Has there even been a switch pitcher?

Usually freak baseball stats or stories begin something like this: Born in County Cork, Ireland in 1859, Tony Mullane was baseball’s earliest switch pitcher, meaning he could pitch either right- or left-handed. And indeed this story begins that way as well, but notice the modifier: Mullane was the earliest not the only switch pitcher. While a rarity—Major League Baseball’s official historian counts only three pitchers that have changed arms during a game—the elusive switch pitcher has been spotted as recently as 1995.

But first, back to County Cork. Mullane left Ireland at five and debuted in the major leagues with the Detroit Wolverines in 1881. Nicknamed the “Apollo of the Box,” Mullane became known as something of a dandy, and was a formidable amateur boxer. Playing without a glove through most of his career, Mullane bragged about his ability to pick off potential base stealers and led the league twice in shutouts. A second ambidextrous pitcher, Elon “Ice Box” Chamberlain, arrived on the scene in 1888.

Then all went quiet. While switch pitchers flitted about the sport’s periphery, no player pitched with both arms in a major league game for a century. Some big leaguers, including Tug McGraw and Boo Ferriss threw with both arms but never did so in a league game. Wins were too important to risk testing your “switching stuff” during the season. Then came the 1995 Montreal Expos.

Sitting more than 24 games behind in the NL East at the end of the season, the team had little to lose by trying out the novelty. So in the ninth inning of a losing game against Cincinnati, manager Felipe Alou gave the OK to relief pitcher Greg Harris, a natural right-hander who had been dieing to test his left arm on major league talent. Harris went southpaw after retiring the first batter. He switched his glove hand thanks to a custom-designed, six-fingered glove he could wear on either hand. As a lefty, he gave up a walk before getting a batter to ground out. He then switched back to record the final out. The glove is in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Thanks to James in South Orange for the question. Keep them coming.


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