It was back in 2000 that the Detroit Tigers began calling Comerica Park home. In a season full of firsts, one of Y2K’s most unique firsts happened in the season finale, when Shane Halter became the first Tiger to play nine positions in one game.
(This concludes a series about memorable games and moments from Comerica Park’s inaugural season. Links to the first five parts can be found here.)
Comerica Park’s final homestand of 2000 was a brief one. The Twins arrived for a three-game weekend series beginning on September 29. Dean Palmer’s first inning sacrifice fly gave the Tigers a 1-0 lead in the Friday night opener, and that turned out to be the final score as Detroit’s Jeff Weaver outdueled Minnesota’s Joe Mays. Weaver’s 11th ‘W’ of the season tied him with Brian Moehler for the team lead. It was the Tigers’ 41st victory in their new ballpark, which ensured that they’d finish with a winning record at home in their inaugural season at Comerica. (A loss in Kansas City two nights earlier, their 82nd of the year, meant that 2000 would be another losing season overall, unfortunately.)
Palmer also drove in the winning run on September 30. His walk-off single in the 11th inning gave the Tigers a 6-5 triumph on the final Saturday evening of the season. The stage was set for the Tigers to pick up their first three-game series sweep since they vanquished the mighty Yankees back in May.
With the Lions hosting the Vikings at the Pontiac Silverdome in front of 76,438 on Sunday, October 1, the Tigers only drew 28,293 for their season finale that afternoon. Anyone who watched the Lions lose 31-24 might have had a better time at Comerica Park, where they would’ve been treated to a special performance from the Tigers’ Shane Halter.
Shane Halter’s Big Day
Versatility was Halter’s calling card. He began his professional career as a shortstop, but developed into a utility player prior to his big league debut with the Royals in 1997. His ability to move around the field was very beneficial for the Tigers in 2000. Not only did he play multiple positions throughout the season (including one inning behind the plate in July), but Halter also got at least one start at every infield and outfield position. He said,
"“Once I started playing the different positions, I knew that I was going to be able to play any position I wanted to if I worked hard enough at it.I’ve always prided myself on defense. I’ve always thought that pitching and defense win games. My hitting may have taken a backseat to defensive play.”"
That mindset led Halter to believe that he could play all nine in one game. The desire to do so grew even stronger after the Rangers’ Scott Sheldon did it against the White Sox on September 6. Sheldon was only the third player in big league history to do that. With an eye on becoming the fourth player – and first Tiger, Halter commented,
"“The personal satisfaction would be saying that I worked hard enough to play all those positions – and that the manager felt he wasn’t hurting the team by having me play them.”"
Once the Tigers were eliminated from the AL Wild Card race, where they’d made a cameo appearance in early September, manager Phil Garner decided to give Halter the green light that he was looking for. Halter would play all nine positions in the last game of the season. The skipper, who hadn’t made his decision official until gameday, stated,
"“I didn’t want it to be a joke. I wanted people to have fun with it, and I think they did. Shane has played all these positions before and played them well. He deserves to be in the record book.”"
Appropriately enough, first base was Halter’s first position of the day. Prior to joining the Tigers (as a waiver pickup in March 2000), he’d only made one big league appearance as a first baseman. This was his 29th appearance – and 18th start – there for the Tigers. When a back injury sidelined regular first baseman Tony Clark in mid-July, Halter filled in for a few days before the Tigers picked up veteran first baseman Hal Morris. When a broken finger sidelined Morris in mid-August, Halter got some more reps at first base.
Halter didn’t have much to do in the first inning. Starter Brian Moehler, who had also started the Tigers’ historic Comerica Park opener, gave up a single to the Twins’ leadoff hitter before inducing a couple flyouts to the outfield. The fourth hitter of the inning, DH David Ortiz, tapped a grounder to Halter. He made the toss to Moehler, who covered the bag, to end the inning.
Third baseman Dean Palmer and Halter flip-flopped positions for the second inning. Halter had seen most of his 2000 action at third base, appearing in 55 games and starting 28. First base was pretty new for the veteran Palmer, who had never played there in the majors until he got a start on July 31. At the time, Palmer was nursing a sore right shoulder, and Garner thought that starting him at first base would be a way to keep one of the Tigers’ biggest bats in the lineup. During the period between Morris’ injury and Clark’s return, Palmer and Halter shared time at first base.
Halter and Palmer teamed up to retire future Tiger Torii Hunter for the first out of the inning when Hunter grounded to Halter.
Halter headed out to right field for the third inning. This was his third appearance in right. He started one game there in May, but in true Halter fashion, played the last three innings at first base that night. Palmer returned to third. Starting right fielder Dusty Allen moved to first base, which gave the Tigers three different first basemen in three innings. Allen, who joined the Tigers in August after making his big league debut with the Padres in July, had played only first base for the Tigers until this game.
A pair of doubles from Jacques Jones, a future Tiger, and Denny Hocking gave the Twins a 1-0 lead. Halter wasn’t involved in any of the inning’s plays, but he noticed something. He said,
"“The fans started getting into it in about the third inning when they realized what was going on. The more they reacted, the more my adrenaline started pumping.”"
The Twins’ lead didn’t last too long. Allen walked to lead off the bottom of the inning. Halter, who had already played three positions before batting for the first time, singled Allen to third. That was the Tigers’ first hit of the day. A sacrifice bunt by Deivi Cruz advanced the runners. Allen scored on a groundout off the bat of Damion Easley, and Juan Encarnacion singled Halter home to give the Tigers a 2-1 lead.
Halter slid over to center field for the fourth inning. This was Halter’s fifth appearance in center. He had made three starts there. Encarnacion, who started in center, had been lifted for pinch-runner Rod Lindsey after his third inning single. Lindsey, who made his big league debut earlier in the month as a September call-up, handled right field for this inning. The inning ended when Luis Rivas flew out to Halter.
The Tigers had an opportunity to add to their lead in the bottom half, but couldn’t get it done. With two runners aboard, Halter grounded into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play. The game remained 2-1 in favor of the Tigers.
The Tigers’ outfield was shuffled around, as Halter went to left. It was his second appearance there. The first was a start back in May. Lindsey moved to center, where he normally would have been playing the inning before as Encarnacion’s replacement. Starting left fielder Wendell Magee moved over to right. The Twins kept Halter busy chasing down balls this inning. Corey Koskie and Hunter ripped back-to-back RBI doubles to left, giving the Twins a 3-2 lead.
Detroit roared back in the bottom half. Cruz led off the inning with a single. Rich Becker pinch-ran for him. Easley singled and Lindsey reached safely on a sacrifice bunt attempt. That loaded the bases for Bobby Higginson. Higgy doubled in two runs, and the Tigers reclaimed the lead. Palmer and Magee followed with back-to-back RBI singles. Brad Ausmus walked to load the bases. The Twins finally retired a batter when Allen struck out.
The bases remained loaded for Halter. His single plated Palmer and Magee. When the inning finally ended on a double play (Robert Fick struck out and Ausmus was caught stealing third), the Tigers were on top, 8-3.
Scorecards got a little messier this inning. With starting shortstop Cruz out of the game, that became Halter’s next stop on his tour of the field. It was his 17th appearance at short, where he’d also started eight games. Allen, who had been playing first base since the third inning, moved to left field. That was his third position of the day. (Remember, he started the game in right field). Fick, who had entered the game during the Tigers’ fifth inning rally as the pinch-hitter for Becker (the pinch-runner for Cruz), took over at first base.
It was an ugly inning for the Tigers. The Twins tied the game with an attack that included four singles, two walks, a sacrifice fly, and a Tigers error. For much of the onslaught, Halter watched helplessly. With Hunter on third and future Toledo Mud Hens manager Doug Mientkiewicz at first, Matt LeCroy grounded to Halter, who flipped to Easley at second to force Mientkiewicz. Mercifully, that ended the inning.
This was the inning where things got weird, as Halter donned the tools of ignorance. He had made his big league catching debut in the eighth inning of a game on the fourth of July. In true Halter fashion, he finished that game at first base. With Halter behind the plate for only the second time in his career, Ausmus moved over to third base, a position that he’d never played in the big leagues before. Ausmus replaced Palmer to become the third Tiger to play third. Jose Macias entered the game as the Tigers’ third shortstop of the game. Macias would take over Palmer’s spot in the batting order.
It seemed like it would be a quick inning when reliever Danny Patterson retired the first two Twins on groundouts, but the Twins refused to make it easy on the Tigers. A single, a walk, and a batter hit by a pitch loaded the bases and ended Patterson’s day. Nelson Cruz (this one, not that one) came in from the bullpen. Halter probably wasn’t expecting to have to catch two different pitchers, and the inning may have dragged on longer than he’d hoped. Cruz ended up giving up three runs on two singles. The Twins went into the seventh inning stretch with an 11-8 lead.
Halter seemed determined to not let the Twins ruin his fun. He singled home a run in the bottom half of the inning. It was the culmination of an eight-pitch at-bat, and it cut the Minnesota lead to 11-9.
Halter began the inning on the mound. It was the first time he’d pitched for the Tigers, but he’d done it once before. With the Royals in 1998, he had been pressed into emergency pitching duty in a game that his team trailed 15-8. Halter actually faced the minimum that day. Although he gave up a single to the Mariners’ Alex Rodriguez, he got out of the inning by inducing a double play.
It seems like it has become more common these days, but at the time, no Tigers position player had come into pitch since infielder Mark Koenig did it three times in 1931.
Instead of moving back behind the plate, Ausmus was shifted to second base, another position he’d never played before. That put starter Easley out of the game. Javier Cardona came into catch Halter and would take over Easley’s spot atop the Tigers’ batting order. Allen took over for Ausmus as the Tigers’ fourth third baseman. That was Allen’s fourth position of the day, one that he’d never played before. Higginson, who had been the Tigers’ DH, grabbed his glove to become the Tigers’ fourth left fielder of the day.
Halter walked Matt LeCroy on five pitches to lead off the inning. Not knowing what to expect, LeCroy admitted,
"“I’ve never faced a position player as a pitcher before, not even in the minors. I was more nervous facing him than one of their regular pitchers.”"
Garner had told Halter in advance that he’d only be facing one hitter, and so the Tigers’ shuffling continued. Matt Anderson took over on the mound. Halter moved to second base, which was the first position he’d ever played as a major league starter years earlier with the Royals. It was his 10th appearance at second for the Tigers that season (which included one start). Ausmus slid over to first base, which he hadn’t played since 1995.
Halter got a nice ovation from the fans as he headed to his last position of the day to officially become the fourth major leaguer to play nine positions in one game. On the Fox Sports Detroit broadcast, commentator Josh Lewin (who called Halter “the human pinball” as he bounced around the field), said,
"“The fans in Detroit absolutely appreciate a guy who busts his tail all year. What they’re seeing here today is a guy getting recognized for having done that. He has been completely in the shadows. He has had some fun with us, with his teammates. He’s been a good guy to have around. Never asks for anything, but today he is rewarded with a share of baseball history.”"
Anderson got Jacques Jones to pop out to Allen in foul territory, and Luis Rivas grounded to Halter at second to begin an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play. Thus, Halter was able to make sure that the runner he put on ended up being stranded.
The Tigers scored a run in the bottom half of the inning on a Higginson single. Heading into the final inning of regulation play in the 2000 season, Detroit trailed Minnesota 11-10.
For the first time all day, the Tigers’ defensive configuration was the same one that they ended the previous inning with. Of course, that included two guys, Ausmus and Allen, who were playing out of position. In a game like this, that was strangely appropriate. Other than Halter, those two had moved around the field the most.
Anderson gave up a single, but got the first two outs. Closer Todd Jones came in to get the last out of the inning. Halter wasn’t involved in any of the plays.
Down by a run, Allen led off the bottom of the ninth with a game-tying home run. Halter followed with a line drive double to left. It was his fourth hit of the game. Clearly the concentration needed to play a different position every inning had no adverse effect on his focus at the plate.
Jones, a pitcher, was due up because the Tigers no longer had a DH after all the maneuvering. Instead, pinch-hitter Billy McMillon singled Halter to third. With a shot at winning the game, Garner sent veteran Hal Morris up to pinch-hit for the rookie Cardona. Morris delivered with a single to left, which led to the perfect finish of Shane Halter scoring the winning run. Talking about the ninth inning excitement, Halter said,
"“When I first hit the ball, I thought I was going to hook it around the foul pole and it was going to land in the camera well for a home run. That would have been the topper of all toppers there. But it ended up hitting off the wall, and to score the winning run was just as good.”"
The Tigers finished their first season at Comerica Park with a 12-11 win to complete a three-game sweep of the Twins. The ninth inning was bookended with big hits from Allen and Morris, two players who were making their final appearances in the majors that day.
It was a big day for Halter all the way around, although he was able to take a step back and critique himself. He noted,
"“I missed getting to a couple balls in left that I’m sure Higgy would have had. And I didn’t throw strikes when I was pitching. But for the most part, I let my instincts take over and just played defense.”"
Not only did Halter make plays at five of his nine positions (racking up four putouts and one assist), his four hits and three RBI tied season highs. In terms of advanced stats, his .309 WPA (win probability added) and 2.61 RE24 (base-out runs added), this was his best game of the 2000 season. He remarked,
"“The four hits were like the icing on the cake. I told Brad Ausmus, I don’t know what was the greater feeling, playing all the positions or getting four hits.”"
Call it a toss-up. Halter also said,
"“It was a magical day, especially with the way the fans got into it and the team coming back to win like that. Until you’ve actually played the game and see how fast-paced it is, you have to admire the guys who have played all the positions in the past. It was an honor that Phil gave me the chance.”"
Halter’s 105 games that season was a career high, but he’d top that total in each of the next three seasons with the Tigers. He would continue to provide the Tigers with reliable versatility, although he never pitched or caught again, nor did he ever play center field or right field again.
No other major leaguer played nine positions in a game until the Tigers’ Andrew Romine did it on September 30, 2017, which was also a Tigers victory over the Twins. Oddly enough, both Halter and Romine were wearing no. 17 when they each reached the pinnacle of versatility.