One game in the bigs: 10 short baseball careers

1. Moonlight Graham: This was probably the first name I knew on this list, seeing as Graham comes up in Field of Dreams. The author of the book that inspired the film noticed Graham in The Baseball Encyclopedia and wrote of how he played one game for the New York Giants in 1905 and later became a doctor in Chisholm, Minnesota. The filmmakers changed the game date to 1922, with Graham quitting baseball immediately thereafter because he “couldn’t bear the thought of another year in the minors.” In real life, Graham hit .329 back in the bushes in 1906 and played two more years before going to Chisholm in 1909.

2. Aloysius Travers: Ty Cobb attacked a fan in the stands one day in 1912 and was suspended indefinitely by American League president Ban Johnson. The rest of the Detroit Tigers struck in solidarity, and to avoid forfeiting the next game, Tiger management used replacement players. Travers, a seminary student, suffered the worst complete game loss in baseball history, allowing 24 runs, still a record. Interestingly, for having a one-game career, he accounted for -2.1 Wins Above Replacement, which might also be a record, if an illogical one. Travers remains the only Catholic priest to play in the majors.

3. Jim O’Rourke*: O’Rourke played 23 years in the majors and forged a Hall of Fame career. He’s included here because he played exactly one game in the modern era, September 22, 1904 when the 54-year-old attorney got his wish to appear in one more game. He caught all nine innings for the New York Giants, went 1-for-4 with a run scored, and helped New York clinch the pennant. It was his first game since 1893.

4. Eddie Gaedel: St. Louis Browns owner Bill Veeck signed the midget Gaedel in 1951 as a publicity stunt and had him bat once. Because of Gaedel’s tiny strike zone and the high likelihood he would walk, Veeck told him a sniper would be watching from afar, ready to shoot if he swung. Gaedel walked on four pitches. The American League subsequently voided Gaedel’s contract, and he later began to drink heavily, dying after being mugged in 1961 at 36.

5. Rugger Ardizoia: I wrote a paper in college about Italian-American ballplayers from the San Francisco Bay Area, and I interviewed Ardizoia, who pitched two innings for the New York Yankees in 1947. I don’t remember much about Ardizoia, except he seemed nice. His biography on Baseball-Reference.com quotes him saying of his baseball career, “Oh yeah, yessir. I loved it.”

6. John Paciorek: Most of the men on this list had one lousy or nondescript game. Paciorek made the most of his only contest. Starting in right field for the Houston Colt .45’s on September 29, 1963, the 18-year-old Paciorek went 3-for-3 with three RBI and four runs. Subsequent injury problems ended his career, though his younger brother, Tom was an All Star with the Seattle Mariners.

7. Nick Testa: 1958 was the best and worst of years for Testa. He finally made the majors at 29 for the San Francisco Giants, though his stint lasted one half of one inning, with him committing an error his only defensive chance. He became a bullpen coach for the team later that year and played a few more seasons in the minors and elsewhere, being among the first Americans to play in Japan in 1962.

8. Larry Yount: What’s tougher than being the obscure older brother of Robin Yount? Perhaps it’s making the majors in 1971, getting injured while throwing warm-up pitches for a debut relief appearance, and never returning to the show. Yount tried, remaining in the minors until 1976.

9. Harry Heitmann: A disastrous outing could have doomed Heitmann. The 21-year-old didn’t record an out his only big league start, allowing four runs for the loss, and because it was 1918, he immediately joined the navy and served in World War I. Ballplayers were conscripted indiscriminately in those days, from Cobb to George Sisler to Grover Cleveland Alexander, so Heitmann may have served no matter if he succeeded in baseball. He survived and died in 1958.

10. John Oldham: The Reds signed Oldham as a southpaw out of San Jose State, though in his sole appearance in the majors in 1956, he pinch ran for Ted Kluszewski. Oldham later coached college baseball for almost three decades, instructing future All Star pitcher Dave Righetti among others.

15 thoughts on “One game in the bigs: 10 short baseball careers

  1. I didn’t realize Robin Yount had an older brother :-P

    I also didn’t realize there were so many interesting 1 game careers. I knew about John Paciorek but I thought Moonlight was made up for the movie.

  2. Thanks, Devon. In my research for this post, I read that there were something like 600 one-game-career players as of the 1950s. I’m guessing there are lots more good stories out there.

  3. Great list, Graham. Scary to think that there are hundreds more you could have chosen. Travers’ -2 WAR in a one-game career is a rare accomplishment, kind of like pouring a 12-ounce beer into a 6-ounce glass.

  4. Adam Greenburg was called up by the Cubs and saw exactly one pitch in the big leagues – it hit him in the head giving him severe concussions. He never played in the big leagues again, although he continues to work in the indy leagues.

  5. I thought I remembered taht Paciorek went three for three.
    A check with Baseball Reference shows he did go three for three with 2 walks. Batted 1.000 for his career.

  6. I saw Charlie Zink pitch for the Red Sox a couple years ago after toiling in the minors with his knuckleball for awhile. They were playing the Rangers and it was by far the highest scoring game I have ever seen. Needless to say he was sent back down the next day (or perhaps directly after the game…or maybe even the minute he was pulled).

  7. I happen to know John Paciorek — he is a PE teacher at a school a couple of blocks from my house. Great guy — genuinely nice, great with the kids, very giving.

  8. I’ve been to Moonlight Graham’s office in Chisholm some years ago. There’s some placques and memorabilia on the walls, but I don’t remember what the space is being used for now. I only realized who’s office that was, and why he was significant now after reading the article.

  9. John Francis “Honey” Barnes got one at bat for the 1926 NY Yankees. He walked and never appeared in another major league game again.

  10. Very cool piece. I like the story of Travers and the worst game in MLB history, and I agree with Max above that Adam Greenberg deserves a mention.

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