Phil Gagliano: He could play almost everywhere, but rarely did

Phil Gagliano

Phil Gagliano, who died last week at 74, played for parts of 12 seasons and four teams in the major leagues, but in some of them it seemed he played rarely at all. A utility player who could man almost any position — he played everywhere but catcher and center field — there were long stretches where he manned only the bench or a rare pinch-hit appearance. In his last five seasons from 1970-74, Gagliano had 322 at-bats, or 41 fewer than the 363 he had in 1965, his busiest season. Gagliano debuted with the Cardinals in 1963 — reuniting with former Memphis high school teammate Tim McCarver — and played 40 games for their World Series champions in ’64 (Gagliano didn’t make the postseason roster). But it wasn’t until 1965 that he left the minors for good. Injuries limited starting second baseman Julian Javier, and Gagliano had season highs in homers (8), doubles (14), walks (40), runs (46) and RBIs (53). In part it was because Gagliano never again played as much — the 8 homers were more than he hit the rest of his career (14 total) and the 53 RBIs were more than twice as many as his next-best season (21 in ’67). His playing time consistently regressed, leading to some unusual seasons at the end of his career. Gagliano was a versatile reserve on the Cards’ 67-68 pennant winners and played in both World Series, pinch-hitting without success four times. The Cardinals traded Gagliano to the Cubs in 1970 and he didn’t hit for either team, batting .172 in 72 at-bats. Sent to the Red Sox after 1970, a curious thing happened — Gagliano made himself more valuable for his bat than his versatility over his last four seasons, though he was rarely called on to hit. Gagliano batted .260 — 22 points better than his career average — over his last four seasons, with a .375 on-base percentage, though this included a season he had two hits all year. More on that. In 1971, Gagliano played in 49 games with the Red Sox and batted .324 with a .413 on-base percentage in 81 plate appearances. He started just 11 games and not until July 8 (it’s not just bullpens which are used differently 45 years later. Today a reserve will typically start once a week rather than be limited to pinch-hitting for three months). After ’72 Gagliano was sent to the Reds, and in 1973 he batted .290 with a .402 on-base percentage; his three starts in April and his three postseason at-bats in the NLCS were the last of each in his career. In 1974 he batted 46 times, didn’t start all year and had only two hits, batting .065. Yet he walked 15 times for a .370 on-base percentage and .434 OPS. From May through the end of 1974, Gagliano was hitless, yet he reached base 12 times in 39 plate appearances. This all led to Gagliano’s unusual 1974 triple slash of .065/.370/434. The Reds released him after the season, and Gagliano retired at 32. Career totals: .238 average, .316 on-base, .313 slugging, .629 OPS, 14 homers, 159 RBIs, 336 hits, 163 walks, 55 pinch-hits, 51 pinch-walks, .564 pinch-hitting OPS, 77 OPS+, 5-9 stealing bases, 0-7 batting in the postseason, 2.3 WAR.

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