A full look at the overall performance characteristics for pinch-hitting in the pre-WWII era will have to wait (team-by-team stats), but several of the more prominent "bench kings" can be given some face time here.
By and large, the top "pinchers" in the time when offense spiked were those folks who had some issues with the glove. In 1930, of course, everyone hit, and though run scoring did slack off somewhat it was still an above-average proposition.
|Smead Jolley, who like Babe Herman denied that he'd ever been conked on the|
noggin by a fly ball. "It hit me on the shoulder," he insisted.
Jolley is the most remembered of these, due to a series of tales about his spectacular ineptitude in the outfield. (Bill Nowlin summarizes these in Smead's SABR biography.) Given how well he could hit, it's a bit surprising that some team didn't think to keep Jolley around as a pinch-hitter after he had proved all-too-suspect in the field.
1931 was a fine years' worth of pinch-hitting for ol'Smead, however. (It's also odd that so many of the players in this odd-man-out category were truly odd as well--often the most colorful of all the hick/cracker types who were legion in the game at this time.) Despite its inherent statistical insignificance, Jolley's five consecutive pinch-hits (four of which were doubles) make for an oddly thrilling feat (though not quite as protracted as the fictional one we chronicled in the previous post). In a world with an increasingly saturated media presence, Jolley's five straight pinch hits would warrant a goodly amount of airplay. (For the year as a whole, he was 14-for-30 "in the pinch.")
|Dave Harris, who anticipated (sort of...) the Bob Marley and the Wailers|
song "I Shot the Sheriff" by claiming that he'd really only been "the deputy"...
Over in the NL, Red Lucas had a nice sequence of yearly pinch-hit totals from 1929-31: 13 in '29, 14 in '30, and 15 in '31. 1930 was Red's best year at the plate: he hit .336 and slugged his only career pinch-hit homer (a slap hitter, he had just three lifetime jacks). As discussed in an earlier segment, Lucas held the record for pinch hits and pinch-hit ABs for more than twenty years after his retirement in 1938.
The team in the early thirties with the deepest crop of pinch-hitters, however, had to be the 1930 St. Louis Cardinals. The complex (and often aleatory) platooning practiced by manager Gabby Street didn't seem to be doing much for the team--going into August the Cards were just a .500 team. But the lofty hitting in the league that year leveled out the competition, so that they weren't that far from first place (only 10 games out). They proceeded to win 44 of their last 57 games, the fourth best such performance in baseball history. And they had a raft of good pinch-hitters on their bench, depending upon whom Street wasn't playing: on any given day, you'd have George Watkins (.373), Ray Blades (.396), Showboat Fisher (.374), Gus Mancuso (.366), Ernie Orsatti (.321), or Jimmie Wilson (.318) available to hit from the bench.
|George Puccinelli, achieving "International (League) dominance" in 1935...|
But in 1930, Pooch had a "featured bit" role with the Cardinals. Called up in July (after hitting .396 in the Three-I League...) when the team was in its doldrums, Puccinelli made his third pinch-hit appearance on July 21st vs. Brooklyn. The game was tied 5-5, in the top of the eighth when "Pooch" hit a three-run pinch homer off Watty Clark to give the Cards an 8-5 lead. There were a total of three pinch-hit HR hit in this game: Jim Bottomley and Harvey Hendrick hit the other two--with Hendrick's three-run blast wresting victory for the Dodgers, who prevailed by a score of 9-8.
After sitting around for ten days, Puccinelli got a pinch-hit assignment on August 3. The Cards had jumped out to a 4-0 lead over the Reds, but Cincinnati had chipped away and now trailed 5-4. Pooch blasted a two-run homer off Jakie May to give St. Louis a 10-4 lead and kickstart a long, hot summer of sizzling baseball for the Cards. All in all, Puccinelli was 4-for-8 off the bench and while he was "just" 9-for-16 for the year (!!) when St. Louis blitzed its way into the post-season, the Cards thought enough of his performance to add him to their World Series roster.
The next spring, however, Pooch got things ass-backward and screwed himself by dropping three fly balls during a spring training game. It cost him a shot at a big league job that year, and it clearly affected his play. He moped through the '31 season in the minors, hitting under .300 for the first time in his career: 'twas something of a Rubicon for him.