Marlins give Greenberg chance ‘Moonlight’ never got

If all goes according to form, tonight’s the night that page 902 of my Baseball Encyclopedia comes alive like Peter Frampton. For the second time.

On page 902 – this is the 1969 version of the Baseball Encyclopedia my mom gave to me on my 12th birthday – are three lines of type chronicling the major league career of Moonlight Graham.

On the first line is his baseball name in large letters: Moonlight Graham. And then his birth name in much smaller type: Graham, Archibald Wright. BL (bats left). TR (throws right). 5’10¼". 170 lbs.

On the second line is Moonlight Graham’s biographical information: B. Nov. 9, 1879, Fayetteville, N.C. D. Aug. 25, 1965, Chisholm, Minn.

On the third line are Moonlight Graham’s major league totals: 1 G, 0 AB, 0 H, 0 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 0 R, 0 RBI, 0 BB. Zeroes under pinch-hit ABs and hits; dashes under home run percentage and batting average and slugging average; a blank space (instead of a zero) under strikeouts, for some reason.

On June 29, 1905, Moonlight Graham was sent in to play right field for the New York Giants against the Brooklyn Superbas at Washington Park in Brooklyn. In the top of the ninth, he was in the on-deck circle when Claude Elliott flied out, ending the half-inning. He never came to bat. That was his only major league appearance.

By now, you know his story, at least if you’ve ever played catch with your father, or are a big fan of Kevin Costner movies, or have farmed corn in Iowa and heard a voice compelling you to turn your back 40 into a baseball diamond so you could watch Ray Liotta play left field and hit leadoff.

Tonight is Adam "Little Moonlight" Greenberg’s chance to shine (or even whiff with the bases loaded) for the Miami Marlins. Actually, that’s probably not his nickname. My edition of the Baseball Encyclopedia came out 12 years before Greenberg, 31, was born. The only Greenberg listed in the Player Register, on page 908 – just after Pumpsie Green and before Nelson Greene – is Hank, who had 5,193 at-bats in 13 seasons with the Tigers. There aren’t a lot hyphens and blank spaces under Greenberg, Henry Benjamin (Hammerin’ Hank).

But if you check Baseball Reference.com, you will see that Adam Greenberg also has made one appearance in the major leagues without being credited with an official at-bat. On July 9, 2005, when he was 24, Greenberg was sent in to pinch hit for the Cubs in the ninth inning. Valerio De Los Santos was pitching for the Florida Marlins.

He threw just once to Adam Greenberg. It was a 92-mph fastball that crashed into Greenberg’s batting helmet with a sickening thud.

Adam Greenberg fell to the ground. He would suffer from post-concussion syndrome, and dizziness, and severe headaches, and double vision, and nausea. He would never appear in another major league game.

Last year, he did get a single for the independent Bridgeport (Conn.) Bluefish against the Long Island Ducks. The Ducks’ pitcher was Valerio De Los Santos. I’m assuming this was not a coincidence.

(Moonlight Graham and Adam Greenberg both graduated from North Carolina. This, I believe, is a coincidence.)

When last seen, Greenberg was a late-inning defensive replacement for Team Israel, which lost to Spain in a qualifying game for the World Baseball Classic. Losing to Spain is nearly as bad as losing to the Astros.

But that’s apparently how the Marlins learned of Greenberg’s story, and the efforts of filmmaker Matt Liston to get Greenberg an official major league at-bat – something for the Baseball Encyclopedia under his name besides zeroes and a blank space. Liston thought it should be with the Cubs, because that was Greenberg’s team. And, yes, Liston’s team, too.

"That’s probably the sickest feeling that I think I’ve had in the game besides a couple of playoff losses when you know you’re going home," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "It’s wow, you can’t believe it. Some things you can’t understand in this world and in life, period."

The only problem is that Sveum was talking about Darwin Barney’s errorless streak at second base coming to an end in Phoenix on Friday night after 141 games, just three outs before Barney was to break Placido Polanco’s major league record.

This is what Sveum said about Adam Greenberg: "It’s nice for him. Obviously it wasn’t a fit for us, but I wish him the best. It will be a cool thing for him. It will be a fitting day for him."

Obviously not a fit? Why wasn’t it a fit? Why wasn’t there a one-day contract? Just because some Bob Costas types are calling it a publicity stunt?

You want a publicity stunt? This year there will be 10 teams in the playoffs. Now that’s a publicity stunt. They should exhume Bill Veeck and let Eddie Gaedel III throw out the first pitch.

The Cubs start today 60-100. Instead of providing one of their own with a thrill of a lifetime and some closure – and, yes, OK, a final scene for Liston’s documentary, and so what? – someone within the Cubs organization apparently thought it more important to get Josh Vitters (97 ABs, .111 batting average), or Brett Jackson (115 ABs, .175), or, for that matter, Alfonso Soriano four more plate appearances against the Astros.

For some misguided Lou Brock-for-Ernie Broglio reason, Soriano, soon to be 37, is signed through 2014 (though he had a nice season, and so perhaps now the Cubs will be able to trade him to the Royals or somebody like that). He’s going to get his at-bats. Plenty of at-bats.

All Adam Greenberg wanted was one.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

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