The date: July 9, 1918. And after six years in the minors and several days on the Boston bench, Red Bluhm was suddenly slated for his first major league start. Six days earlier, Bluhm had pinch hit for Red Sox starting pitcher King Bader in a 6-0 loss to the Philadelphia Athletics, making the final out of the eighth inning against starter Vean Gregg. But now, in a team meeting prior to Boston’s game against his hometown Indians, Bluhm had just heard manager Ed Barrow read the Red Sox lineup aloud. And he — Red Bluhm! — was in it, playing first base in place of the ailing Stuffy McInnis.
Also listening, however, was Boston’s biggest star, and upon hearing that McInnis was out and Bluhm in, he convinced Barrow to let him start at first base instead. In the final telling, the game would mark one of just 32 times George Herman Ruth played first base in his 22-year major league career. It would also mark the end of Harvey Fred Bluhm’s one-game major league career. Denied the chance to start, Bluhm would be optioned to the Double-A Jersey City Skeeters 10 days later and retire from baseball at season’s end, opting to work as a Michigan automaker and to play for the company baseball team.
And so, because of the Babe, Bluhm would go down in major league history not as a first baseman but as a pinch hitter, his July 3 at-bat the extent of his playing time. As unfortunate as his story might seem, however, Bluhm is hardly alone as a player who spent years in the minors only to serve in a big league pinch. At the beginning of the 2017 season, nearly 1,000 players — call them Sippers — had had a one-game cup o’ coffee in the big leagues. We earlier covered one-game pitchers and position players, but 95 others were neither: Their single appearance was in a pinch-hitting or -running role.
Call them Pinch Sippers.
Of those 95 Pinch Sippers, 68 were hitters and 27 runners. As a group, they have not fared well. Among the hitters, only four managed a hit. And just one, Steve Kuczek, managed an extra-base hit — a double, in the rain, and in the aftermath of a bizarre ejection — off Brooklyn ace Don Newcombe.
Among the runners, only four managed to score.
One was Bob Daughters. Signed in 1937 out of the College of the Holy Cross, where he starred in baseball and football, the 22-year-old third baseman had made the Red Sox roster after a strong spring. In his path, however, stood starter Pinky Higgins, coming off a four-year stretch in which he averaged 83 runs, 91 RBI, 16 home runs and an .852 OPS.
After sitting out Boston’s season debut, Daughters watched the second game from the dugout as the Yankees took a 6-4 lead in the top of the 10th inning. In the bottom of the frame, after Higgins led off with a double and catcher Rick Ferrell walked, manager Joe Cronin called on Daughters to pinch run for Ferrell. Following a forceout and another walk, Daughters stood on third base with the bases loaded in a tense rivalry game and his team down by two. He’d yet to start a game, but life could have been worse.
Life got better for Daughters when he scored on an Eric McNair bouncer that shortstop Frankie Crosetti failed to convert into a double play. But when the next batter, Bobby Doerr, flied out to end the game, Daughters could hardly have realized that his big league career had also just ended. After riding the pine for several more weeks without getting a chance to play, Daughters was sent to Class A Hazleton for more seasoning. He played 13 games in Hazleton and 117 at Class B Rocky Mount, then returned to the parent club for the season’s final month. There, he only watched from the bench.
A year later, citing his weak arm and poor glove, the Red Sox released him.
In a 6-5 defeat, Bob Daughters had scored but come up short.
Among pinch hitters, Roe Skidmore experienced the similar dichotomy of one-time success and long-term failure in the major leagues. A 47th-round draft choice in 1966, Skidmore had spent four seasons in the minor leagues before the Cubs made him a September call-up in 1969. With the parent club, the 6-foot-3 first baseman merely watched from the bench with the other call-ups as the Cubs trotted out the same lineup of regulars while going 9-18 in September and losing the National League East to the Mets.
In 1970, after clubbing 17 home runs in 130 minor league games, the 24-year-old Illinois native again got the September nod from the Cubs. This time, after riding the pine for two weeks, Skidmore finally got his chance. On a rainy afternoon in Chicago, and with the Cardinals leading, 8-1, with two outs in the seventh inning, manager Leo Durocher called on Skidmore to pinch hit for reliever Joe Decker. Facing lefty Jerry Reuss and on a 1-1 count, Skidmore drove a curveball just over the outstretched glove of St. Louis third baseman Joe Torre for a single to left field. After the next batter, Don Kessinger, hit a grounder to force out Skidmore at second base, the rookie trotted off a major league field for the first — and last — time.
In November, the Cubs traded Skidmore to the White Sox. He played well for their Triple-A team, slashing .299/.332/.509 and hitting 20 homers in 125 games, but in December the Sox blocked his path to first base by trading for All-Star Dick Allen. Following his 1972 trade to the Reds, Skidmore posted two more good seasons at Triple-A, but this time his path had been blocked by All-Star Tony Perez. In 1975, after posting his ninth minor league season of 13 or more homers, 29-year-old Roe Skidmore put an end to his playing days.
His major league slash line: 1.000/1.000/1.000.
His major league fielding percentage: It doesn’t exist.
Today, Eddie Gaedel remains the most famous — or, depending on your point of view, infamous — of the Pinch Sippers. Most fans know his story.
In the second game of a 1951 doubleheader in St. Louis, Browns manager Zack Taylor signaled for a pinch hitter to begin the bottom of the first inning in place of leadoff hitter Jack Saucier. Up stepped the 3-foot-7-inch Gaedel, wearing the number ⅛ and crouching, as instructed, in the right-hand batter’s box against Tigers starter Bob Cain. In the span of four pitches, Gaedel drew a pass to first base and a path into controversy and legend.
While some found his appearance humorous and even endearing, others thought it a mockery of Gaedel’s dwarfism and of major league baseball. What they might not have considered, though, is that Gaedel’s at-bat had perhaps dishonored the efforts of other men who had received, or would receive, just one pinch appearance in the majors. Gaedel had stridden to the plate in a one-day stunt. Others had slogged there in a multiyear struggle.
Some were men who, with a bit more fortune or skill, might have produced long major league careers. Some were men who, with a bit less talent or luck, might never have gotten that one appearance — that solitary shot, at the plate or on the basepaths, beyond the confines of a major league dugout.
Many — perhaps most — were both.
In 1975, Larry Fritz got two breaks: one good, one bad. The first came on May 27, when Phillies shortstop Larry Bowa broke his hand in a game against the Giants. Having posted an OPS of .817 or greater in six of his seven minor league seasons, the 26-year-old Fritz got the call-up as Bowa hit the disabled list. Three days later, the Phillies trailed the Astros, 5-0, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning when Fritz got the nod to pinch hit. Facing starter Dennis Konieczny, Fritz flied out to end the game.
The second break — the bad one — came a week later, when Toledo first baseman Andy Kosco fractured his wrist. Fritz, having received no playing time in the intervening days, returned to Toledo while the Phillies recalled outfielder Mike Rogodzinski to take his roster spot. After finishing the season in the minors, Fritz played two years in the Mexican League before retiring.
His lifetime WAR: 0.0.
The lesson: Replacement players are replaceable.
It doesn’t mean, however, that replacement players lack talent.
Other Pinch Sippers have taken harder routes. At the age when Fritz began and ended his major league career, Bob Mavis began his minor league career.
On Sept. 17, 1949, with his Tigers trailing the Yankees, 5-4, in the top of the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium, the 31-year-old Mavis entered as a pinch runner after Bob Swift reached base on shortstop Phil Rizzuto’s error. In a manner of speaking, Mavis had traveled the long way to first base: Upon graduating from high school in the immediate wake of the Depression, Mavis had entered the workforce and played for the company’s semipro team. There he caught the eye of White Sox, and at the relatively advanced age of 26, the 5-foot-7 infielder began his professional career with the Class A1 Little Rock Travelers.
After posting batting averages of .301 and .327 in his first two seasons, Mavis continued to put up excellent marks even as the Travelers’ affiliation changed to the Boston Braves and then, in 1948, to the Tigers. Indeed, across five minor league seasons, Mavis had never batted lower than .301.
Despite his performances, Mavis, like other minor leaguers, had seen his progress stymied by the talent returning from World War II. In 1949, however, the Tigers at last promoted him to Triple-A Toledo. There, in 154 games, he posted his best offensive season to date: career highs of 106 runs, 79 RBI, 12 homers and an .852 OPS. When the Mud Hens season ended, Mavis at last got his call call-up. And here he was now, in front of 40,758 fans at Yankee Stadium, representing the tying run in his big league debut.
Following Don Kolloway’s pop-fly out to relief ace Joe Page, Tigers third baseman Eddie Lake drew a walk. Mavis, having played 832 minor league games just to reach a big league ballfield, moved to second base.
Officially, 180 feet lay between the 31-year-old rookie and the tying score.
Mavis took his lead as Johnny Lipon stepped to the plate. History wouldn’t record the count or pitch type, but Lipon, facing Page, hit into a 4-6-3 double play to end the game. Whatever the level of his awareness, and whatever the depth of his emotions, Mavis had just seen the end of his major league career. He would play in the minor leagues for another seven seasons, finishing, with one hit in two at-bats, at age 39 for the Class B Durham Bulls.
His lifetime minor league batting average: .305, over 14 seasons.
His lifetime major league batting average: It doesn’t exist.
On Oct. 2, 2016, in the final frame of the final game of the Washington Nationals’ season, 25-year-old Spencer Kieboom stepped to the plate in a pinch-hitting appearance for reliever Sammy Solis. With a runner on first base and the Nationals leading, 8-7, Kieboom took a first-pitch ball and then a second-pitch strike from Miami reliever Brian Ellington. He then took three consecutive balls to draw a walk in his first major league plate appearance.
Today, it is his only major league plate appearance.
As of the start of 2017, Kieboom remained the latest player to rank as a Coffee Sipper generally and Pinch Sipper specifically. As such, he joined the likes of Doc Daugherty, who, in the ninth inning of a 1951 game, pinch hit for Tigers reliever Virgil Trucks and struck out on three pitches against White Sox ace Billy Pierce to end the game and his major league career. Following two more seasons in the minors, Daugherty would retire from baseball at the same age at which Kieboom, 66 years later, would make his debut.
The seasons link the Sippers. Whatever the timing of their arrivals and departures, they share a place in the history of the game. Since the advent of major league baseball, in 1871, no decade has passed without saying hello and goodbye to at least a handful of one one-game players. Still, given the evolution of player evaluation and roster rules, the numbers have decreased since the Sipper boom of the late 20th century.
In the years from 1871 to 1899, no fewer than 275 men played just one major league game. In 1884 alone, 35 players saw their only major league action. Yet in the decade of the 1980s, for example, only 11 Sippers played. The year 1987 saw zero Sippers. But if Sipperdom has slowed, it hasn’t stopped. From 2000 to 2009, 26 Sippers appeared. From 2010 to 2016, 40 suited up. While scouting departments, draft analysis, prospect videos, player development and the elimination of the Bonus Rule have helped to limit the factors that once produced large Sipper numbers, they haven’t eliminated the factors entirely. Players like Miguel Andujar, who, as of this writing, had played one major league game — for the Yankees, on June 28, 2017 — will still find their way onto, and then off of, major league rosters.
Of course, unlike Kieboom and Daugherty, Andujar got five plate appearances.
Just like Kieboom and Daugherty, Gene Madden got one.
In the second inning of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 1916 home opener, acting manager Honus Wagner summoned the 26-year-old Madden to pinch hit for starting pitcher Al Mamaux, whom the Cardinals had pounded for three earned runs in the top of the frame. Following a stellar spring training in which he often played second base — alongside shortstop Wagner — for the regulars during intrasquad games, the speedy Madden had at last made the Opening Day roster after six seasons in the minors. Just prior to the game, however, manager Nixey Callahan had told Madden, in rather heartbreaking fashion, that he would be optioned to Class B Syracuse at the conclusion of the day’s game.
And so, as the first two innings unfolded, Madden had watched in the presumption that he wouldn’t play today, just as he hadn’t played in the team’s first two series. But following Callahan’s first-inning ejection and Mamaux’s second-inning meltdown, the calculus had suddenly changed. And here he was now, bat in hand, facing starter Lee Meadows.
If you want a Hollywood ending, watch a movie. Meadows would toss 8.1 innings of five-hit shutout ball, and Madden served as a small if representative part of it. He grounded out.
Following the game, Madden returned to Syracuse.
He never returned to Pittsburgh, at least as a big league player.
His story is now set in granite. As for Kieboom, he might still have time to change his tale.
At 26, he remains in the Nationals’ system. And despite his successful debut — after all, he drew a walk and later scored — you have to believe he dreams of the chance, this time, to swing the darn bat.
Nineteen Pinch Sippers struck out.
Five drew a walk.
Dutch Schirick is the lone Pinch Sipper steal a base, and he stole two.
Two Bonus Babies became Pinch Sippers: 18-year-old Fred Van Dusen pinch hit in 1955, and 19-year-old John Sanders pinch ran in 1965.
Among the 95 Pinch Sippers were one Moose, one Turkey, one Roe, one Roxy, one Tip, one Red, one Doc, one Mem and one Heinie.
On July 2, 1924, Joe Green made his lone major league appearance by pinch hitting against future Hall of Famer Herb Pennock. He made an out. Still, he got to watch Yankees leadoff hitter Whitey Witt post five walks that day. The odd thing? Though Babe Ruth, Bob Meusel and Wally Pipp batted behind him, Witt scored none of New York’s 10 runs.
When 19-year-old Ray Medeiros pinch ran for the Reds on April 25, 1945, he wasn’t the team’s youngest player. That distinction belonged to Herm Wehmeier, 18. The oldest: 46-year-old Hod Lisenbee, who had made his big league debut when Medeiros was not yet one. Born in 1898, Lisenbee was the last player born in the 1800s to play in the majors.
A man named Cobb played for the Tigers on April 25, 1918, but it wasn’t Ty. It was Joe. The Georgia Peach had missed Detroit’s first two games and now had missed the fourth. For Joe’s part, he pinch hit in the late innings versus the Indians and whiffed. The Cobbs were not related. In fact, documents revealed that Joe was born Joseph Stanley Serafin.
In 1956, the Reds made John Oldham a September call-up even though the injured southpaw hadn’t thrown a pitch all year. On Sept. 2, Oldham entered Cincinnati’s game against the Cubs in the third inning and still didn’t throw a pitch. Instead, he pinch ran for Ted Kluszewski. He got stranded at first base. Today, Oldham remains one of two pitchers — the other is Larry Yount — who appeared in a big league game without throwing a pitch.
In the ninth inning of a 1923 game between the Browns and White Sox, Leo Taylor pinch ran for Chicago’s Roy Graham after Graham reached on a hit by pitch. Graham wouldn’t be the only HBP victim that inning. In the bottom of the frame, White Sox reliever Mike Cvengros would plunk three Browns.
In 2003, Travis Chapman debuted by pinch hitting in the Phillies’ 18-5 defeat of the Braves. He flied out against Jung Bong, whose claim to infamy that day was hitting Chase Utley twice with pitches. Bong would finish his career with two HBPs — those two, in consecutive frames.
Ralph Gagliano pinch ran. Jim Westlake pinch hit. What they had in common is that each had a big league brother. Phil Gagliano played 702 games in 12 seasons. Wally Westlake played 958 in 10. What Phil and Wally had in common is that each attended a Christian Brothers High School, Phil in Memphis and Wally in Sacramento.
In 1952, the Cardinals’ Herb Gorman notched his only major league plate appearance when he pinch hit a game against the Cubs. He grounded out. A year earlier, with the Triple-A Hollywood Stars, Gorman had 26 teammates who would spend time in the majors.
With his Athletics trailing the Browns, 12-3, in the bottom of the ninth inning on June 24, 1947, pinch hitter Tom Kirk grounded out to end the game and his major league career. Also batting in the bottom of the ninth: Nellie Fox, aged 19. What they had in common is that each made an out. What they didn’t have in common is that Fox would play 19 more years in the majors.
Pinch hitting for Allan Sothoron in a 1914 contest, Dutch Schirick became one of five major leaguers to draw a walk in their only plate appearance and not appear in the field. Sothoron, too, was making his big league debut. The difference: Sothoron would play another decade in the big leagues.
Ivan Bigler had his moment on May 6, 1917, pinch running late in the Browns’ game against Shoeless Joe Jackson’s White Sox. On the mound for the Browns that day was Allan Sothoron. As coincidence would have it, Sothoron and Bigler were born in the same town — Bradford, Ohio —and had been teammates on the 1912 Juniata College baseball squad.
Bigler’s trivia doesn’t end there. Sandwiched around his one game were two no-hitters. On May 5, teammate Ernie Koob no-hit the White Sox, and in the second game of the May 6 doubleheader, Bob Groom blanked the Sox again. Today, Koob and Groom remain the only teammates to pitch no-hitters on consecutive days, and Ivan Bigler was there to witness it.
More Bigler trivia? Bigler wasn’t the only player on the 1917 Browns to have a one-inning big league career. Joining him were Tom Richardson, Kewpie Pennington, Ed Murray and FanGraphs fantasy namesake Otto Neu.
Sept. 28, 1957, Dodgers versus Phillies: At the age of a high schooler, 17-year-old Rod Miller steps to the plate with two outs in the top of the ninth and his Dodgers leading, 8-3. He goes down swinging. In the bottom of the frame, he is replaced defensively by 38-year-old veteran Pee Wee Reese. Reese will play one more season. Miller will not.
In his lone big league at-bat, Turkey Tyson popped out to third baseman Connie Ryan. Five years later, in 1949, Ryan played an even bigger role in a Pinch Sipper’s at-bat. On Sept. 29, in a driving rain, Ryan stepped to the on-deck circle wearing a rain slicker as a signal to umpires that the game should be called off. Plate umpire George Barr threw him out. Replacing Ryan was Steve Kuczek, who then hit a line-drive double off of Don Newcombe.
Pinch hitting on May 3, 1944, Washington’s Roy Valdes grounded out. Also appearing for the Senators, at catcher, was Valdes’ Cuban countryman Mike Guerra. Guerra had once appeared destined for Sipperdom himself. After playing just one big league game, in 1937, he’d spent the next six years in the minors before returning in 1944.
When 17-year-old Rod Miller whiffed in his one at-bat, in 1957, his manager was Walter Alston. Alston had also whiffed in his only big league at-bat.
Pinch-hitting on June 24, 1947, the Browns’ Tom Kirk grounded out to Philadelphia shortstop Vern Stephens in what would be his only big league at-bat. Stephens had enjoyed a six-RBI game that day with the help of a grand slam off starter Phil Marchildon. Hitting behind Stephens, Walt Judnich had gone 3-for-4. In 1943, a knee injury had caused Stephens to flunk his U.S. Army physical, and he had remained among the top major leaguers throughout the war. For their parts, Judnich and Marchildon had been engaged in warfare, Judnich with the U.S. Army Air Force and Marchildon with the Royal Canadian Air Force. Piloting a plane in August 1944, Marchildon had been shot down and spent nine months in a POW camp. As for Judnich, he had been a military-squad teammate of Rugger Ardizoia, who, upon returning from the war, would pitch in just one major league game. In it, Stephens would single off of Ardizoia and Judnich would homer.
George Tomer whiffed in his pinch-hitting appearance, in 1913. Still, he shared a field with all-time great names, each with the opposing Athletics: Home Run Baker, Boardwalk Brown, Bullet Joe Bush and Stuffy McInnis.
On the field during Ivan Bigler’s one-and-done were Nemo Leibold, Lefty Williams, Zeb Terry, Buck Weaver, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Happy Felsch, Chick Gandil, Swede Risberg, Reb Russell, Shano Collins, Baby Doll Jacobson and Doc Lavan.
In the fourth inning of a Browns-Senators game in 1927, Lefty Atkinson pinch ran for pinch hitter Bennie Tate after Tate drew a walk. Atkinson later scored the Senators’ fifth run of the inning on a Joe Judge single. He then watched as the next four batters went homer, double, double, single to drive in five more runs — and to send Atkinson to the plate for his only known professional at-bat. Facing reliever Lefty Stewart, he hit into a 6-4-3 double play to end the 10-run inning. Reliever Garland Braxton then took Atkinson’s place in the lineup, making Lefty Atkinson the only known pinch runner in major league history to receive an at-bat. Lefty and Lefty weren’t the only owners of interesting names. Also playing that day were Bucky Harris, Goose Goslin, Muddy Ruel, Bump Hadley, Sloppy Thurston, Firpo Marberry, Sad Sam Jones, Bing Miller and General Crowder.
On the penultimate day of Pittsburgh’s 1979 season, with the Pirates trailing the Cubs, 7-6, with two outs in the bottom of the 13th inning, Gary Hargis pinch ran at first base. Representing the tying run, he moved to second on Dave Parker’s single. And there he remained as Willie Stargell struck out. The Pirates would win the World Series without him.
In game two of a 1941 doubleheader, Jack Aragon pinch ran for Gabby Hartnett with two outs in the ninth. The next batter, Morrie Arnovich, made an out. Stranded, Aragon would play eight more years in the minors.
April 20, 1944, Reds versus Cubs: Cincinnati’s Mike Kosman pinch runs for Steve Mesner in the bottom of the seventh, with the score tied, 1-1. Standing 90 feet away from his first major league run, Kosman watches as Cubs starter Bill Fleming retires the next two batters to end the inning. Kosman is then replaced in the lineup. His big league career is over.
June 17, 1944: In the bottom of the ninth, with his Braves trailing the Giants by four, 17-year-old Gene Patton pinch runs at first base. Teammate Max Macon is on second base, with no outs. Next, Butch Nieman hits a grounder that forces Patton at second base. The teen returns to the dugout. The next batter, Tommy Holmes, hits a three-run homer.
In The (Age) Gap
During a 2007 A’s-Mets game in which 25-year-old Kevin Melillo pinch hit for Oakland, 48-year-old Julio Franco pinch hit for New York. Both walked, but only Franco scored. And though each would finish his major league career by season’s end, Franco would retire with 2,527 games played, Melillo with just the one.
In the final season of his Hall of Fame career, the Braves’ George Sisler on May 24, 1930 led off the bottom of the ninth with a triple against Brooklyn’s Ray Phelps. With the Braves trailing, 2-1, Owen Kahn pinch ran for Sisler. In his only major league appearance, he scored the tying run. Kahn was then replaced in the field. Had Sisler scored instead of Kahn, he would now be tied with Julio Franco for 134th on the runs-scored list, with 1,285.
On Sept. 9, 1916, Pittsburgh’s Bill Batsch entered as a pinch hitter against Hippo Vaughn on a day when the Cubs ace would allow just six base runners while pitching a complete-game shutout. In his sole plate appearance, Batsch drew one of the Pirates’ four walks.
Pinch hitting for the Browns on June 24, 1915, Chauncey Burkam struck out against Tigers ace Hooks Dauss and then watched as Ty Cobb finished a home run shy of the cycle to lift his batting average to .402.
Aug. 14, 1929: After Grover Hartley reaches on a late-inning error by Athletics ace Lefty Grove, 28-year-old Dan Jessee pinch runs for Hartley. Left stranded, Jessee watches Grove finish a complete-game 17-inning victory.
Matched With Fame
Jess Cortazzo’s only big league at-bat was his first professional at-bat. It came on Sept. 21, 1923, when the 18-year-old pinch hit for future Hall of Fame pitcher Red Faber and made an out. The 5-foot-3 shortstop would spend the next 15 seasons in the minors. Still, he shared a dugout with four future Hall members — Faber, Harry Hooper, Eddie Collins and Ray Schalk — and a field with two more: Tris Speaker and Joe Sewell.
Though pinch hitter Dick Teed whiffed in his only at-bat, in 1953, he did share a dugout with Jim Gilliam, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges, Carl Furillo and Roy Campanella: four future Hall of Famers, three multiple-time All-Stars and each with at least one World Series ring.
After Boston made Moose Morton a September call-up in 1954, he met the team in Baltimore and was assigned a locker next to Ted Williams. Sadly, Teddy Ballgame’s talent did not rub off. Facing Senators lefty Dean Stone, Morton whiffed on three pitches in his only major league at-bat.
Matched With Infamy
Facing Detroit’s Harry Covaleski in his pinch-hitting appearance, in 1916, Joe Fautsch made an out. More notable is that he shared a dugout that day with six of the eight White Sox who would constitute the Black Sox.
Exercise In Futility
Aug. 7, 1923: Late in Washington’s game against the Indians, Jake Propst pinch hits for reliever Squire Potter. (Potter, too, will become a Sipper.) Propst makes an out. It doesn’t matter. The Senators lose, 22-2, as Frank Brower goes 6-for-6. The only Indians starter without an RBI: Tris Speaker.
Eternal Sipper, Future Skipper
In a 1991 game, 27-year-old Jeff Banister pinch hit for starter Doug Drabek and hit a chopper to the 5.5 hole. Ranging to his right, Braves shortstop Jeff Blauser backhanded the ball and threw to first base, but Banister beat the throw for a hit. This highlight would become his only highlight — until he guided the Rangers to back-to-back AL West crowns.
Bill Schlesinger had gotten so accustomed to the Boston bench that he had stopped bringing his bat to the dugout, so when manager Billy Herman told him to pinch hit during a game in May 1965, Schlesinger scrambled to find it. An attendant at last retrieved it from the clubhouse and delivered it to the 23-year-old rookie — with a weighted donut still on the barrel. Hustling to make his debut, Schlesinger tripped on the dugout steps and skinned his knee. Next, he couldn’t get the donut off the bat. While players in both dugouts howled, plate umpire Joe Paparella grabbed the bat and did it for him. Facing Marcelino Lopez, Schlesinger then delivered the most hopeless struck ball a batter can manage — a grounder back to the pitcher. He had just made his first — and last — big league appearance. The following day, newspapers couldn’t fit his name into box scores. So for the man whose debut couldn’t have been worse, it had suddenly gotten worse. In the Chicago Tribune he was Sch’inger. In the Los Angeles Times he was Sc’les’ger. In the New York Times he was Schle’ger. The Washington Post? It left him out entirely. Come to think of it, perhaps it was for the best.
Making It Count
April 20, 1946: With his team trailing the Giants, 5-4, in the bottom of the seventh, Dodgers manager Leo Durocher sends John Corriden to run for Billy Herman at first base. With one out, Corriden scores. Though his big league career is over, he did tally the go-ahead run in a rivalry game his team would win, 9-8, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
Herb Gorman had spent eight seasons in the minors and two years in the U.S. Coast Guard before getting his big league opportunity with St. Louis on April 19, 1952. In the seventh inning, with the Cardinals trailing the Cubs, 5-0, he pinch hit and grounded out. The following season, while playing left field for the Triple-A San Diego Padres, Gorman called timeout and slumped to the grass. Upon arrival at a local hospital, the 28-year-old was pronounced dead. He had suffered a massive heart attack.
Pinch hitting in the ninth inning of Pittsburgh’s 19-2 loss to the Giants on July 10, 1922, Art Merewether grounded out to begin and end his big league career. His working days were not over. After receiving a graduate degree at MIT —where, interestingly, he was allowed to play for the baseball team — he became chief of the Weather Section of the U.S. Army Air Corps, chief meteorologist for American Airlines and President of the American Meteorological Society.
Ray Kennedy spent two years in the minors before getting his shot in the bigs. After his one at-bat, hitless, he spent another decade in the minors. He never returned to the majors — at least as a player. In 1946 he became the first general manager of the Pirates.
On Oct. 2, 2012, 74-year-old Fred Van Dusen threw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the Cubs-Marlins game in Miami. The reason: Miami’s Adam Greenberg was going to get an at-bat. Seven years earlier, in a ninth-inning pinch-hitting role for the Cubs versus the Marlins, Greenberg had suffered a career-halting beanball in his first major league plate appearance. Fifty-seven years prior to Greenberg’s beaning, Van Dusen, too, had suffered a beaning in his first and last big league plate appearance, a ninth-inning pinch-hitting appearance against the Braves. Van Dusen, a Bonus Baby who was just 17 at the time, would play seven more seasons in the minors but never return to the majors. But here was now, in a big league stadium to honor the one-game return of Adam Greenberg. Following Greenberg’s at-bat, in which he struck out, Van Dusen again became the only player to be hit by a pitch in his lone major league plate appearance and never play in the field.
It was the final day of the 1916 season, and the Giants and Dodgers were facing off in a game so meaningless that several regulars on each team got the day off. Nevertheless, call-up Heinie Stafford still didn’t make the Giants starting lineup. With two outs in the top of the ninth and the bases empty, Stafford got the call to pinch hit. In the moments that followed, he made the final out of the game, the season and his major league career. His story didn’t end there, though. As a chemist in the 1920s, he developed and patented the chemical process for mercerizing silk. Take that, Moonlight Graham!
Blame it on — or credit it to — Eddie Stanky.
The date: April 22, 1946: And after four years in the minors and several days on the Brooklyn bench, Otis Davis had finally gotten his major league shot. Following Stanky’s pinch-hit walk to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning, and with his Dodgers trailing the Braves, 4-2, acting manager Chuck Dressen had summoned the 25-year-old Davis to pinch run for the slower Stanky. Nicknamed Scat for his speed, Davis didn’t need that speed as Braves starter Lefty Wallace issued a walk to pinch hitter Bob Ramazzotti.
Davis now stood in scoring position for future Hall of Famer Billy Herman.
Herman, who had just returned to baseball following his two-year service in World War II, squared to bunt but knocked it foul. Having gotten a good lead at second base, Davis sprinted to third and slid hard into the bag. Herman, despite entering the game with a .421 batting average, again squared to bunt but once more knocked it foul. And again, Davis slid hard into third base. This time, he tweaked a knee injury he’d first suffered in high school.
Following Herman’s two-strike bunt, Pete Reiser stepped to the plate and clubbed a drive into the left-center field gap. Davis and Ramazzotti both scored on the double, knotting the game at 4-4 and ultimately sending it into extra innings. The Dodgers would prevail, 5-4.
And so Davis, in his debut, had scored a key run in his team’s extra-inning victory. But in the process, he had reinjured his knee. The joint stiffened overnight, and Davis remained unable to play for the rest of the series and throughout the subsequent road trip.
In late April, manager Leo Durocher asked Davis if he could run. Davis said no and soon caught a train to Montreal to rehabilitate his knee with a Triple-A Royals team that featured the up-and-coming Jackie Robinson. But while Robinson would burst into the majors the following season, a still-gimpy Davis would post a combined batting average just short of .300 -—specifically, .299 — for the Dodger’s Class B and Class A affiliates.
A year later, after batting .298 across stints in Class C and Class A, Davis retired from the professional game to work for a car dealership and later to become a machinist.
In a 2002 interview, he reflected on his time in the majors.
“Think about this,” he said to Jim Sargent. “What if Eddie Stanky had struck out? If he doesn’t get on base, what happens to my shot at the big leagues?”
Histories pivot on an instant: Phil Rizzuto’s error, Larry Bowa’s broken hand.
Though small in the grand scheme of baseball, the events remain hugely important — indeed, necessary — to a pair of Pinch Sippers and their careers.
But what of Stanky’s walk?
Like Davis said — think about it.
His two-part question remains inscrutable. Does it mean that if Stanky hadn’t reached base, Davis wouldn’t have gotten his shot? Or does it mean that if Stanky hadn’t reached base, Davis wouldn’t have injured his knee?
References & Resources
- Baseball Almanac
- Society of American Baseball Research, SABR Bio Project