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The Curious Case of Cody Ransom

The Arizona Diamondbacks placed utility infielder Cody Ransom on waivers earlier this week. On Thursday, the Milwaukee Brewers claimed Ransom and added him to their active roster. A commonplace transaction, repeated hundreds of times throughout the baseball season. Oh, but when it comes to Cody Ransom, nothing is commonplace.

When Ransom plays in his first game for the Brewers, he will hold an interesting distinction. You see, the Brewers are Ransom’s 6th major-league team. Okay, that’s not terribly unusual. Lots of players have played for 6 or more teams. But in the Expansion Era (1961 to the present), no player who’s played for 6 or more major-league teams has had 8 or more seasons in which he’s played 35 games or fewer.

Allow me to explain.

The San Francisco Giants drafted Ransom in the 9th round of the 1998 amateur draft and assigned him to their Low-A team in Salem-Keizer, Oregon. Ransom progressed through the Giants’ minor-league system and was called up to the majors in September, 2001. He debuted for the Giants on September 5 in a game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at what was then called Pac Bell Park. With the Giants down 7-1 in the 8th inning, Ransom pinch hit for shortstop Rich Aurilia. Curt Schilling started the game for the D’backs and was still on the mound. Ransom swung at the first pitch and hit a fly ball to right field. He stayed in the game at shortstop and cleanly fielded a groundout for the third out in the top of the 9th inning.

Ransom saw action in another eight games in 2001, either as a pinch hitter or defensive replacement. He had nine plate appearances, with no hits, no walks and five strikeouts.

The 2002 season was much the same for Ransom. He spent the year with the Giants’ Triple-A team in Fresno, California before getting a call-up in September. The Giants were in the hunt for the wild card (which they clinched on the second-to-last day of the season), so Ransom saw limited action down the stretch.  He entered 6 games late as either a defensive replacement or a pinch runner but had no at bats. He started at shortstop in the last game of the season, had 4 plate appearances, drawing a walk and hitting 2 singles, including his first major-league hit.

Ransom saw a bit more major-league playing time with the Giants in 2003, a season in which they led the National League West wire to wire. The Giants called him up from Triple-A in early August. He played in 20 games, starting in 5. In 28 plate appearances, he drew 1 walk and got 6 hits, including a double and a home run.

By 2004, Ransom was 28 years old. He’d had three late-season call-ups and nothing more. But the Giants needed more out of him that season, to fill in at second base for the oft-injured Ray Durham and as a back-up to Neifi Perez and Deivi Cruz at shortstop. Ransom started in 12 games and played in 70 overall. In 78 plate appearances, he batted .250/.320/.352 with six doubles and one home run.

But it was Ransom’s play in the field for which is most remembered in San Francisco. Or rather, his failure to make a critical play in the second-to-last game of the season that cost the Giants a chance at the postseason. The Giants were playing the Dodgers in Los Angeles. Heading into the game, the Giants’ record was 90-70. The Dodgers were 92-68. If the Giants won the last two games of the season, they’d be in a tie for the National League West Division title. Both teams were also competing with the Houston Astros for the the wild card.

The Giants led 3-0 heading to the bottom of the 9th inning. Giants manager Felipe Alou put Ransom in as defensive replacement at shortstop for Deivi Cruz. Dustin Hermanson was on the mound for the save. Here’s how the inning unfolded: single, walk, strikeout, walk, run-scoring walk. The score was 3-1, and bases were loaded with 1 out. Jason Christiansen replaced Hermanson on the hill. On the 3rd pitch of the at-bat, Cesar Izturis hit a double-play grounder to short. Ransom booted the ball, a run scored and the inning continued. Jayson Werth then hit a single off Matt Herges, who replaced Christiansen and the game was tied. Out went Herges, in came Wayne Franklin, and then this:


That was the end of Cody Ransom’s career with the Giants. It was also his last major-league game until 2007.

He bounced around in the minors in 2005 and 2006, playing for the Triple-A affiliates of the Cubs, Rangers and Astros. Houston called him up in September of the 2007 season. He started in 7 games, 19 overall, and batted .229/.413/.371. He was 31 years old. He’d improved his on-base skills since his first major-league game in 2001, but didn’t hit consistently or for power. It looked like it might be the end of the road.

It wasn’t.

The Yankees signed Ransom to a minor-league deal before the 2008 season. New York called him up in August, in the midst of a tough race in the American League East. And for the first time in his career, at age 32, Ransom made things happen. He started 12 games, played in 21 others and batted .302/.400/.651 in 51 plate appearances. He drew 6 walks, hit 3 doubles and smacked 4 home runs. The Yankees failed to make the postseason, but it wasn’t for lack of effort by Cody Ransom.

He was back with Yankees in 2009 and in the majors to start the season. Ransom filled in for Alex Rodriguez at third base while Rodriguez rehabbed from off-season hip surgery. But the consistency, patience and power he’d shown in 2008 was gone. In two stints with the Yankees — in April and then in again late June to early August — Ransom batted .190/.256/.329 in 86 plate appearances spread across 31 games. As the Yankees marched toward 103 wins and a World Series title, Ransom was nowhere in sight.

Again, the end of the road looked near. And again, it wasn’t. Ransom signed a minor-league deal with the Phillies for the 2010 season. He played 22 games for Philadelphia, mostly in July, filling in on various days at first, second and third. In 46 plate appearances, he batted .190/.244/.333.

The pattern repeated in 2011 when Ransom signed to play in the minors for the Diamondbacks. Again, his time in the majors decreased from the prior season. He started 9 games between late July and August, played in 3 others, and was gone by the time Arizona clinched the National League West title. In 37 plate appearances, he hit 2 singles, 2 doubles and 1 home run.

The Diamondbacks brought him back for this season, again starting him in the minors. But when third baseman Ryan Roberts struggled big time at the plate the first weeks of the season, Arizona recalled Ransom and gave him regular playing time at third base. Ransom got off to a hot start, then cooled off, but still outperformed Roberts.

On May 1, the Diamondbacks were 13-11. In the next 21 games, they went  7-14 and now sit in third place in the National League West with a record of 20-25. So on Monday, Arizona made a move for the future, bringing up third-base prospect Josh Bell, who was tearing the leather off the ball in Triple-A. To make room for Bell, the D’backs designated Ransom for assignment. The move was a bit of a surprise, given Ransom’s .269/.345/.577 line in 58 plate appearances, although his strikeout rate had begun to rise.

And now, the Brewers. Milwaukee lost shortstop Alex Gonzalez for the season with a knee injury and second baseman Rickie Weeks if off to a woeful start. Ransom is likely to see time at both positions as manager Ron Roenicke shuffles his lineup to get the Brewers — at 18-26 — back to .500.

This is Ransom’s 10th season with playing time in the majors. So far, the only season in which he’s played more than 35 games is the 2004 season with the Giants. That gives him 8 seasons of 35 games or fewer. Here’s the list of players with 8 or more seasons of 35 games or fewer in the Expansion Era:

Rk Yrs From To Age
1 Tom Prince 10 1987 2003 22-38 Ind. Seasons
2 Corky Miller 9 2001 2010 25-34 Ind. Seasons
3 Matt Sinatro 9 1981 1992 21-32 Ind. Seasons
4 Cody Ransom 8 2001 2011 25-35 Ind. Seasons
5 Alberto Castillo 8 1995 2007 25-37 Ind. Seasons
6 Mike Laga 8 1982 1990 22-30 Ind. Seasons
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/24/2012.

While 3 others have played more seasons of 35 games or less, and 2 others have played the same number of such seasons, only Ransom has done so with six teams. Or, rather, he will have done it for six teams once he has his first place appearance or inning in the field for the Brewers.

It’s a testament to Ransom’s longevity and perseverance.