With 21 pinch hits through Monday, Cubs infielder Tommy La Stella has joined an exclusive club.
In records that go back to 1908 at Baseball-Reference.com, there have been only 31 big-league seasons of 20 or more pinch hits, with 27 players posting those totals. The Rockies’ John Vander Wal set the major-league record with 28 in 1995.
La Stella tops the Cubs’ pinch-hit list, followed by Thad Bosley (1985) and Dave Clark (1997) with 20 each.
The most in Chicago baseball history also is 21. The White Sox’ Smoky Burgess had 21 pinch hits in 1966 after getting 20 in 1965.
In Burgess’ time, many teams carried players who were basically full-time pinch hitters. That roster-building strategy fell out of favor with the advent of the designated hitter in the American League and the trend toward carrying fewer position players and more pitchers in both leagues.
Steve Treder’s study in The Hardball Times in 2006 chronicled the decline of the pinch-hitting specialist, defined as playing in at least 40 games with at least 80 percent of plate appearances as a pinch hitter. Treder found an average of .144 specialists per AL team in 1950-59 and .120 in 1960-69, with the number declining to .067 when the DH began in 1973 and hitting .000 by 1990-99.
The high point in the National League was .217 pinch-hitting specialists per team in 1980-89, but that plummeted to .088 in 1990-99 and .067 in 2000-05. Specialists are luxuries that can’t be afforded on modern benches.
La Stella has pinch-hit in 75 of his 106 games. He also has played third base and second base and even pitched once. As a pinch hitter, he is hitting .323 with a .397 on-base percentage, a .431 slugging percentage and an .828 OPS. Overall, he’s at .273/.343/.333/.677.
Here’s a rundown of other Chicago players with 20 or more pinch hits in a season:
Burgess: A catcher for most of his 18 seasons, starting with the Cubs in 1949, Burgess was pure bat by the time he got to the Sox late in 1964.
In 1966, at age 39, Burgess went 21-for-66 in 78 plate appearances as a pinch hitter, averaging .313/.413/.388/.801. In one game as a catcher, he was 0-for-1 with a walk and a strikeout. The previous season, he was 20-for-65, .308/.403/.462/.864 as a pinch hitter and 2-for-12 as a catcher.
Bosley: A backup outfielder for the Cubs in 1983-85, Bosley also had a three-year stop with the Sox in 1978-80 in a 14-year career.
In 1985, Bosley’s 20-for-60, .333/.379/.550/.929 as a pinch hitter was part of a solid season in which he had 202 plate appearances overall, hitting .328/.391/.511/.902. He played 35 games in left field, seven in right and five in center.
Clark: In 1997, Clark was on his second one-year stint with the Cubs and in the next-to-last season of a 13-year career.
Clark played 23 games in left field, one in right and four as a DH and pinch-hit 72 times. As a pinch hitter, he averaged .308/.361/.477/.838. In 166 plate appearances overall, Clark hit .301/.386/.462/.847.