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Jerry Terrell

August 11, 2010

Jerry Terrell made the Topps rookie all-star team in 1973, then began experimenting the following year with switch-hitting, taking up batting from the left side. This card provides some rare evidence of that brief, doomed experiment, both in the photograph on the front and in the listing on the back (“Bats: Both”). By midseason, a prolonged slump prompted Terrell to junk switch-hitting and go back to the way he was before, a right-handed hitter.

That season, Terrell’s chances at the plate dwindled, but he made himself useful by playing several positions and appearing more times as a pinch-runner than anyone ever had before in a major league season. Unfortunately, in terms of his legacy, if such a thing as the record for most pinch-running appearances in a single season can be considered a legacy, 1974 was to pinch-running what 1998 was to home runs, and in 1974 both Larry Milbourne (Astros) and the Lord of All Pinch-Runners, Herb Washington (A’s), surpassed Terrell on the all-time single-season list. A look at Brandon Isleib’s interesting 2007 Baseball Prospectus article on the history of pinch-running suggests that the cardboard gods era (which dawned in 1974 and which is an absurdly demarcated span of time in that it derives solely from the intersection of baseball and my childhood) was the golden age of pinch-running. The plethora of 1970s fast guys on the list of all-time appearances as a pinch-runner is of course propped up to a large extent by Oakland’s attempt to elevate pinch-running to a level of importance in the game equal to relief pitching (the latter an element of the game that the A’s also leaned on with uncommon gusto but that, in contrast to pinch-running, actually led both to wins and to changing how the game was played). But the presence of non-A’s on the all-time pinch-running list—Terrell, Willie Wilson, Miguel Dilone, Mike Jorgenson, Ted Martinez—suggests that managers in the 1970s were more willing to yank a slow guy for a faster guy to try to eke out a run.

Runs were a little tougher to come by back in those days, and I’m glad that lately things seem to be trending back closer toward the average runs-scored-per-game marks of the 1970s. It’s better when a guy like Jerry Terrell can make a difference, and it stands to reason that he has a better chance to do that during a tight 3-2 game than in an 11-6 slugfest. He can fill in defensively all over the diamond, he can pinch run, and he can—I have no evidence of this but I am as sure of it as I am of my name—lay down a good bunt. He had a mind trained on the little things that could possibly provide the winning edge in a game, as shown by his later career as an advance scout (he helped the Royals win the 1985 World Series in this capacity) and by a rule-breaking incident that occurred during his lone season of switch-hitting, 1974. From a 2002 Baseball Digest article by Rich Marazzi:

Umpires are also given the authority to be mind-readers to determine intent via 4.06(a) that stipulates a batter cannot call “Time” or employ any other word or phrase or commit any act while the ball is alive and in play for the obvious purpose of trying to make the pitcher commit a balk.

Minnesota’s Jerry Terrell snubbed his nose at the rule and beat the system on the night of May 29, 1974, when the Twins hooked up with the Red Sox in Boston.

The score was tied 4-4 in the top of the 13th inning. Minnesota had runners at the corners and one out with Terrell at the plate. Red Sox pitcher Diego Segui became confused while in his delivery and balked when he noticed Terrell reaching down in the batter’s box for some dirt. Terrell had learned the trick when he played amateur baseball and admitted so. Because of the balk, both runners advanced one base, giving the Twins a 5-4 victory.

Although the thinking among many umpires is that big league pitchers should know enough not to stop their windups and balk in such situations, Terrell’s deceitful act created an unfair advantage and the balk should have been nullified. The umps could have also ejected Jerry from the game.

 

Terrell never tried such a thing again, as far as I can tell, possibly because of a change that occurred in his life the year this card came out. “The Lord has been in control of my life since 1975,” Terrell said in a 2002 “where are they now” article. A few years later, in 1980, Terrell’s religious devotion was cited as the reason for his decision to cast the one dissenting vote in the leaguewide ballot proposing a player strike. (The other players did not resent Terrell’s decision, respecting the sincerity of Terrell’s beliefs, according to an entry on Terrell in the always excellent Baseball Biography Project series.)

By the time the players acted on their vote and went on strike, in 1981, Terrell had been released from his last major league team, the Royals. His biggest moment with the Royals had been a testament to his greatest skills—his versatility and his willingness to do whatever the team needed: During a blowout loss in 1979, he pitched the ninth inning and retired the Yankees on three pitches (grabbing what has to be a share of the all-time record for fewest pitches thrown in a complete inning). The Royals fans gave him an ovation for that effort, and in the bottom of the inning, when he drove in a meaningless run, they gave him another ovation.

We’re all mathematically eliminated. The game is already lost. Why not cheer utility man?

14 comments

  1. Two words to irrefutably endorse the value of the pinch runner-Dave Roberts.


  2. As a Red Sox fan, I could not agree more.

    I tell you who gets left out of that Dave Roberts moment though: Kevin Millar. He Drew The Walk. Without that, Dave Roberts is still sitting on the pine, and I’m a lot sadder in my daily life.


  3. It’s funny how in the 70’s before things like ESPN and the internet, players like Terrell were still fairly recognizable even though they didn’t have much of a career in terms of stats. By the way, the play where Terrell forced a balk is cited every year in the training of high school umpires to warn against awarding a balk for something that is caused by the batter.


  4. I guess it would be possible, say, if a pitcher allowed a single to the leadoff hitter and then was replaced by a reliever, and then that reliever’s next pitch produced a double play, and the following pitch gets the next batter out, then it’s conceivable that a pitcher can get credit for an inning pitched with only 2 pitches. Of course if a reliever induced a triple play on his first pitch that would be an inning pitched on a single pitch.

    But I suppose the record for fewest pitches in a complete inning is the combined total of pitches thrown by all pitchers.


  5. I used to get The Sporting News when I was a kid and one of my favorite sections was Ask The Umpire where people wrote in strange baseball rule-related questions. One of the questions that stuck with me was “What is the minimum number of pitches a pitcher could throw in a complete game?” and the answer was interesting. I can’t remember if it was 8 or 9 pitches but the basic premise was based on a one-pitch inning: the leadoff batter each inning would hit a first-pitch triple. Each successive “pitch,” the runner would try to steal home, but the batter would interfere with the play. The batter would be called out by the ump for interference, the runner would be sent back to 3rd and the “pitch” wouldn’t count. This steal-and-interference would happen 2 more times for 3 outs and only 1 pitch. So with this, you can do it with 9 pitches. I think the answer was 8 but I can’t remember the end-game logic. I think it had something to do with a road team on the losing end only having to go 8 innings


  6. jbavi- I think I remember that from Baseball Digest. I’m pretty sure the answer is 9, because the losing team would have to give up a run in addition to the 8 pitches that end up as triples.

    I think I remember Tippy (or maybe Denny) Martinez picking three runners off in an inning for the Orioles some time around 1983. I don’t know if they were inherited runners, but it is possible for a reliever to get three outs without throwing a pitch.


  7. “A few years later, in 1980, Terrell’s religious devotion was cited as the reason for his decision to cast the one dissenting vote in the leaguewide ballot proposing a player strike. ”

    I’m not sure I understand the logic of being unable to go on strike because of the God. I sure as Hell would have resented him had I been a player.


  8. The way I always learned it was that you can throw 0 pitches in a 9-inning game. Go to the mouth, ump calls a ball. Do it three more times, then pick the guy off first. Repeat 26 more times. I feel like this is one of my personal “oldest baseball discussions” along with the name-chain one: “Tommy John, John Denny, Denny McClain….” I’m still waiting for a guy with a first name of McClain to make the bigs. Or be born. I later came up with a two-man loop of Thomas Gorman and Gorman Thomas.


  9. Tommy John, John Denny, Denny Doyle, Doyle Alexander, Alexander….?


  10. Alexander Rodriguez.


  11. Alexander Cole, Cole Hamels, ?


  12. I admire players like Terrell that are crafty.

    Off topic:
    There are stats for players with highest BA with bases loaded. Pat Tabler of the Indians was one of the top 3. (i’ll relay interesting story on how he should be number 1 if he gets his own category)

    Are there any stats on what PITCHER is most effective in bases loaded situations?


  13. I was surprised to what a good base stealer Terrell is.

    Late in a game, if the runner isn’t being held and the runner advances without a throw, is that a stolen base? Is that called catcher indifference?

    Are there any stats on what player has the most SB without a throw?
    The catchers with most catcher indifference?


  14. Catcher / defensive indifference is in the rule book. I have no idea how often it is actually used, but I believe it is at the discretion of the official scorer. I would imagine that anytime a player is not being held at 1B during a blowout and takes 2B without a throw, the scorer would probably not award a steal… But I have nothing tangible to back this up.



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