spring training.
''In Florida, I'm one-for-two on bunts,'' he said. ''But the guy who reached against me laid down a perfect bunt. A right-hander wouldn't have gotten the ball either. Anyway that possibility is something that I am very aware of, and I think most opposing players figure it's better for them to hit away than try to bunt when the situation doesn't really call for it.''
LaRussa launched his experiment last season, and when the statisticians got through checking, it turned out Squires was the first left-handed thrower to play third base in the majors in 47 years. When he was asked why he had decided to put Mike in such a spot, Tony replied:
''When you're a manager, you're always thinking of ways in which to improve your ball club. While Squires maybe doesn't have enough tools to play regularly, he does have exceptional quickness and a great attitude.
''Sometimes you need an extra bat in your lineup, and several times last year Mike came up with important hits for us. Also, I know how much the man wants to play, and every day we've got him taking between 50 and 100 balls at third base in infield practice.''
Questioned about a recent play in a game against the California Angels in which Squires got only the lead runner in what looked like a routine third-to-second to first double play, LaRussa said:
''Don't blame Mike for that one because it wasn't his fault. He got the ball to second base in plenty of time. What happened was that our regular second baseman wasn't in the lineup that day and his replacement was slow getting the ball out of his glove in time to make the relay.''
Squires, one of a handful of major leaguers with more walks than strikeouts, first learned he'd be playing a lot more third base this year when LaRussa telephoned him in January.
''I think Tony already knew I'd go along, but was just calling to make sure, '' said Mike, who has also made one appearance as a relief pitcher this season. ''The way I looked at the situation was that in addition to playing first base and being the club's designated hitter sometimes, now I was being presented with other options.
''I'm in favor of anything that gets me more at bats, because it's tough to hit big league pitching if you don't see it fairly regularly. Oh, you work in the batting cage or against pitching machines, but it's just not the same as hitting under game conditions. As for the fielding, I've always felt comfortable at third base. Catching is tougher because I don't get a chance to practice it much. But in emergencies I know I can handle that, too.''
Other left-handed throwers who played one or the other of these positions include first baseman Dale Long, who caught two games for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1958, and Joe Kuehl, who moved from first to third for one game with the old Washington Senators in 1936.
Neither Long nor Kuehl, however, could even be called semi-regular backup men at these positions - at least not in the same sense as Mike Squires.