On July 9th, 2005, a recently promoted Chicago Cubs prospect by the name of Adam Greenberg was called upon by manager Dusty Baker to make his Major League debut by pinch hitting for reliever Will Ohman in the ninth inning of a game against the Florida Marlins on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. The rookie saw only one pitch from reliever Valerio de los Santos, and that pitch was a 92 miles per hour fastball that hit him in the back of the head.
He was immediately removed from the game, and taken to hospital. What was first diagnosed as a mild concussion was later realized to be far more severe, as excruciating headaches and positional vertigo conspired to ensure that Greenberg would never be the player that he promised to be prior to the fateful plate appearance. Since then, he’s bounced around different levels of the Minor and Independent Leagues, but has never gotten close to acquiring an official at bat at the Major League level.
Today, it was announced that the Miami Marlins have received approval from MLB Commissioner Bud Selig to give Greenberg a plate appearance next Tuesday, October 2nd, when the team hosts the New York Mets, in what would otherwise be a largely meaningless game.
The impetus for the odd opportunity was the dogged efforts of filmmaker Matt Liston who used an online petition to raise awareness of Greenberg’s plight. Liston’s pursuit on the former Major Leaguer’s behalf wasn’t immediately successful, as Willie Weinbaum of ESPN informs us.
Despite a compelling video, endorsements from the likes of Hall of Famer George Brett and more than 20,000 petition signatures at change.org , the efforts of Liston and co-campaigner Gary Cohen, a documentarian, failed to sway Chicago [Cubs] management. But the Marlins, with time running out on the season, embraced the opportunity as a win-win for Greenberg and the team whose hurler abruptly ended his first major league career.
Earlier this year I complained about the questionable integrity involved in allowing Roger Clemens to return to baseball at his advanced age when it wasn’t for the purpose of improving the competitiveness of the team while producing the faint waft of a publicity stunt. While there is certainly a similarity between the ultimate meaninglessness between Greenberg’s appearance and the rumors of a Clemens return, I don’t view the two ideas as being comparable.
This is due mainly to the ulterior motives that would’ve driven Clemens to pitch again for the Astros – Hall of Fame eligibility pushed back to a more favorable time and publicity for the ball club – versus the generally good natured ambitions of the Marlins and Greenberg – not allowing bad luck to stand in the way of achieving a goal. Greenberg’s reputation isn’t so large to the casual fan as to likely cause an increase in ticket sales or marketing platforms for the Marlins, and the player himself gains very little from the official at bat other than perhaps increased notoriety. He’s not even keeping the salary for his one official day of service.
Greenberg … has agreed to donate his one-day salary to the Marlins Foundation. The Marlins will then make a donation to the Sports Legacy Institute, an organization that advances the study, treatment and prevention of the effects of brain trauma in athletes and other at-risk groups.
Yes, I suppose that deep down, I still have a problem with the competitiveness of a baseball game being called into question by such an action, but I’m consoled by the good will that the Marlins are creating and the fact that the game itself is as close to meaningless as a regular season game can be.
For the record, several Major League Baseball players have had only one career plate appearance that resulted in a hit by pitch, and even more have only ever had one career at bat. However, Fred Van Dusen of the Philadelphia Phillies is the only other Major Leaguer to be hit with a pitch in his first and only plate appearance without taking the field. His first and last appearance was back in 1955.