Joe Mather's Position Switch Not Uncommon

Joe Mather's move to the infield might be a rare path for some but the St. Louis Cardinals have made this move before.

Though more attention is being paid to Skip Schumaker, the St. Louis Cardinals Joe Mather is making a switch of his own. The 26-year-old is being asked to hold down third base while the incumbent, Troy Glaus, is out with a shoulder ailment. When Mather was drafted out of Mountain Pointe High School, he was a shortstop but he was soon being moved to the hot corner. Due to minor league depth, Mather was moved to the outfield and has not played the third base since 2004 in the Midwest League.

When it was announced that Glaus would miss the beginning of the season, manager Tony La Russa first thought of Mather to fill the void. Others, like myself, thought that Memphis Redbird David Freese would be the natural fit. But Freese would get only one at-bat due to an Achilles injury this spring and Mather quickly takes advantage. The Arizona native is hitting .269/.290/.423 while playing solid defense and has positioned himself as the Cardinals starting third baseman when the regular season starts on April 6.

The move to the infield from outfield might be rare but it is not in the history of the Cardinal organization. Throughout the decades, the team has asked its players to make this move.

Pepper Martin started his career playing shortstop and second base in the minors. When he eventually made it to the majors, he would play the outfield for his first couple seasons in St. Louis. He would move to third during the 1933 season and put together on of his best seasons of his career. The Wild Horse of the Osage hit .316/.387/.456 with eight home runs and 57 RBIs, good enough for his first All-Star Game appearance and fifth place in the MVP voting. That season, he made 25 errors at third.

Curt Flood signed originally with the Cincinnati Reds as an outfielder but the team decided to convert him to third base early in his minor league career. As most fans know, Flood would eventually be traded to the Cardinals. Legend has it the Cardinals lined up the third baseman, Flood, along side their centerfielder, Ken Boyer. Management decided it made more sense for Boyer to move back to third and Flood gets a shot at his centerfielder job. The move most definitely worked. Both went on to become Cardinal legends and help the team to multiple World Series.

Cardinal broadcaster Mike Shannon was a rifled arm right fielder before the Cardinals traded Charley Smith for Roger Maris. Unfortunately for Shannon, Maris also played right field and brought a much more productive bat to the lineup. Fortunately, third base was now open due to Smith's departure. Shannon had never played anywhere in the infield in his time in St. Louis but he would help his hometown team to two pennants while manning the hot corner. In the field, Shannon made 29 errors in his first season at third base while lowering his totals to 21 and 22 during the next two seasons.

It is a little known fact that Reggie Smith came up through the Minnesota Twins organization as a shortstop. Eventually, the Boston Red Sox would take Smith from the Twins during the Rule 5 draft. In 1967, he would be the Red Sox starting second baseman during the first week of the season for a team that eventually won the American League pennant. His career path would eventually lead him to St. Louis where he would be a sweet hitting outfielder. In 1976, he played 13 games at third base for the Cardinals. In 44 chances that season, he did not make an error.

Another excellent athlete like Mather, Andy Van Slyke played third base during his time at Triple-A and made over 30 appearances at the hot corner for the Cardinals during both the 1983 and 1984 seasons. He would later be traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates where he would win five straight Gold Gloves as a premier centerfielder.

Besides asking its outfielders to make the move, the Cardinals have also asked its backstops to make the move.

After Shannon's career had ended the Cardinals had a hole in its' lineup. Instead of looking outside the organization for his replacement, the team looked behind the plate. Catcher Joe Torre was a solid defensive catcher who possessed a superb bat. He would have no problem taking to his new position. Torre was named to the All-Star Game four straight times. In his first full season at the position, 1971, he was named the National League MVP after hitting .363/.421/.555 with 24 home runs and 137 RBIs.

Coming up through the minor leagues, catcher Todd Zeile established himself as one of the top prospects in baseball. During his first full year in the big leagues, the 1990 season, Zeile would catch 105 games. After the season, his manager happened to be Joe Torre wanted to get catcher Tom Pagnozzi into the lineup. Plus, having experienced a similar move himself, Torre new that moving Zeile from behind the plate would be a more productive hitter and have a longer lasting career if he gave up the "tools of ignorance." So Zeile moved to third base for the 1991 season and hit .280/.353/.412 while making 25 errors in the field.

Contact me at dustin@whiteyball.com.

 

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