Less than 20 percent of Major League Baseball’s players are switch hitters, and currently there are no switch pitchers after Patrick Michael Venditte, Jr. retired.
MLB, the oldest major professional sports league in the world, was founded in 1876, and for well over a century, less than 10 ambidextrous pitchers have performed, pitching right-handed or as southpaws.
Those ambidextrous hurlers included Larry Corcoran and George Wheeler in 1884, Elton Chamberlain in 1888 and Tony Mullane from 1881 to 1893.
Mark Garfield “Moxie” Manuel pitched with either arm from 1903 till 1906.
It was 80 years later when Greg Harris, a right-handed pitcher, switched to pitch left-handed against two batters in 1986, issuing a base on balls to the first and getting the second to hit into a double play.
Harris finished his MLB career having pitched 1,467 innings; however, all but two-thirds of one inning were recorded as a right-handed pitcher, hardly establishing his credentials as an ambidextrous pitcher, one who can throw proficiently with either arm.
Compare Harris’ less than one inning as an ambidextrous pitcher to Mullane who broke into the Majors with the Detroit Wolverines in 1881 in his day and time when no gloves were used. He retired in 1894 from the Cleveland Spiders, having chalked up 284 wins.
Mullane had the advantage of pitching barehanded, and with no glove involved, he could easily pitch to left-handed batters as a southpaw and switch to pitch to right-handed hitters as a right-handed pitcher.
Anyone not familiar with baseball might wonder why changing hands is desirable.
A curveball will break away from a right-handed batter when thrown by a right-handed pitcher, making the pitch more difficult for the batter to hit.
The southpaw’s curveball will break away from a left-handed batter, making the pitch harder to handle.
Venditte, a 6’1” 186 lb. ambidextrous pitcher, broke into MLB at the age of 29 after being drafted by the New York Yankees in MLB’s 20th round. However, it was not with the Yankees that he made his debut.
Venditte was a relief pitcher for five different teams during his five years in MLB, and his only won-loss record was established his first year in the Majors after he made his debut in June of 2015 with the Oakland Athletics. He finished the season with a 2-2 record.
During his five years as a Major League ambidextrous relief pitcher, he performed in 61 games during which he pitched a total of 72.1 innings.
Venditte’s MLB career ERA was 4.73, and he registered 58 strikeouts compared to 28 bases on balls.
His best year was his first year when he pitched 28.2 innings for Oakland, allowing 14 runs, all earned, while striking out 28 and issuing only 12 walks.
The oddity of an ambidextrous pitcher in MLB and the confusion that could be caused by the pitcher changing hands to pitch brought about what is known as the Pat Vendetti Rule.
ORB Rule 5.07 (f) reads as follows: “A pitcher must indicate visually to the umpire-in-chief, the batter, and any runners the hand with which he intends to pitch, which may be done by wearing his glove on the other hand while touching the pitching rubber.”
Should an ambidextrous pitcher injure one arm, he can switch to pitch with the other arm but must not resume pitching with the injured arm for the rest of the game.
Ambidextrous pitchers use custom made gloves designed with two thumbs and four fingers. Currently, there are no ambidextrous pitchers in MLB.