Tommy Byrne was 13 seasons into his professional baseball career when he made the switch from a pitcher who pinch-hit from time to time to a full-fledged two-way player. It makes perfect sense that he would adopt two-way play in 1954 in the Pacific Coast League. At the time the PCL was an independent league and viewed in some ways as an outlaw league. There wasn’t anything outlaw about the PCL, rather the PCL was attempting to challenge the status quo and obtain major league status. They weren’t successful, but being a rather large unaffiliated league looking to make a splash meant trying a lot of ideas that would otherwise be discarded.
1954 was the only season that Byrne would take a crack at being a two-way player. Seattle Rainiers manager Jerry Priddy didn’t have much to lose as the Rainiers weren’t a good team. They finished near the bottom of the pack in the west coast league and never threatened to be anything more than mediocre. With nothing to worry about as far as the pennant race was concerned Priddy gave Byrne every chance to succeed as a two-way player.
Succeed is exactly what Byrne did as he was a heck of a player on both sides of the ball. As a pitcher, he threw 260.1 innings and managed a 3.15 ERA. He finished the season with 24 complete games and 1 shutout. Byrne’s K/9 wasn’t that stellar, 6.9, and it was further hurt by a BB/9 of 4.1. Still, Byrne was a dependable arm who ate up innings and was overall pretty darn good on the mound. In 5 games in the outfield and 13 at first base, Byrne slashed .295/.347/.494. The lefty bopped 7 homers in 196 plate appearances and looked very much like someone who knew how to handle the bat.
Late in the ‘54 season, Byrne was signed by the New York Yankees and it was clear, he was there to pitch. The Yankees would let Byrnes pinch hit but whatever hope there had been of Byrnes as a two-way player were snuffed out by his time in the Bronx. A career of solid hitting and pitching culminated in a lone season of solid two-way production. That’s not a lot to go on but, it’s enough to make me think that Byrne would have been a pretty good regular two-way player.
Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Unknown