A Rumors and Rants History Lesson: Benny DiStefano

May 13, 2009 – 2:58 pm by TheBaker

So far, we’ve taught you about the inspiration for Roy Hobbs and a gift-giving and gift-taking last of his kind. If you noticed, we’re going for obscure here. We want you to learn something. So onto today’s lesson.

There was nothing spectacular about Benny DiStefano’s career. Mostly a career minor leaguer, he played parts of five seasons in the big leagues. In the Pirates organization, DiStefano was always looked as an up-and-coming first baseman. However, he was stuck behind Jason Thompson and Sid Bream at first base. He got a decent amount of at-bats in 1989 when Bream was injured. Gary Redus got most of the starts, but DiStefano had 154 at-bats (be batted just .247). He went to Japan then came home and spent 1992 with Houston, mostly as a pinch hitter.

His career line: .228, 7 HR, 42 RBI; 66 K, 31 BB.

Again, nothing spectacular. 

But then you start to look closely.

On May 18, 1984, DiStefano made his Major League debut at 22-years old subbing in for an injured Amos Otis. DiStefano hit a triple, becoming just one of a handful of players to triple in their first Major League at bat. The Braves pitcher who served it up was Pete Falcone. DiStefano and Falcone went to the same high school, though not classmates. DiStefano’s debut season was Falcone’s last of a 10-year career.

A graduate of Brooklyn’s Lafayette High School, DiStefano was one of three position players to make the Majors from the school. (The other two being the Aspromonte Brothers, Ken and Bob. Bob is known because of his promised home runs for a blinded little leaguer who was struck by lightning)

Three big league pitchers also came from the high school. The aforementioned Falcone and two other more noteworthy arms: Sandy Koufax and John Franco.

I haven’t mentioned it to this point, but DiStefano was a lefty. He threw left handed and batted left handed. Surprisingly, his nickname wasn’t Lefty (see R&R History Lesson No. 1). This fact is important because in 1989, DiStefano played three games at catcher. In the history of baseball, only five left handed-throwing catchers have caught more than 100 games. Now, DiStefano comes 97 games shy, I know, but it’s a reference point – left handed-throwing catchers are rare. Rarer than banks with “real” money.

And DiStefano’s three-game experiment in 1989 was the last time a left handed-throwing player put a mask on in a Major League game.

I know you’re trying to rack your brain on catchers you know are left handed to prove me wrong. I’ll do it for you. Below are the names of current MLB catchers who bat left handed and switch hit. None however, throw lefty.

Bats Left (7)
Miguel Montero (Arizona), Brian McCann (Atlanta), George Kottaras (Boston), A.J. Pierzynski (Chicago White Sox), John Baker (Florida), Joe Mauer (Minnesota), Brian Schneider (New York Mets).

Switch Hitter (14)
Greg Zaun (Baltimore), Jason Varitek (Boston), Koyie Hill (Chicago Cubs), Wilkin Castillo (Cincinnati), Victor Martinez (Cleveland), Carlos Corporan (Milwaukee), Jose Morales (Minnesota), Jorge Posada (New York Yankees), Landon Powell (Oakland), Ryan Doumit (Pittsburgh), Jason Jaramillo (Pittsburgh), Dioner Navarro (Tampa Bay), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Texas), Josh Bard (Washington).

Back in the big leagues after spending 1990 with the same team “Mr. Baseball” played for (not kidding), DiStefano was a backup to Jeff Bagwell with the Astros. He appeared in 52 games that season and had 14 hits. One hit being more important than the other 13.

On April 28, 1992, New York Mets’ ace David Cone took a no-hitter into the 8th inning. Pinch-hitting for relief pitcher Rob Murphy, DiStefano hit a roller down the third base line. Mets’ third baseman Dave Magadan wasn’t able to get a hustling DiStefano at first and the no-hitter was gone. 

To this day, no New York Mets pitcher has ever thrown a no-hitter.

God, I love this guy.

DiStefano then played some ball in the Dominican Republic and resurfaced in 2006 as a coach for the Gulf Coast League Tigers. In 2007, he took up his current post as the hitting coach for the West Michigan Whitecaps, Detroit’s Low-A Ball team in the Midwest League.

Tell me how a career .228 hitter gets a job as a hitting coach? And, It appears at least from this picture, that Benny (No. 30) has a bit of a temper.

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