On this day in baseball history: July 5, 1936

Nothing special happened in major league play 75 years ago today, at least nothing that was especially noteworthy at the time. The Philadelphia Athletics suffered their 12th straight loss, facing the Boston Red Sox and Jimmie Foxx, the final star of Connie Mack’s disassembled dynasty. Wes Ferrell, Mel Harder, and Jimmie DeShong each won their 11th games of the season, on their way to 53 wins collectively, though no man had an ERA under 4.00. Meanwhile in Washington D.C., an old baseball player I doubt many people had heard of died.

I can’t find any record on the death of Phil Wisner, who was not quite 67 when he passed. Nor is there much information on the Web about his career, though what I saw intrigues me. Wisner got in exactly one game, August 30, 1895 for the Washington Senators. Playing shortstop, the 25-year-old had no plate appearances, and of his four chances in the field, he committed three errors. He did manage an assist, but otherwise, that was the end of it for him in baseball, especially bleak considering Washington went 43-85 and seemingly could have used a young, left-handed hitting shortstop.

I love baseball for its history, for the fact that more than 17,000 men have played in the majors in over a century with more than 17,000 stories accordingly. I’m of the belief that everyone has a story, everyone, and I’m curious what it was for Wisner. I wonder what it’s like to make the show at 25, play one game, and live 40 more years. Does it make for an interesting life story, something to tell the dinner party guests or is it an excruciating case of what might have been, something to obsess on? Depends on the person, I suppose.

In the book Shoeless Joe, which became Field of Dreams, there’s the part where Ray Kinsella tracks down Moonlight Graham, who played one game for the New York Giants. “I think I came here because your time was so short,” Kinsella tells Graham in the book. “I wanted to know how it affected your life. But I can see you’ve done well. It would have killed some men to get so close. They’d never do anything else but talk about how close they were.” Graham replies, “If I’d only got to be a doctor for five minutes, now that would have been a tragedy. You have to keep things in perspective. I mean, I love the game, but it’s only that, a game.”

Would if everyone could have such humility. I will say I’ve heard expressions of it talking to baseball folk. I started research about a year and a half ago on a book on Joe Marty, who came up in the Pacific Coast League with Joe DiMaggio and was once thought to be the better prospect. Of course, the rest is history, and the crux of my research is about determining what effect this had on Marty’s life. I interviewed one of his close friends about a year ago, and his take was that Marty never even thought about it.

Maybe some people don’t place too much stock in the times they fall short in life, learning what they can and moving on. Whether Phil Wisner falls into this rank, I don’t know, though if anyone out there has more info, please feel free to email me.

“On this day in baseball history” is an occasional feature here.

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