Long ago, Cubs twice used left-handed catcher

According to the database at, 215 men have played catcher for the Cubs since the Modern Era began in 1901.

One was different from all the rest.

Dale Long was left handed.



Few modern fans likely recognize Long's name.

Born in 1926, he was just 18 when he made his professional debut. He was in the farm systems of the Reds, Red Sox, Tigers and Yankees before being selected by the Pirates in the Rule 5 draft in November 1950.

He made the Pirates' Opening Day roster in 1951 and finally appeared in his first Major League game on April 25, 1951, at age 25.

Long pinch hit that day. He did the same in 8 of his 9 subsequent games, then was placed on waivers and grabbed by the St. Louis Browns, who made him their starting first baseman.

He batted .321/.424/.464 in his first 8 games with the Browns, but wound up at .238//.310/.362.

In December, the Browns sold Long back to the Pirates, who sent him to the minors.



Long had displayed some power in previous years, but in 1952, he slammed 33 homers for New Orleans of the Southern Association. He hit 35 and 23 in 1953-54 for Hollywood of the Pacific League.

That earned him an invitation to the Pirates' spring training camp in 1955 and he earned a spot on the team. At age 29, in his full big league season, Long slashed .291/.362/.513 and led both leagues with 13 triples. He also hit 16 homers.



Long homered twice on Opening Day of 1956. He hit 4 more homers in the next 13 games. Then he hit none in the 12 after that.

His drought ended on May 18, in the eighth inning of a game at home against the Cubs.

The following day, he homered in both games of a doubleheader against the Braves.

After a day off, he homered in back-to-back games against the Cardinals.

On May 25, he homered at Philadelphia, to tie the record of 6 consecutive games with a home run.

The following afternoon, he flied out twice, then homered leading off the eighth inning to break the record.

And he homered in the Pirates' next game, too, to extend his streak to 8 games.

That remains the record today, 66 years later. It was matched twice, by Don Mattingly of the Yankees in 1987 and by Ken Griffey Jr. of the Mariners in 1993.



Long finished the season with 27 homes and a slash line of .263/.362/.485.

Through his first 7 games of 1957, he was just 4 for 22. Then the Pirates traded him, on May 1, to the Cubs, with outfielder Lee Walls for first baseman Dee Fondy and second baseman Gene Baker.

Long thrived in his first season as a Cub, batting .305/.383/.511, with 21 homers in 123 games.

On Sunday, Aug. 17, 1958, Long hit his 14th homer of the year as the Cubs lost at San Francisco. Two days later, he went 1 for 3, a double, at home against the Pirates, making him .272/.359/.454 for the year.



The next day, in Game 1 of a doubleheader, the Cubs trailed, 3-2, going to the bottom of the eighth.

Ernie Banks drew a leadoff walk. After 2 fly outs, Long walked.

Sammy Taylor, the Cubs' lefty-swinging catcher, was due up next. He had led off the seventh with a homer off righthander Ron Kline.

Rather than let Kline face Taylor again, they brought in lefty Don Gross. The Cubs countered by sending right-handed Jim Bolger to bat in place of Taylor.

Bolger flied out, ending the inning.



Cal Neeman took over as catcher to start the ninth, which began with Frank Thomas singling. Bill Mazeroski bunted Thomas to second, then Dick Groat blooped a ball to short right field.

As Walls fielded the ball, Thomas rounded third and headed for home. Walls fired the ball toward the plate, where Neeman grabbed it, pivoted and applied the tag to the sliding runner. Umpire Frank Dascoli called Thomas safe.

Neeman jumped to his feet and lunged at Dascoli, making contact with him. Dascoli immediately signaled that Neeman was out of the game. When Manager Bob Scheffing came charging from the dugout, Dascoli ejected Scheffing, too.



Then, as now, teams rarely carried 3 catchers. But they typically had someone who could be pressed into service behind the plate in an emergency, and for the 1958 Cubs, that person was Long.

He did so using his first baseman's glove instead of a catcher's mitt.

Bill Henry relieved Elston and quickly recorded 2 outs, on a fly ball and grounder to the mound.

Bobby Adams, who had replaced Long at first base, singled to start the bottom of the ninth, but the next 3 Cubs were retired in order, ending the game.

Game 2 lasted only 5 innings, with the Cubs earning a split, 5-1. Taylor was their catcher. Long played at first base.



On Sunday, Sept. 21, the Cubs closed out their home schedule with a game against the Dodgers.

Neeman began the game at catcher. He walked in the second inning, popped up in the fourth and singled in the seventh.

The Cubs were down, 2-0, when they loaded the bases with nobody out in the eighth on a pair of walks sandwiched around a single by Ernie Banks.

Roger Craig came in from the bullpen to face Bobby Thomson, who hit a fly to left. The runner from third raced for home and was thrown out.

With Long at bat, a wild pitch advanced the remaining runners to second third. Long then walked, loading the bases again.


Neeman, who batted from the right side, was due up. Scheffing told Taylor, the lefty, to bat instead. After Taylor was announced, the Dodgers replaced Craig with lefty Fred Kipp.

So Scheffing switched from Taylor to righty Frank Ernaga, who had gone 1 for 7 from April 19-May 12, then struck out 2 days earlier in his first at bat since being recalled from the minors.

This time, he grounded to the shortstop, who flipped to second for a forceout.



With Neeman and Taylor both out of the game, Long once more shifted from first base to catcher.

Kipp singled to start the inning. He was bunted to second, then took third when a pitch got past Long, who was charged with a passed ball.

Elston struck out the batter and coaxed a ground out to keep the score 2-0.

In the bottom of the ninth, Bobby Adams tripled, then back-to-back walks loaded the bases. After a strikeout, Banks singled, driving home the runner from third. But the runner from second had to stop at third, and another strikeout and a fly ball saddled the Cubs with a 2-1 loss.



Long played in each of the Cubs' final games of 1958, then in 110 the following season. He did not play catcher in any of them.

Now 33, his production dropped off sharply in 1959, to .236/.306/.432.

On April 5, 1960, a week before Opening Day, the Cubs sold Long to the Giants.

In 375 games as a Cub, over 3 seasons, he had batted .274/.354/.473, with 55 homers, 55 doubles and 7 triples. His OPS+ was 120.



Long went to the Yankees in August of 1960, then was selected by the Senators in the expansion draft.

In July of 1962, the Senators traded him back to the Yankees, for whom he played the last of his 1,013 big league games at age 37 on July 18, 1963.

His final career line was .267/.341/.464, with an OPS+ of 115. Of his 805 hits, exactly 300 went for extra bases, including 132 home runs.


He played in the field in 821 games. The 2 in 1958 as a Cub were his only games behind the plate.

Since those 2 games, there have been only 3 lefty catchers for any team: Chris Short (1 game for the Phillies, in 1961), Benny Distefano (3 for the Pirates, in 1989) and Mike Squires (2 for the White Sox, in 1980).


Dale Long died on Jan. 27, 1991, 10 days before his 65th birthday.

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