It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.
The guy who does my taxes is a fellow baseball fan, and to break up the tedium of emailing each other about 1099-INT forms and property tax payments, we often email each other about baseball trivia, which our wives think is only slightly less boring. Last night, he dropped by the house to have us sign our tax return, and he asked me, “Who was the first player to have 100 hits from each side of the plate in a single season?”
Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I remembered that Willie Wilson had done it for the Kansas City Royals in the early 1980s, so that was my guess. But it turns out that the year before Wilson did it, across the state of Missouri, St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Garry Templeton had done it in 1979, and Templeton and Wilson are still, to this day, the only two players ever to accomplish this feat.
Or are they?
No, they’re not. In fact, no one has ever actually done it. According to Baseball-Reference, Templeton had only 96 hits from the right side of the plate in 1979, and Wilson had only 99 right-handed hits in 1980.
As the story goes, late in the 1979 season, a reporter informed Templeton that he was close to accomplishing this thing that had never been done before. The Cardinals’ postseason chances were already gone, so Templeton decided to bat exclusively right-handed the rest of the season to try to get to 100 hits. In the bottom of the third inning of the second game of a doubleheader on September 28, Templeton bunted for a base hit off of New York Mets’ pitcher Pete Falcone to give him what he thought was his 100th right-handed hit of the season. He was then immediately replaced by pinch-runner Mike Phillips. Templeton did not play the next day, and then on the final day of the season, he went 0-for-2 before being replaced again by Phillips as part of a double-switch after the third inning.
As far as I can tell from my research, no one really kept track of which side of the plate a switch-hitter was hitting from back then. The assumption is that if the pitcher was left-handed, the batter was batting right-handed, and vice versa, unless there is evidence to the contrary. In Templeton’s case, he was told after the Cardinals’ victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on September 24 that his two hits against Phillies lefty Randy Lerch had given him 93 right-handed hits that season. Templeton’s decision to go for 100 was public knowledge, so there are records of him batting right-handed the rest of the season. The problem is, Templeton was actually sitting at 89, not 93.
Once Templeton got what he thought was his 100th right-handed hit of the season, he took some time off. His replacement on September 28 got four plate appearances that day. On September 29, when Templeton didn’t play, Keith Smith and Lou Brock got five plate appearances in his customary leadoff spot. And on September 30, Bernie Carbo and Tony Scott each got one plate appearance after Templeton left the game. That’s 11 plate appearances that Templeton left on the table because he thought he had already made history; there’s no guarantee that he would have gotten four more hits if he had batted those 11 times, but it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility.
In Wilson’s case in 1980, he had 99 hits right-handed and 131 left-handed. Again, these totals are based on the fact that he had 99 hits against left-handed pitchers, and when switch-hitters don’t bat right-handed against left-handed pitchers, someone mentions it. No one has found any mention of Wilson batting righty against a righty that season, so it seems that someone just counted wrong back then.
So what we’re left with is the fact that something I have always known for sure just ain’t so. No player has ever gotten 100+ hits from each side of the plate in the same season. Not Garry Templeton, not Willie Wilson, and not anyone else. Pete Rose, who has the most 200-hit seasons by a switch-hitter, never came particularly close — in his closest season, 1977, he had 114 hits as a lefty and 90 as a righty.
Francisco Lindor had the most hits of any switch-hitter last season — 182 — but just 59 of them came from the right side of the plate. It might just be that no one will ever actually accomplish this feat.