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Mudville: March 3, 2024 10:45 pm PDT

A Day in the Sun

PART ONE

There really was a “Moonlight” Graham who played in one major league game.

Fans of the film Field of Dreams recall Graham as a ghost or apparition who appears to Kevin Costner. In the movie, as in real life, Graham played the outfield in one inning and never got to bat. Later, a “younger” version of Graham appears in the story, and he gets a second chance and realizes his dream of hitting the ball.

Graham’s character is also in Shoeless Joe, the novel from the movie is somewhat based (In the book, it’s J.D. Salinger who Ray brings to Iowa and Shoeless Joe Jackson is not his father’s hero, but Ray’s.)

A little more than 23,000 have played in the major leagues as of the end of the 2023 season. About 1,500 players and 500 pitchers have performed in a single game.

Archibald W. “Moonlight” Graham (November 12, 1876 – August 25, 1965) was from Fayetteville, NC, and played for the New York Giants when he was 27.

On June 29, the Giants were the visiting team against the Brooklyn Superbas at Washington Park. At the conclusion of the eighth inning, Graham replaced right fielder George Browne. In the top of the ninth inning, Graham was on deck when Claude Elliott flied out, resulting in the third and final out. Graham played the bottom of the ninth in right field, recording no putouts or assists. That game turned out to be his only appearance in the major leagues — just like in the novel and film.

He played baseball at the University of North Carolina, where he was also a member of the Dialectic Society, a debating organization. Sources say he began playing minor baseball in 1900 or 1902. After his one game with the Giants, he played three more seasons in the minors. Graham studied at the University of Maryland’s medical school in the off-season, and completed his degree in 1906. He obtained his license the following year and began practicing medicine in Chisholm, Minnesota, a mining community.

I thought I had a great idea for a column about players who appeared in only one big-league game, but for the second time in a few months, someone beat me to it.

I found a great article about it on the internet and then I asked Bob Brady, of the Boston Braves Historical Association, if they had a list of one and done players. Knowing the Braves Association keeps track of many stats, they had this one for me – and Brady quickly sent me a list of such players. Then he suggested I check out Once Around the Bases: Bittersweet Memories Of Only One Game In The Majors by Richard Tellis (published in 1998).

In his introduction to the book Tellis wrote, “Most of the men included in this book spent years in the minors, working hard to reach that day they all dreamed about. Many toiled on the rough diamonds of the minor leagues for years afterwards, just hoping for a return for a second chance. Even those who came to the major leagues directly from college – or high school – were really major league ballplayers.

“For some, the day was joyous, for some miserable. Then it was over.

“Yet for a moment, only a moment, all of them achieved the dream of many American boys. They were all major-league ballplayers.”

One such player, Len Matarazzo, told Tillis, “I never spent a disappointing moment on a ball field in my life. I loved every minute of it. I’d do it all again – for nothing.” He pitched one inning for the Philadelphia Athletics on September 6, 1952.

Bobby Davidson pitched one inning for the New York Yankees on July 15, 1989; giving up two runs against the Kansas City Royals in front of more than 50,000 fans at Yankee Stadium. He recalled for Tillis how the Yankees had him fly in first class from the team’s AAA affiliate in Columbus, OH to New York. When he went back to the minors, he flew in coach.

In addition, I was referred to how an unusual game provided several players with a one-game appearance. When Ty Cobb was suspended for fighting a fan in the stands, sixteen members of the Tigers voted to go on strike in support of Cobb. Unable to field a team for their May 18, 1912, game in Philadelphia against the Athletics, the Tigers rustled up replacement players from a local college and two retired players. The A’s drubbed the replacement Tigers 24–2.

Pitcher Allan Travers went the whole game for Detroit, giving up 24 runs (a modern-day record), 14 of which were earned. Of the nine replacement players, the only one to ever appear in a big-league game again was Billy Maharg, who made it back for one more game in 1916 (and later was one of the fixers behind the Black Sox Scandal). The real Tigers, after being threatened by American League president Ban Johnson with indefinite banishments, came back for their next game.

Bill Veeck was responsible for one of the best-known one-game players. In the second game of a double header on August 19, 1951, the Browns had Frank Saucier playing right field and batting leadoff. He had played in only a handful of games for the Browns in 1951, his only season in the majors. In the bottom of the first, the Browns sent 3’6” Eddie Gaedel to the plate to pinch hit for Saucier. Possessing the smallest strike zone in history, Gaedel walked on four pitches from Tigers starter Bob Cain and was taken out of the game for a pinch runner, Jim Delsing, who was the team’s everyday centerfielder. When Delsing stepped on first base, Gaedel patted him on the butt, then headed to the dugout to cheers, and he doffed his cap to the crowd. He was paid $100 for that game, but he earned as much as $17,000 appearing on several television programs, such as The Ed Sullivan Show.

Display at the Reading Phillies stadium

I personally saw two one-gamers with the Phillies.

Before a Sunday home game started, I saw Larry Fritz and several other Phillies walking from the dugout to right field. I followed the Phils’ minor league teams as best I could (before the internet) and was aware of Fritz. When I spotted him on the field, I noticed he had a big smile on his face. After six seasons in the minors, Fritz was in the big leagues, called up to take the place of injured shortstop Larry Bowa.

After his junior year at college baseball powerhouse Arizona State, Fritz was drafted by the New York Mets in the 3rd round of the 1969 amateur draft. After five seasons with the Mets organization, he was sent to Philadelphia in an “unknown transaction,” according to Baseball Reference.

On May 30, 1975, Fritz batted for pitcher Larry Christensen in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and flied out to left to end the game.  Final score was 5-0. Houston starter Doug Konieczny pitched his only complete game shutout of his career.

“Back then we always wanted to complete a game, where today that’s pretty rare,” said Konieczny. “I probably felt good about not only completing the game (and) having my first shoutout, and the larger accomplishment of shutting out what was a good hitting team at that time if I recall. They had Dick Allen, Mike Schmidt.”

He kept a newspaper with the story of his game. “All it says about the ninth inning is I was able to survive it. We had three double plays in the game, which certainly helped,” he said.

“How did we get him out?” Konieczny asked.

I told him Fritz flied out.

He replied: “He put the bat on the ball. That’s pretty good.”

On Sunday, June 7, the Phillies sent Fritz back to its AAA team and called up Mike Rogodzinski, who led the NL with 17 pinch hits in 1973.

In a seven-year minor league career, Fritz batted .273, with 117 home runs, and 235 RBI, in 635 games, including a .356 on-base percentage and a .498 slugging percentage. In his two seasons with the Phillies minor league system, Fritz hit 33 home runs (22 in 1975) and had 109 RBIs. After the 1975 season, he played two years with the of the Mexican League, where he batted .355 with nine home runs and .342 with 21 home runs.

Display at the Reading Phillies stadium

After retiring, Fritz returned to his native Indiana, where he worked as a truck driver and married and had children. He died in 2010 at the age of 61. A columnist for the Northwest Times of Indiana wrote about Fritz shortly after his death, and mentioned he became a respected coach for baseball, basketball, soccer and softball teams. I was unable to find any teammates, coaches or family members to discuss Fritz with, so I never learned why he went to Mexico after 1975, or how he felt about having played in one major league game. But I did see him in a big league uniform on the field at a major league stadium, which not everyone who signs a contract has accomplished.

Travis Chapman was selected by the Phillies in the 17th round of the 2000 First-Year Player Draft out of Mississippi State University.

He played four seasons at third base in the Phillies minor league system. I saw him play at the team’s AA affiliate in Reading, PA. (He batted .301 with 15 home runs, 35 doubles and 76 RBIs that year.)

In 2003, he played for the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre Red Barons, the Phillies AAA team.

“I found out from (Manager) Mark Bombard in Ottawa, Canada after our last AAA game that I was being promoted to Philly with Ryan Madson and Josh Hancock,” Chapman said. “I stayed in the team for the rest of the season and we finished one game out of the playoffs.”

He appeared in one game, September 9.

In the 7th inning, with the Phillies ahead of the Atlanta Braves 18-3, Chapman substituted for starting third baseman Tomas Perez. Facing Jung Bong, he flied out to right field, and stayed in the game to play third.

“I was pretty nervous and excited to have the opportunity,” he said.

“I didn’t stay with the organization, as I went to the fall league and got hurt later in 2003. Then I was taken off the 40-man roster and became a free agent,” said Chapman. He played with the minor league systems of the Kansas City Royals, the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates.

After he retired, “I taught at Nease High School in the Jacksonville, FL area and was the head baseball coach. I taught AP and IB Psychology, Economics and Geography. I also helped out with the USA 18u National Team (which won a gold medal in Seoul, South Korea).”

He began coaching in the New York Yankees minor league system in 2013 and made his managerial debut with the club’s Gulf Coast League the following season. In 2022, he joined Yankees manager Aaron Boone’s major league staff as first base coach and in charge of defense.

“My one AB has opened many doors and has given others the ability to say I am a former MLB player,” said Chapman. “I agree, but as a competitor I just wanted the opportunity to play a game I love and prove I was good enough to do it at the highest level”.

Jon Caroulis has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years. Many of his articles have been about "unusual" events or players. He is a graduate of Temple University.

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