I love baseball.
My dad, my mom, my childhood, second-baseman Glenn Beckert, my wife and kids, the game's ability to teach life lessons, my well-worn Baseball Encyclopedia, Wrigley Field and the Chicago Cubs all have something to do with that. But at the heart of my love for baseball are the stories and the way they make me feel.
Adam Greenberg's baseball story always makes my eyes water.
"The Cubs were going bad at the time, and (General Manager) Jim Hendry wanted to shake things up a little bit, so he called up Greenberg and Matt Murton," remembers Bruce Miles, the longtime Daily Herald Cubs beat reporter who was covering Greenberg's debut game on July 9, 2005, in Miami. "Felix Pie, not Greenberg, would have been called up, but he had hurt his ankle."
Benefiting from Pie's injury, Greenberg, a scrappy outfielder hitting just .269 in the minors, made his dream come true at age 24. He kicked off his Major League Baseball career as a pinch-hitter for the Cubs in an exciting Cubs 8-2 win of an otherwise meaningless game. With his proud parents watching from the stands, the first pitch, a 92-mph fastball from Marlins pitcher Valerio de los Santos, made a sickening thud as it slammed into the back of Greenberg's batting helmet. The rookie fell to the ground and cradled his throbbing head with both hands. A dazed Greenberg was helped from the field as Carlos Zambrano came in to pinch run for him.
Still dizzy a week later, Greenberg was put on the disabled list.
"You never want to go on the DL, particularly when you get the opportunity of a lifetime to be in the major leagues," Greenberg said to the Daily Herald then. "You don't want to start your career on the DL. But there are some things that are beyond your control. … I know however long or short it takes, I will be back. I know the nature of this business, but the bottom line is I'll be back."
Greenberg never got back.
He bounced around in the minor leagues for a few years and then played in a lower-level independent league in Connecticut. As a member of the Bridgeport Bluefish. Greenberg even got a base hit against the pitcher who beaned him. Now 31, Greenberg, who is Jewish, has a shot to play in the World Baseball Classic as a member of the Israeli team. But since getting hit by a pitch doesn't count as an official at-bat, Greenberg's major league dream ends with him never getting an at-bat in the big leagues.
Die-hard Cubs fan and filmmaker Matt Liston and the 17,000 fans (so far) who have signed Liston's "One At Bat" petition at oneatbat.com failed to persuade the Cubs to give Greenberg another at-bat in Wrigley Field. In his video, Liston says he wishes the Cubs would let Greenberg have his at-bat as a Cub during the end-of-the-season matchup against the pitiful Houston Astros. The professional video and marketing campaign is heartfelt and sincere and decent, and I truly feel for Greenberg and the heartbreak of what he endured.
But I am glad the Cubs won't "give" Greenberg that official at-bat.
Greenberg is a baseball legend. He did something no one else has done in a sport where it seems that everything has been done by somebody else. According to the Baseball Almanac, a whopping 28 players hit home runs on the first pitch they saw in the major leagues. Seven big-leaguers got hit by a pitch in their only at-bat, says the Elias Sports Bureau. Dozens of players ended their baseball careers after only one at-bat. Greenberg is the ONLY player who got hit by the only big league pitch thrown to him and never got another chance.
In the alphabetical listing of Cubs players, Greenberg comes between the 400-game career of Danny Green from 1898 to 1901 and the 105-game career of Willie Greene in 2000. Greenberg's stats line is all zeros except for 1 game played, 1 plate appearance and his 1.000 on-base percentage that can never be topped. In the annals of Chicago Cubs baseball history, when it comes to on-base percentage, Greenberg soars above legends such as Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo.
In the emotional baseball movie "Field of Dreams," the character Archie "Moonlight" Graham was based on a real player by the same name who played in the field but never got a big league at-bat. The character was an old man who still longed for that one chance. That makes Moonlight Graham compelling. Larry Yount, the older brother of Hall-of-Famer Robin Yount, made baseball history in 1971 by coming into a major league game with the Astros as a relief pitcher, only to suffer arm pain during his warm-ups. He left the game without throwing that first pitch, and he never got another chance in the big leagues. But he did very well in real estate development and remains the answer to a trivia question as the only MLB pitcher to officially enter a game and never throw a pitch in his career.
Greenberg has that same romantic uniqueness, and more. He has the ability to wonder, "What if?" That is a valuable commodity that you don't have to be a big-league ballplayer to appreciate. In a sport where thousands of players get their chance in the big leagues and soon are forgotten, Greenberg is remembered. Greenberg has a baseball story.