Monday, February 21, 2022

Cesar Tovar; Full Time Utility Player


TRIVIA WINNER: Congrats to Johnny Rollins of Jasper, AL, who correctly stated the first batter Steve Carlton faced in his MLB career was the Cubs' George Altman, whom he walked. The Prize: Starbucks Gift Card.

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NEW TRIVIA QUESTION:   In the game in which Cesar Tovar pitched in 1968, who was the only batter he struck out in the only inning he hurled in a big league game? 
ANSWER to the Trivia question in the previous column: 
Steve Carlton walked the first batter he ever faced and that was Cubs outfielder, George Altman.

 If there ever was a player who could be called a "super utility player" it would have to be Cesar Tovar of the 1966 Minnesota Twins. It was  his rookie year. There are plenty of name players who moved around the diamond including Dick Schofield, Denis Menke, Bert Campaneris and anyone who played on the 1962 Mets. As for Tovar he was so valuable he played in 134 games and batted 465 times, fourth highest on the team. The only players who came to the plate more often were Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva and Zoilo Versalles.

Tovar played four positions. He spent 74 games at second, 34 at short and 24 in the outfield including 20 in center field. He also came in the pinch (running and hitting) in seven more games. He did commit 14 errors but only a few compared to the 35 booted by Versalles who was coming off his MVP season. 

So valuable was Tovar he earned the right to become a starter the following season. He only batted .260 in 1966, but just one year later he would finish 7th in the AL MVP race. That season he led the American League in Games, Plate Appearances and At Bats. So much for utility status, or was it? In 1967 he played 35 games at second base,  72 at third, nine at short and 74 in the outfield. Rarely had this kind of versatility been seen of a "regular" player and a "league leader."

When he retired after 12 seasons he had earned MVP votes in five of them. He also, at various times, led the league in doubles, triples, caught stealing, hit by pitch and in 1971 sat atop the AL with 204 base hits. 

Oh, and in 1968 he was even the starting pitcher in a game. He went on to play every other position in that game becoming only the second player in MLB history to accomplish the feat. He did it against the A's and Campaneris. Campaneris was the other player to play nine positions in a game. 

Tovar tossed one inning, walked one, struck out one and issued a balk. He got no decision. Now that is utility.  Tovar died at age 54 in 1994. A moment of silence was requested that night at the Twins game in the Metrodome.

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