Being a bench player comes in two sizes. The first is a little-used player and the second is the player who can play anywhere and the team does not miss a beat.
Brock Holt and Eduardo Nunez are classified as utility players, but the name is somewhat misused in context signifying a lesser talent. Utility meaning just that – versatility – a Swiss Army Knife for the team. Pick a spot and plug them in with various defensive results.
Another attachment is they are premier bench players or not good enough to displace a regular. That, of course, comes down to value. Using their talent judiciously. You see that with Holt and Nunez who may end up with 400+ plate appearances each.
The Red Sox have a positive history with such players with the most notable being Billy Goodman who won a batting title (.354) in 1950 playing multiple positions, but between Goodman and the present, there was one other player who had three very productive seasons for the Red Sox – Felix Mantilla. Two seasons were as the uber utility player.
In 1964 Mantilla hit 30 home runs and hit .289 in 470 PAs for a wretched Red Sox team that won just 72 games. Mantilla played all three outfield positions and every infield position but first base. The previous season Mantilla hit .315 in 66 games for Boston and playing all over the diamond. The Red Sox picked up Mantilla for a bit of Red Sox history by trading Pumpsie Green – the first Black Red Sox player – and Tracy Stallard – home run number 61 to Roger Maris – to the New York Mets.
Mantilla had a World Series ring from his days with the Milwaukee Braves where Felix went to an ignominious 0-10 in the 1957 championship. Mantilla was scooped up by the Mets in the 1961 expansion draft and then on to Boston. Strictly a utility player.
What is the shock is the 30 home runs and some of it was a very comfortable Fenway Park swing for the right-handed Mantilla. With the 1962 expansion Mets, Mantilla had 11 home runs in 518 PAs. Mantilla hit 19 home runs at home and 11 on the road for the 1964 Red Sox and had a guaranteed position for 1965.
In 1965 Mantilla spent most of his time at second base becoming an All-Star, hitting .275, and whacking 18 home runs. And Mantilla also led the 62 win Red Sox with 92 RBI. More than Tony Conigliaro (82) and Carl Yastrzemski (72). The Red Sox were so impressed that in the spring they traded Mantilla to the Houston Astros for infielder and future manager Eddie Kasko.
Mantilla did little for Houston and was soon gone – a one year and out. Mantilla did attempt a comeback with the Cubs the following season but a ruptured Achilles tendon finished that off. But that 1964 season I remember rather vividly since that was a team from defensive hell. Dick Stuart “Dr. Strangeglove” was at first. Defensively the team was one of the worst in the American League (-39 TZ) and Mantilla had his defensive lapses wherever he was placed. Oh, could he hit! A .287 with 54 home runs in three Boston seasons.
For one season and with a dreadful Red Sox team Mantilla stood out as the ultimate utility player. A career season and with Dick Radatz (16-9, 2,29), and 19-year-old Tony C. (24/52/.290) provided some reason to at least show up at Fenway.