Now Gary Sheffield is down – length indeterminate, it’s leg cramps after initial indications that it was a hamstring, and very few injuries to 40-year old legs are minor injuries – and at the moment, the senior New York Mets’ outfielder in terms of earliest debut is Angel Pagan.
The year began with Daniel Murphy in left, Carlos Beltran in center, and Ryan Church in rightfield. It looked like Fernando Tatis would get occasional at bats in one of the corners or at first, against lefthanders. Jeremy Reed was the spare part (beating out Bobby Kielty and Cory Sullivan in spring training), Nick Evans and Fernando Martinez were glimmers in the distance, and Sheffield seemed like a vanity signing.
And then the Mets’ outfielders began falling in carload lots. Murphy couldn’t handle the work and Sheffield took over left. Beltran was hurt, Pagan succeeded him, Pagan got hurt, Martinez came up, Martinez went down, Martinez came back up. Church ticked off management, Evans came up briefly (but mostly to give Murphy a day off), Reed briefly succeeded Delgado at first, and somewhere along the line Emil Brown came up for one day and one start. If Sheffield goes on the DL or is even out briefly, a Tatis/Reed platoon might be the likeliest new combo in left, although Evans might come back again or Omar Minaya could mix it up and roll the dice with Sullivan or even Wily Mo Pena.
For years the measuring stick for a decimated outfield was one of the teams of my youth, the 1975 Yankees, who were considerable favorites going into what would ultimately be the year not of the debuts of Bobby Bonds and Jim Hunter in New York, but those of Jim Rice and Fred Lynn in Boston. A quick perusal of the world’s best baseball historical site RetroSheet.Org shows just how bad it was. Starting with considerable depth, the Yanks opened with Roy White in left, Elliott Maddox in center, Bonds in right, and Lou Piniella as the DH/extra corner outfielder. The Yanks considered themselves so loaded in stars (Maddox had emerged the year before) that much of spring training was spent teaching White to play first, to try to get the veteran some playing time.
By season’s end the Yankees had used seven different centerfielders (Maddox tore up his leg on a patch of crappy turf at Shea Stadium and would never again be the player of 1974), eleven different guys in right, and in left – where White would play 135 games – eleven more. Now, many of the fielders played two spots or all three, but centerfield was literally a succession of short-term starters. Maddox played 55 games there, then a scrappy prospect named Kerry Dineen came up to succeed him, and himself got hurt a week later. Then it was all Bonds (for a 45 game stint). Then it was minor league journeyman Rick Bladt for 51 of the 63 games of his career. Somewhere in there, Walt “No-Neck” Williams played ten in center, and Rich Coggins, 28.
The whole thing was so astonishing that Thurman Munson started one game each in Left and Right, and his back-up Rick Dempsey got seven starts in the outfield (Munson would also find himself playing first and third that year; it was an experience). All in all the Yankees used fifteen different players in the outfield and had a sixteenth outfielder on the roster who never got there (Otto Velez), and somehow finished above .500, in third place, only twelve games out.