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Seventeen players who began their careers at a position we forgot they ever played

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  May 29, 2013 12:30 PM

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In a column last week, I noted, with the usual digital cardboard evidence, that plodding White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko was actually drafted by the Dodgers as a catcher.

As one correspondent noted, perhaps it was done with the purpose of making Mike Piazza look good defensively by comparison.

The general I-had-no-idea reaction to Catcher Konerko was fun and surprising, which got me thinking about other prominent players who began their careers at a position different from the one they became known for playing.

The list is far from complete, in part because I mostly tried to keep it to ones where I could find -- again -- that cardboard evidence of the player in that unfamiliar defensive spot. The one exception I made was for Jorge Posada, probably just because it gave me an excuse to mention Dave Roberts.

Here's the list I had a blast coming up with. Share some others in the comments, or drop me a note on Twitter ...

Short-timers at shortstop


1. Chipper Jones, shortstop

It's cockamamie theory, sure, one as ridiculous as scouts judging a ballplayer by the "good face." Still, I'll always suspect that had he gone by his birth name, he wouldn't have been close to the same player. Chipper Jones? Hall of Fame lock and dude who played 49 of his 2,405 big-league games at shorstop. Larry Wayne Jones? Master of microwaving a bloomin' onion just so as the fourth-best fry cook at the 16th-best Chilli's in Jacksonville, Florida.


2. Paul Molitor, shortstop

The third choice in the 1977 draft out of the University of Minnesota, it took Molitor and his quick, flawless righthanded swing all of 64 minor-league games to reach the majors for good in '78. But the presence of another future Hall of Famer -- a kid named Yount, who had made it himself at 18 and was far superior with the glove -- necessitated a move to another position. Nice problem to have, huh? Molitor bounced from second base to third base to the outfield and eventually to DH, playing just 57 games at shortstop in his stellar 21-season career.


3. Gary Sheffield, shortstop

Yount eventually did change positions, famously winning a second American League Most Valuable Player award as a center fielder (1990) after claiming his first eight years earlier at shortstop. Yount made the move to center because of a shoulder injury before the 1985 season, which conveniently made way for a promising young Brewers shortstop. Sheffield? Nope. He came up in '88. Where have you gone, Ernie Riles?

More unusual: Catcher to second base ...


4. Craig Biggio, catcher

Can't imagine there are many players in history who played hundreds of games at three very different and distinct positions, but Biggio is one. He caught 428 big league games (including his final game in 2007, 16 years after he last donned the mask), played the outfield in 363 others (255 in center field), but spent the majority of his career at second base (1,989 games). Now that's a ballplayer who has seen the game from pretty much every angle.

... or second base to catcher?


5. Jorge Posada, second baseman

Just think -- had he not converted to catcher full-time in 1992, he might have been the Yankee failing to tag out Dave Roberts rather than failing to throw him out.

Much better at the plate than behind it


6. Dale Murphy, catcher

Actually, his career path is one that's pretty similar to Biggio's -- at least the catcher-to-center-field part. Murphy, a two-time National League Most Valuable Player and one of the nicest superstars you will ever meet, developed that mental block about throwing the ball that has derailed or stunted quite a few promising careers (Dave Engle, Mackey Sasser, even Jarrod Saltalamacchia for a time). He moved to first base briefly before Bobby Cox made him a center fielder in 1980. Decent decision, skip -- Murphy won five straight Gold Gloves from 1982-86.


7. Carlos Delgado, catcher

This card confirms that Carlos Delgado was a catcher. His baseball-reference page confirms that Carlos Delgado was a catcher. Heck, I saw Carlos Delgado as a catcher when he got off to a torrid start as a rookie with the Blue Jays in 1994. And yet I still cannot believe that Carlos Delgado, the epitome of a power-hitting first baseman, was a catcher. Just one of those things that doesn't compute.


8. Raul Ibanez, catcher

I'll be honest. I had no idea he was once a catcher until I heard it recently on an ESPN baseball podcast. Heck, I had no idea he was ever young. He's one of those guys who seems like he was 35 at birth.

Are we sure this is the same Miguel Cabrera?


9. Miguel Cabrera, shortstop

One more time: Miguel Cabrera, shortstop. That was a real thing. I suppose it's a clue to what a tremendous athlete he is at his core, that he's more than a phenomenal hitter. But can you imagine him playing shortstop today, having added a few layers to that core over the years? Actually, now that you mention it, his range probably wouldn't be a whole lot worse than Jhonny Peralta's.

Refugees of the not-so-hot corner


10. Jason Giambi, third baseman

You think watching him play third base would be scary? Imagine being a pitcher facing him while he's wielding an aluminum bat -- heck, even before he got huge by picking things up and putting them down.


11. Jeff Bagwell, third baseman

In 205 games and 710 at-bats as a Red Sox minor leaguer, Bagwell hit a total of six home runs. During the 2000 season with the Astros, Bagwell hit more than six home runs in four separate months. And in the other two months, he hit five homers in each.


12. Mark Teixeira, third baseman

Hey, remember when Hank Blalock was a future superstar? I do, vaguely -- I seem to recall Peter Gammons comparing him to George Brett. Didn't quite happen, but Blalock was the major reason Teixeira converted to first base, where he's done OK for himself.


13. Mark McGwire, third baseman

If Big Mac as a third baseman makes for a strange visual, just imagine what he looked like on the mound. As a collegian at Southern Cal, where his teammates included Randy Johnson, he went 7-5 with a sub-3.00 ERA over the 1982-83 seasons.


14. Jim Thome, third baseman

Thome actually played quite a bit of third base in the big leagues -- 491 games from 1991-96, and one game at age 40. Still, it's hard to picture Thome, the quintessential lumbering slugger, ever doing much more than slugging and lumbering. Here he is in Double A, perfecting the velcro-ball-in-the-glove trick that duped enough Eastern League umpires along the way into believing he'd actually fielded the real ball cleanly.


15. Tim Wakefield, third baseman

Yep, that is correct -- third base. Ol' Wake played 17 games at the hot corner across two levels of Single A ball in 1989. For him, it was more like the lukewarm corner. His .818 fielding percentage suggests he wasn't exactly '78 Butch Hobson, let alone vintage Brooks Robinson. Based on what we know now, I suspect that's because he was working on his knuckleball on the long throw from third to first.

He'd be in Cooperstown had he stayed at 2B


16. Tim Raines, second baseman

Then again, he was a pretty awful second baseman. And if there's justice, he's going to the Hall of Fame anyway.

And finally, from the baselines to the blue line ...


17. Claude Julien, mustached defenseman

Yeah, yeah, wrong sport. But how about this change for the no longer follicly-gifted coach, eh? Shots of Claude in his playing days will never get old.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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