Major League Baseball had, with a few exceptions, relegated the two-way player to the minor leagues by the 1920s. However, the opposite was true in the Negro Leagues. Major or minor, two-way players had been a fixture of every level of the Negro Leagues since the first leagues were formed and the 1920s were no different. It was very common for players to see three or four games at pitcher while playing the majority of their time somewhere else on the diamond, or vice-versa. This came about due to a lack of resources, players, and the high skill levels generally found in the Negro Leagues.
The true two-way players were those who played in at least 10 games at pitcher and some other position in the field (that is the mark I’ve been using as far as including players in this series.) Cristóbal Torriente had spent most of his career as a guy who just missed the 10 game mark. Some seasons he’d pitch in 9 games while playing 54 in the field, others he’d pitch 21 games while trolling center field in 6 games. The Cuban native came up just short until 1928 while playing for the Detroit Stars in the Negro National League. That year he pitched in 14 games and also manned right field for 14 games and center field for 6.
By 1928 Torriente was a few years removed from his 1918-1924 run of being one of the best players in the world. As a 34-year-old the offensive star was given the chance to be a legitimate two-way player by Detroit manager Bingo DeMoss. In 74 innings on the mound, he posted an ERA of 6.45 and an ERA+ of 61. When opponents are hitting .327 off of you it really isn’t your year no matter how you slice the pie. In 116 plate appearances, the lefthander proved to be quite the mixed bag. He slashed .324/.353/.477 for an OPS+ of 121. His wOBA of .375 was great while an ISO of .153 showed the effect of his decline in years. His BB% of 4.3 was the lowest he’d posted since 1913, and all in all, Torriente looked every bit the average hitter he had become.
In his final season of major league ball, Torriente posted an offensive sWAR of 0.6, a pitching sWAR of -1.3, and a fielding SWAR of -0.4. All total his sWAR of -1.2 was a clear sign that his best days were well behind him. It wasn’t a befitting end to Torriente’s career, but very rarely do the best go out on top. The numbers and reports on Torriente don’t paint the picture of someone who was ever better than mediocre toeing the rubber. His two-way efforts were never up to snuff, and then when he finally went all in on it his pitching is predictably what turned him into a below average player. The future National Baseball and Cuban Hall of Famer may not have been a two-way success, but even the great ones stumble from time to time.
Lead photo courtesy of unknown