The Marlins will be giving former Chicago Cubs farmhand the at bat he lost seven years ago. According to multiple sources, the Marlins are signing Adam Greenberg to make an appearance in their series against the New York Mets:
Pretty cool news: The Marlins are going to give Adam Greenberg an at-bat next week. Nice gesture by Jeffrey Loria and David Samson…
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) September 27, 2012
Greenberg, on July 9, 2005, was hit in the back of the head on the first pitch from Marlins reliever Valerio de los Santos, giving Greenberg a severe concussion and effectively ending his MLB career. I was watching the game with my mother. I remember it well.
And now, after a public campaign to get Greenberg another shot at the majors, the long-time minor league and independent league 31-year-old player will get his chance.
On July 8, the Cubs had called up both Greenberg and fellow rookie Matt Murton from Double-A to replace Jason Dubois and the struggling Corey Patterson. By July 9, these four men were already walking towards destinies worlds apart.
Matt Murton spent much of the remainder of the season as a starting outfielder for the Cubs. He put up a 101 wRC+ over his five seasons in the majors before being released, which lead to him signing with the Hanshin Tigers in Japan’s NPB league, where he broke Ichiro Suzuki‘s hit record. Murton became a celebrity in Japan, and he plays there to this day.
Corey Patterson, ironically enough, is the only player still in the MLB. He finished the 2012 season with the Brewers Triple-A affiliate, and he has — despite not becoming the Sammy Sosa every Cubs fan thought he would be — put up and average of 1.5 WAR per 600 PA over the course of 12 MLB seasons and 4499 PA.
Jason Dubois, by July 9, had only 14 more MLB games coming his way. He was traded to the Cleveland Indians later that summer and then spent the next five seasons either struggling in the International League (AAA) or dominating in the Pacific Coast League (AAA).
Valerio de los Santos, then a 32-year-old LOOGY, appeared in 12 more games — 10 in the 2005 season and then 2 more as a 35-year-old with Colorado. De los Santos, like many players who still have baseball skills but not necessarily MLB skills, went to the independent leagues. In 2011, he signed with the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League. The same league Adam Greenberg had been playing in since 2009 as an outfielder for the Bridgeport Bluefish.
On April 29, 2011, Adam Greenberg hit a single off de los Santos in a losing effort for the Bluefish.
If baseball is all about numbers, if all that matters are the uniforms and stadiums and rules, if the players — the people — are not the key element, then there is nothing worthy about this sport. Adam Greenberg is not the first player to have fate or bad luck undo years of work. As Craig Calcaterra said this morning, “Lots of guys never even get the one plate appearance.”
I imagine many of us know a player — a washed-out prospect we went to high school with, a former college standout, an independent league all-star — who missed the cut, who had an injury at a key time or who had one bad season in a year where someone younger made them obsolete.
This sport is a children’s game, but it is also a multi-million dollar business. The two dovetail about as well as an intersection with only green lights. We want the storybook fantasies to play out, but every year a hundred books get closed, unfinished.
When someone like Greenberg enters the scene and leaves so abruptly, so violently, our hearts fight against it. It’s the tragedy we see that haunts us the most. I know there are countless dead dreams in the minors, but Shane Funk and Gordie Gronkowski haunt me the most — because I saw them in person and knew they were real.
Almost everyone is hoping Greenberg will hit a home run — at least a double — in his upcoming plate appearance. For the players who never had the chance, I imagine a lingering taste of jealousy exists — that Greenberg of all the unfinished stories would get his happy ending. But that’s just the thing. Every one of these stories has a chance for a fairy-tale ending.
If Greenberg’s story ended with a single on April 29, 2011, then the story finished well. If Rich Thompson’s story ended with a quiet retirement and years spent toiling for an unrealized dream, then the story still ended well — it ended with a man of dedication, a man of perseverance.
The plot may have been tragic, but the character was good. And that is all that matters.