Jim Bullinger was a converted shortstop. Drafted in the ninth round in 1986, Bullinger couldn’t hit above .200 after his first couple of years in the system so the team converted him to pitching in late 1989.
In June 1992, after he posted a 2.45 ERA and 1.318 in 20 relief appearances for Triple-A Iowa, Bullinger was called up to the big leagues and joined the Cubs in St. Louis, where the team was beginning a four-game set with the Cardinals, the first two as a doubleheader, making up a rainout from April.
Shawn Boskie started the first game and threw four scoreless innings but had to leave with back spasms, and was replaced by Bullinger in the fifth. In the top of the sixth, Bullinger led off and hit the first big-league pitch he saw, thrown by Rheal Cormier, into the seats at old Busch Stadium for a home run. It gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead.
Sadly, no video survives of this feat. Joey Reaves of the Tribune quoted Bullinger in his game recap:
“It’s probably as far as I’ve ever hit a ball,” Bullinger said. “I was numb. I was just shaking my head, saying I can’t believe this. I was a converted shortstop mainly because I couldn’t hit.”
Bullinger allowed a run in the bottom of the sixth and the game remained tied until the 13th inning, when the Cubs scored four off Juan Agosto. The Cardinals scored one in the bottom of the 13th and the Cubs had a 5-2 win. They also won the second game 6-4. I was at this doubleheader and it started at 5:35 p.m. The first game ran 4:21, so it ended just before 10. I recall Game 2 starting about 10:30 and with a 3:20 running time, it ended just before 2 a.m. (Yes, of course I stayed till the end.)
At the time, Bullinger was just the fourth Cub to homer in his first MLB at-bat. With Christopher Morel’s first-pitch homer last month, there are now nine, three of whom (Bullinger, Willson Contreras and Morel) did it on the first pitch they saw. For a while, it looked like Bullinger might become a solid back-end rotation starter, but he was non-tendered after 1996 and pitched for the Expos in 1997 and Mariners in 1998. Later he pitched in the Mexican League and indy ball. His final year in the minors was 2005.
While it was entertaining to see a pitcher accomplish this feat, I’m still glad they’re no longer batting.
Bullinger’s first MLB pitch home run happened 30 years ago today, Monday, June 8, 1992.