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He Could Do It All!

Cesar was a real jack of all trades. He quickly got the nickname “Mr. Versatility.”

How versatile was he? He was only the second major league baseball player to play all nine positions in a single game, and he did it on this date, September 22, 1968.

Cesar Tovar played for five major league teams over a 12-year career, 8 of those years for the Minnesota Twins. (The other teams were the Philadelphia Phillies, the Texas Rangers, the Oakland Athletics, and the New York Yankees.) Rather than kick back during the off season, he also played in the Venezuela Winter League–for 26 seasons.

Tovar’s is not a household name. But he was no slouch as a player. In fact, in his 1,448 major league games, he got 1,546 hits, averaging more than one hit per game. Not bad. His lifetime batting average was only .278, still not bad and better than many others. What’s more, as a lead-off hitter, he had a knack for getting on base the hard way. He was hit by pitches 88 times. (He probably was hit more than that, but some umpires thought he wasn’t doing enough to get out of the way and called many of those HBPs strikes.)

Even more impressive to me is the fact that Tovar struck out in only 7.3 percent of his at bats. (Babe Ruth’s strike-out percentage was 15.8 percent, and Mickey Mantle’s was a whopping 21.1 percent.) Tovar was a consistent hitter, too. He broke up five no-hitters.

No one could accuse Tovar of laziness on the base paths. Although he was successful in “only” 68 percent of his attempts to steal bases (not considered great for a lead-off hitter, they say), he remained a threat, especially to steal home. He and teammate Rod Carew once combined to steal five bases in one inning, each of them even taking home. Tovar once stole home as part of an almost unheard-of triple steal!

The next statistics are sobering and say a lot about how America’s values have been turned upside down. Tovar began his career in the majors playing for the Twins with a salary of $6,000. His total income in his eight years with the team amounted to $198,000. For 12 years in the big leagues, he made a grand total of $312,000. Compare that to players’ salaries today! Signing bonuses are larger than Tovar’s total income in the majors!

But back to the reason I’m writing about Cesar Tovar today, September 22. Forty-nine years ago today, Tovar became only the second major leaguer to play all nine positions in the same game. (Bert Campaneris was the first to do it in 1965.)

The Twins were mired in the cellar, and attendance was dismal. Their general manager decided that a stunt might help a little; it certainly couldn’t hurt. So he announced that the Twins’ starting pitcher against the Oakland Athletics on September 22 would be Cesar Tovar.

Tovar took the mound and the lead-off batter stepped in. It was none other than Bert Campaneris. He proceeded to pitch a scoreless inning. He struck out the great home run-hitting Reggie Jackson. But he also hit a batter and then committed a balk. But the A’s didn’t score!

The next inning, Tovar moved to catcher. Then, through the next four innings, he played around the infield, counterclockwise from third to first. In the final three innings, he played the outfield, from left to center to right.

Cesar Tovar has been described as “speedy, enthusiastic” and “an all-out competitor,” and he was all of those things. But on this day in history, he certainly lived up to his nickname–“Mr. Versatility.”

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

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