One of the many great things about baseball is that something you’ve never or rarely seen before could happen at any given time, no matter how many games you’ve watched. I found myself watching a rare moment this weekend while attending the Tigers-Pirates series in Detroit. No, it wasn’t the Pirates losing—there’s nothing rare about that.

Tigers outfielder Austin Jackson started in center field and was hitting lead off in their lineup, but after apparently hurting his back on a fly ball in the top of the first inning, he never got to bat. Jackson stayed in the top of the first, but when his team came to bat, they announced that Ryan Raburn was pinch-hitting for Jackson. “They’re leading off the game with a pinch hitter? I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before,” I found myself saying while sitting down the first base line at Comerica Park. I figured we witnessed a relatively rare moment and thanks to Baseball Reference’s Play Index, I was right.

According to the play index finder, from 1920-2010 there are only 50 games where the home team’s lead off hitting started but recorded 0 plate appearances. Jackson was obviously the last one to do it this past Sunday, but it’s only happened 49 other times through about 90 years of games. That’s insane. It sort of happened in April of this year when Jimmy Rollins led off and never batted, but the play-by-play of that game shows he was replaced as soon as the game started in the field in the top of the first, so he was never pinch hit for. The rest of them as far as I can tell were exactly like Sunday’s game, where the player gets injured fielding in the top of the first and plays only that half inning. Here’s the full list via BR.

Just a quick observation, it seems to occur more recently in the 90s and 2000s. Maybe that’s because players played injured more often back in the day or maybe they were more stubborn or didn’t think they were injured then in today’s game. Here’s a rundown of the times it happened each decade:

2000s: 9
1990s: 8
80s: 6
70s: 7
60s: 5
50s: 6
40s: 0
30s: 5
20s: 4

Not sure what happened in the 40’s, but it’s definitely an unusual event we’ve seen more in the past 20 years than before. What will I see next at the ol’ ball yard?

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