IN THE SHOW FOR A CUP OF COFFEE
Major League Baseball history is rife with players who had very short careers, and a goodly number of those were only in the “show” for one game. There have been hundreds, so I won’t expend the time or space to list them all, but here are three names of particular note that most fans will recognize.
Walter Alston: On September 27, 1936, Alston appeared in a game for the St. Louis Cardinals and had one at bat. (He struck out.) He didn’t get back to the Majors until 1954 as Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, then continued as skipper of the team for 23 years and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1983.
Eddie Gaedel: Possibly the most famous (or infamous) name on the list, Gaedel’s appearance as a pinch hitter for the St. Louis Browns on August 19, 1951 was the brainchild of team owner Bill Veeck. Gaedel was only 3’7” tall and had a strike zone no pitcher could find. Gaedel received a four-pitch base on balls in his only at bat. This was one of Veeck’s many publicity stunts and Gaedel’s contract was voided by the American League the next day, but Gaedel is forever in the record books.
“Moonlight” Graham: The unforgettable baseball movie Field of Dreams had Burt Lancaster playing the part of “Doc” Graham, however, Archibald “Moonlight” Graham was a real person and he appeared in one game for the New York Giants on June 9, 1905. His Major League experience consisted of two defensive innings in right field (in which he had no fielding chances), but he never got to bat.
There are numerous others on the list, some of whom are still toiling in the low minors or in the Mexican League and could still actually get off the list, although their chances are extremely remote.
Perhaps the best story of all is that of Adam Greenberg (no relation to Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg). Greenberg was a Cubs prospect who got called up in 2005. In his first at bat, he was beaned and suffered a compound skull fracture. After a lengthy recovery, he returned to the field and played in the minors from 2006-2011 with no particular success. Even though he had appeared in a big league game, he never had an official at bat, so in 2012, the Miami Marlins signed him to a one-day contract and gave him the opportunity for that precious at bat. He struck out on three pitches but, that said, he can still legitimately have two MLB uniforms (game-worn by him) framed and hung on his wall.
THE CUP WAS WAITING IN THE CLUBHOUSE BUT THE COFFEE WAS NEVER POURED
The preceding item was actually my inspiration for this one, which is the true account of a ballplayer who came as close to playing in the Majors as you can possibly get without actually doing it. Bill Severns is that player.
Born in Hammond, Indiana and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Severns played baseball at the University of Oklahoma and graduated in 1975 with a degree in Business Management. To just say that Severns played baseball at Oklahoma doesn’t begin to tell the entire story. He was both a Sporting News and AACBC (American Association of College Baseball Coaches) All-American and a Second Team Academic All-American, and had the unique opportunity of participating in the College World Series four years in a row.
The closest Severns tie to the Dodgers I could find is a bit of a stretch, but still probably closer than any of the six degrees of Kevin Bacon: One of his 1972-1973 teammates at Oklahoma was outfielder Joe Simpson, who was drafted and signed by the Dodgers in 1973 and played for the club in parts of four seasons (1975-1978). You’ll learn just a little later why this isn’t really that much of a stretch.
Lest you think everything came easy to Severns, just consider that as a sophomore, he was cut from his high school baseball team on the first day of practice. Seven years later he finished his college baseball career at Oklahoma as the Sooners’ all-time career leader in games played, hits, extra base hits, total bases, triples, stolen bases and runs scored.
During his time at Oklahoma, Severns was drafted three times: by the New York Yankees in the 12th round of the 1974 amateur baseball draft; by the San Francisco Giants in the third round of the secondary phase of the January 1975 draft; and was the first round pick of the Milwaukee Brewers in the June 1975 secondary phase of the draft. He ultimately signed with Milwaukee.
Severns played six years in the Brewers’ system that included stops at Class-A Newark (1975), Double-A Pittsfield (1976), Double-A Holyoke (1977), one year at Triple-A Spokane (1978) and two years at Triple-A Vancouver (1979-1980), during which time he posted a career batting average of .305 with a stellar .389 OBP.
Paul Harvey is no longer with us but you’re still about to learn the rest of the story.
Also, at this juncture, it’s only fitting that I tell you that Bill Severns is a friend of mine who I’ve known for 22 years. What you read next would not be appearing in The Frankfurt Dodger Letter without his full approval.
We pick up Bill’s story on August 28, 1980. Vancouver was playing Spokane in Spokane. Severns was on first base. Manager Bob Didier flashed the sign for a hit-and-run play. Severns
took off on the pitch, but the usually reliable Canadians’ shortstop, Ed Romero, hit an infield pop-up. Severns had no way to immediately know the ball was in the air. Spokane’s second baseman deked, acting as though it was a ground ball. Still, Severns sensed something wasn’t right and looked up just as he began a slide into second base.
The jarring force of his slide when his foot hit the bag stretched or pulled the cartilage and tendons in his ankle so badly that doctors said he would have been much better off had he broken the ankle.
This devastating injury notwithstanding, the most agonizing aspect of the play was that the very next day, Severns received word from a Brewers’ club official that he was being called up to the Major League team on September 1.
Bill underwent extensive off-season rehabilitation and made an all-out effort to continue his baseball career. He reported to spring training in 1981, but running still caused him excruciating pain, which would be enough to sideline any baseball player, but especially one whose speed was such a critical element of his game. Sadly, Severns’ playing career was over. Even to this day, routine ankle movement still causes him pain.
While this can only be viewed as after-the-fact speculation, I think it’s fair to say that had it not been for that fateful slide, Severns would have remained with the Brewers for a lot longer than just a cup of coffee. (NOTE: Because Topps issued a Major League baseball card, you know he could really play this game.)
I personally regard the turn of events recounted here to be absolutely heartbreaking. Severns was upset and he was disappointed... but he wasn’t heartbroken. That just isn’t who Bill is.
Look back three paragraphs and note that it says Bill’s playing career was over but, because of his undying love for the game, his baseball career was far from over.
Since his retirement as an active player, Bill has had a very successful career as a sales executive for HDR, Inc., a civil engineering firm in Kansas City, and he and wife Suzanne raised three sons and a daughter and now have 11 grandchildren as well.
Getting back to baseball, which he has done in spades, Bill has been absorbed in a 28-year marathon that has embraced coaching his sons’ little league teams and umpiring in 3&2 Baseball, as well as writing three books and serving as a motivational speaker to a wide range of audiences including youth sports seminars, coaching banquets, Rotary Clubs, Christian groups and other organizations and businesses. He brings encouraging words and thought-provoking ideas to his audiences on coaching, parenting and enjoying the journey with their kids.
His books include: Keepers of the Sandlot: Coaching, Parenting and Playing for Keeps!, a book that encourages parents and coaches to enjoy their kids in their developmental years of little league, including life lessons based on his experience at every level of the game. While playing baseball was his passion, coaching his kids proved to be even more rewarding and challenging, thus, he urges parents and coaches to make their kids’ childhood fun and shape their lives to also play the game of life the way it should be played; The Sandlot Strategy, a parents’ manual for coaching kids on how to tackle the challenges of little league baseball and community responsibility; and Donuts, Diamonds and Dreams, a journey through life, beginning with the sandlot, where kids dream and play, learn to share and encourage, figure things out, negotiate, use their imaginations and enjoy the ride while they can.
Additionally, Bill co-produced (with Rick Waggener) the 2015 documentary movie The Sandlot Journey starring Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett and narrated by former Oklahoma teammate Joe Simpson, who was a Seattle Mariners television analyst for five years and has been an Atlanta Braves television and radio analyst for the last 28 years.
I was especially taken by this amusing anecdote Bill passed along. Many years ago, he and his family were in Louisville, Kentucky, so Bill suggested they visit the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory so the kids could “see where daddy’s bat was made.” Unbeknownst to Bill, the museum includes a huge display of gold signature plates for every player who ever signed a contract with Louisville Slugger.
His son-in-law, having closely perused the display, suddenly became excited when he discovered his father-in-law’s plate on display. A bit of a commotion ensued as other visitors in the area realized they were in the presence of “somebody.” A museum employee offered to take Bill into their archives, indicating he was sure he could locate the contract Bill signed. Sure enough, he did, and he showed Bill the document, pointing out that Louisville Slugger had sent him a check for $250. (Bill didn’t know that because Suzanne always handled their mail.) The employee then said, “I have good news and bad news. The good news is that our check to Babe Ruth was for $50. The bad news is that our check to Alex Gordon was for $10,000.”