(Photo Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE)

The Redemption of Adam Greenberg


One of my favorite things about baseball is the rich history and stories inspired by real life events and statistical anomalies. There are superstitions, hi-jinx, and all around amazing plays happening every day. Baseball is both massive and microscopic. There are 162 games per season with thousands and thousands of pitches thrown, at-bats taken, hits, home runs, strikeouts, errors, foul balls, and double plays. It is clear that baseball is the most statistically driven sport in the world. Every single move is accounted for and every play is logged in the archives for eternity. Yet even amongst the massive amounts of data there are a few moments and few players that stand out. Billy Buckner’s misplayed grounder in the 1986 World Series, Randy Johnson’s exploding bird, Babe Ruth’s called shot, and Willie May’s infamous World Series catch which has since been dubbed “The Catch.” All of these plays have helped shape the baseball landscape and add to it’s rich and glorious history. For the first time in a long time we are going to have to opportunity to witness another anomaly, or rather the redemption of an anomaly.

Adam Greenberg was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the ninth round of the 2002 MLB Draft out of the University of North Carolina. As a junior at UNC in 2002, he hit .337, swiped 35 bags, scored 80 runs, hit 17 home runs and led the ACC with seven triples. He was a collegiate stand out who earned an opportunity to pursue his dream of one day being in the Major Leagues.

Like so many good but unheralded prospects Greenberg was assigned to Class-A Lansing of the Midwest League and failed to make any sort of impression with talent evaluators as he hit a mere .224/.331/.345 over 35 games. He was promoted to Class-A Advanced Daytona of the Florida State League and found his groove at the plate posting a .384/.500/.575 line over 21 additional games bringing his 2002 season line to a respectable .286/.398/.434. In the process, he flashed good speed on the base paths swiping 17 bases in his first taste of pro ball.

Greenberg would spend the entirety of the 2003 season at Daytona and he posted a solid, if unspectacular, line of .299/.387/.410 again showing speed with his 26 steals. He also displayed a very discerning eye at the plate by posting a 38:46 BB/K rate while playing solid outfield defense (zero errors). As a 23 year old in 2004 he looked to be prospect on the move as he again played the majority of his time at Daytona but eventually made his way to Double-A West Tennessee and worked his way all the way up to Triple-A (playing in one game for Iowa). He posted another solid season in 2004 with a .285/.376/.428 and 19 steals along with good outfield defense. He spent the bulk of 2005 for Double-A West Tennessee where again he posted a decent .269/.386/.407 with 15 steals and a 56:68 BB/K rate.

The book was essentially written on Greenberg by then as he was more than likely destined to be a 4th or 5th outfielder who could play all of the outfield positions, never really distinguishing himself in any one role. He lacked the power necessary to stick in a corner outfield spot and lacked the speed to stick in center field. He hit for a decent average but never really stood out. Perhaps he was a bit before his time as his best skill was getting on base and drawing walks – something that teams did not really place a premium on in the early 2000′s. He was a man without a position and as each year came and went he got older and the chances of him making it to The Show got slimmer and slimmer.

Then his life changed.

On July, 7th 2005, Greenberg got the call that every prospect dreams of as the Chicago Cubs brought him up from the minors as a bench player. Two days later on July 9th he got his first opportunity to play in a major league game with a late inning pinch-hitting opportunity against the Florida Marlins. What happened next was both unpredictable and life altering. As Greenberg stepped in to the batter’s box on that fateful day we can only wonder what was racing through his mind.  Marlins pitcher Valerio De Los Santosreared back and threw a 92 mph fastball high and inside that struck the back of Greenberg’s head leaving him crumpled in a heap in the batter’s box bruised and concussed. Unbeknownst the everyone in attendance and Greenberg himself this would be the first and last pitch he would ever see in his Major League career. The event made him the only player to ever get hit by a pitch on the first pitch in his first at-bat and never play again. One game. One plate appearance. One pitch. One career.

Until today.

After toiling in both the minor leagues and independent leagues for the last seven years Adam Greenberg will finally get a chance to finish the at-bat that the baseball gods took from him back in his rookie season and it will come from an unlikely suitor. The newly re-branded Miami Marlins will give Greenberg the chance, for a day, to finish his at-bat and give him the closure that he was not afforded so long ago. Greenberg will face National League Cy Young candidate R.A. Dickeyin his sole at-bat in today’s game and it is fitting in a way since nothing for Greenberg has been easy since the day he was beaned. So why start now?

The rest of the baseball world will undoubtedly be tuned in to the playoff hunt and that makes sense. The regular season is nearly complete and fast becoming history for all but ten playoff bound franchises. Few will watch or even remember Adam Greenberg’s second Major League at-bat but you can bet that Greenberg, now 31 years old, will have his eyes on the mound with the hopes of getting his first real pitch to hit and removing himself from baseball’s record books. This time on his terms.

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  • Wayne Tucker

    Nice column on a deserving player and generous Marlins. By the way, Mays’s catch is “famous,” not “infamous,” which carries a negative connotation. Check your Funk & Wagnall’s.

    • Brian French

      Thanks Wayne! Good call on the infamous/famous phrasing. Correction made!