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Adam Greenberg & Others Who Got a Second Chance

As Bradley Woodrum wrote a week ago, Adam Greenberg finally got a second chance in the majors, thanks to a petition on Change.org. He struck out in three pitches against R.A. Dickey, but there’s little shame in that. He approached it like a big leaguer: “He beat me last night, but I’m really hopeful that last night isn’t the last night we’re going to face each other.”

Not a lot of people get a second chance at the big leagues. Few enough get a first chance. However, as it happens, Greenberg’s position is even rarer than that. In the history of baseball, since 1871, 17,941 players have made the major leagues for at least one game. But just 200 of them — 1.1 percent — only played one game. Just 74 players, 0.4 percent, received only one plate appearance. In other words, most players who are good enough to make the majors are good enough to get more than one bite at the apple.

In the history of baseball, there are exactly 76 players, including Greenberg, who have received exactly two plate appearances. And only five of them split their appearances across two different years. Beside Greenberg, the four others are Tommy Cruz (1973 and 1977), Bill Windle (1928-29), Billy Maharg (1912 and 1916), and Joe Crisp (1910-11). Windle and Crisp are essentially lost to history. I can hardly find anything about them on the internet other than the odd box score and their dates of death. Since they received their scant appearances in consecutive years, it seems likely that they were simply career minor leaguers. But the other two are fascinating.

Tommy Cruz is in one of the great baseball families: his younger brother is Hector Cruz, his older brother is Jose Cruz Sr., and his nephew is Jose Cruz Jr. His 1973 Cardinals were one of the only teams in history to have three brothers in the same clubhouse, with 25-year old Jose as their regular center fielder, 20-year old Hector as a September callup and pinch hitter, and 22-year old Tommy as an occasional pinch runner. (It was a family of 13, 10 boys and 3 girls, so more of the family was still watching the team than playing on it.)

According to the baseball-reference Bullpen wiki, “It was the first time since the three Alou brothers – Matty, Felipe and Jesus – had been teammates with the San Francisco Giants in 1963 that three brothers were on the same major league team; it has not happended since.” (For what it’s worth, Cruz received no official plate appearances in 1973; he was used as a pinch runner and defensive replacement in three games. Both of his plate appearances came in 1977, after he’d spent three more full years in the minors.)

After Cruz’s big league career was over, he went to Japan from 1980 to 1985, and hit 120 homers in Japan with the Nippon Ham Fighters. He then went to the Mariners organization, where he has been a coach for 22 years. This year, he was a coach with the Single-A Clinton LumberKings.

Billy Maharg was a scab for a day on May 18, 1912, when the Detroit Tigers players went on strike. The players were protesting a suspension that the league had handed down to Ty Cobb, after Cobb went into the stands to beat up a fan. (This was the famous incident where the fan who had been heckling Cobb had mangled hands from a machine accident, and a fan pointed out that he hadn’t got any hands; Cobb reportedly said, “I don’t care if he hasn’t any feet.”)

The Tigers were in Philadelphia to play the Athletics, and so the Tigers were forced to field a team of replacement players from among the locals, including 48-year old Deacon McGuire and a local amateur boxer named Bill Maharg. Maharg went 0-1 as the third baseman. He stuck around Philly, and started working as an assistant trainer for the Phillies, who gave him his second career plate appearance in 1916. Then, three years later, the story gets even better. He was recruited to raise money from Arnold Rothstein to throw the 1919 World Series. (His birth name was Graham, which is “Maharg” backwards; perhaps William Graham didn’t necessarily want people to know his baseball activities.)

Baseball has had remarkable labor peace since 1994, so it’s unlikely that Greenberg will be able to avail himself of Maharg’s back door to the big leagues at a later date. Indeed, Greenberg may have played his last game. But who knows? Topps is making him a 2013 baseball card. He’s already gotten more of the big leagues than all but a few thousand of us. And if history is any guide, even if his playing career is truly over, his career in baseball may be just beginning.