There are players such as Yankee Jayson Nix who are actually capable of playing adequately at multiple infield positions and also in the outfield. How ever can they do it? Are they contortionists, ventriloquists, sorcerers? Back when I attended games and even showed up early enough to watch pre-game practice I saw players working out around second base turning double plays. Turns out they were reserve outfielders just fooling around.
Here’s my hypothesis. Let’s say we draw names out of a hat for MLB regulars, not multiple position players like Jayson Nix. But we make it a pool of players who are not very recognizable. Then we put them into those old style uniforms from a hundred years ago with no names or numbers. No names flashed on the scoreboard or on TV. I maintain that fans casually watching would not notice that these MLB players had been randomly placed at their defensive positions.
Most plays are routine. MLB players should make 90% of them. Good softball players should make most of them. It’s the consistency that matters, being able to make the 90% of plays often enough to be MLB caliber. Infielders can catch fly balls in the outfield. Outfielders can catch grounders and throw out runners.
One reason I think this is possible is that baseball remains the least specialized of the three major American team sports and that skill at one position readily translates to skill at another. I think it’s also because the players are not so different in size. Here are the Yankee infielders ignoring injuries:
Robinson Cano 6’0″ 210 Derek Jeter 6’3″ 195 Alex Rodriguez 6’3″ 225 Mark Teixeira 6’3″ 215
Even the shortstop is 6’3″. Now the outfielders in recent seasons :
The infielders are actually bigger than the outfielders.
But the differences are not great, not so great that they could not reasonably change positions and perform adequately. Imagine trying that in the other sports.
Switch a 6’2″ point guard and a 7′ center in basketball. Or in football switch a nose tackle with a free safety. Those are big changes, literally and figuratively.
The big issue would be exchanging outfielders and infielders. Most people would agree that moving infielders to other infield positions is not that big a deal. Many infielders start out as shortstops and move to second or third because they are not quite good enough to play short. Moving outfielders around is pretty simple.
But could you imagine Curtis Granderson playing second base? Or Robinson Cano center field? Yes. It’s not nearly as much of a stretch as the basketball or football examples.