Lineups from A to Z

The lineup is of course an integral part of baseball.  It literally establishes an order to the game, as described within the Official Baseball Rules:

  • 6.01
  • (a) Each player of the offensive team shall bat in the order that his name appears in his team’s batting order.

Over the years, lineups have been drawn up in an effort to maximize the offensive potential of the club.  Certain types of hitters have drifted into certain spots in the batting order.  Though numerous studies have shown that batting order has minimal impact upon runs scored (maybe one win’s worth over the course of a season), managers continually tinker with them.  Sometimes, when the team is slumping, the skipper will literally pull the lineup from a hat (as Billy Martin did on four occasions).

But has any team ever put forth an alphabetical batting order, even for one day?  The Official Baseball Rules use one in describing a batting out-of-turn circumstance*:

  • Rule 6.07 to 6.08
  • There are two fundamentals to keep in mind: When a player bats out of turn, the proper batter is the player called out. If an improper batter bats and reaches base or is out and no appeal is made before a pitch to the next batter, or before any play or attempted play, that improper batter is considered to have batted in proper turn and establishes the order that is to follow.
  • APPROVED RULING
  • To illustrate various situations arising from batting out of turn, assume a first-inning batting order as follows:

Abel-Baker-Charles-Daniel-Edward-Frank-George-Hooker-Irwin.

From a strictly random statistical viewpoint, an A to Z lineup would seem plausible, and here’s why.  There have been nearly 200,000 major league games played since 1871.  With two batting orders per game, that’s approximately 400,000 lineups.  With nine positions to fill, there are 9! (362,800) combinations to be had.  So we have fewer possible combinations than historical games played.

However, once a manager finds a suitable lineup, they tend to stick with it, lowering the actual number of combinations seen in games.  A 2002 Baseball Prospectus article by Keith Woolner noted that managers used anywhere from 42 to 155 different lineups between the 1978-2000 seasons.  For the sake of this trivial quest, we have to hope for more of the “155 lineup”/”pull out of hat” types.

I dumped all of Retrosheets game logs from 1871-2010 into a spreadsheet, and parsed out the batting orders for each team, looking for the longest string of alphabetical names in each lineup.  There were plenty of games featuring eight batters in alpha order.

The 1989 Baltimore Orioles had 12 games in which their first eight batters were orderly (primarily in April and early May).  If only manager Frank Robinson had batted Billy Ripken or Rene Gonzales elsewhere in the order (but then again, neither of those two merited a better spot in the lineup).  Additionally, there have been 11 instances in which the last eight batters were arranged from A to Z, the most recent being an April 19, 2010 Cubs-Mets contest.  If only Lou Piniella had flip-flopped Marlon Byrd and Jeff Baker at the top of the lineup card.

Back to our pursuit . . . On May 12, 1934, with his last-place Cincinnati Reds team having scored a league-low 76 runs in 21 games, sitting at 5-16 and already nine games back of first place Chicago, player/manager Bob O’Farrell had to do something.  O’Farrell had previously acted as player/manager for the 1927 Cardinals, guiding them to a 2nd place finish (92-60).

But the ’34 Reds were in the process of heading for their fifth straight season of sub-.400 baseball.  They would finish 1934 in the bottom half of the league in every offensive category, despite the presence of Hall of Famer Jim Bottomley and star catcher Ernie Lombardi.

O’Farrell used 64 different lineups during 1934, but the names he listed on that May day were unique.  They comprised the ONLY instance in major league history of an entirely alphabetical batting order:

Sparky Adams  3B
Linc Blakely  LF
Jim Bottomley  1B
Chick Hafey  CF
Mark Koenig  2B
Johnny Moore  RF
Bob O’Farrell  C
Gordon Slade  SS
Allyn Stout  P

Alas, Stout wasn’t . . . lasting 2/3 of an inning and giving up three hits and two walks, and the Reds, despite picking up 12 hits, ended up losing 8-2 in a swift 2:13.

And that’s it . . . there hasn’t been another lineup featuring an A-to-Z theme since.  I’m hoping some lexicographic-leaning manager takes a chance again soon.

*Hat tip to Andy Saunders at www.andysthoughts.com for the Official Baseball Rules lineup info.
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