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February 1, 2015 / 12 Shevat, 5775
 
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Just One Pitch

      Adam Greenberg holds a major league record.

 

      He was hit in the head by the very first and only pitch he ever saw – or almost saw – in his big league career.

 

      Only one other player was hit in the head in his first at-bat and never batted again in the major leagues. That happened fifty years before Greenberg was hit. Fred Van Dusen was with the Philadelphia Phillies on September 11, 1955, when he was beaned, but on the fifth pitch to him.

 

      Born in New Haven, Greenberg starred in several sports at Guilford High School in Guilford, Connecticut. He graduated with honors in addition to being tagged as Connecticut’s male athlete of the year in 1998-1999. Unlike most recent Jewish athletes who grew up with little or no attachment to Judaism, Greenberg attended Friday night services regularly and had a bar mitzvah.

 

      The 5-foot-9 lefthanded batter went on to become a star outfielder and hitter at the University of North Carolina and was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in June 2002. After three years in the minor leagues, Greenberg was called up to the majors on July 7, 2005. Greenberg phoned his parents and shared the good news. They gathered three of Adam’s siblings and flew to Miami where Adam was waiting and the Cubs were playing.

 

      On July 9, the Greenbergs were patiently sitting in the stands wondering when their favorite Cub would get a chance to play. With the Cubs leading the Marlins 4-to-2 in the top of the 9th and one out, Greenie, as he was quickly nicknamed, was told to grab a bat and hit for the pitcher. Applause could be heard from the Greenberg contingent among the crowd of 22,863 as Adam stepped in the batters box ready to begin his major league career.

 

      A 91-mile-per-hour fastball caught Adam in the side of the head. His batting helmet absorbed part of the blow, but Adam went down as his family rose in concern. Mrs. Greenberg, a nurse, waited patiently for word on her son’s condition while he was attended to in the trainer’s room by doctors from both the Cubs and Marlins.

 

      Adam never lost consciousness. His mother stayed with him that night tending to his needs before results of a CAT scan revealed he had a mild concussion. That was the good news.

 

      The bad news was that the next few weeks brought bouts of dizziness every time he tried to tie his shoes or tilt his head back at a certain angle. Adam found relief by sleeping upright. He also discovered he had more problems looking down trying to field ground balls than he had trying to hit pitches.

 

      Before the beaning, scouts had him pegged as a prospect with good speed, not much power, a good batting eye who’d get his share of walks, could get a key hit every now and then, a real hard worker with a great attitude. After the beaning, he went from prospect to suspect.

 

      Hoping a new location would change his luck and improve his stats, Greenberg prevailed on the Cubs to grant him a release. He caught on in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ minor league system. The vertigo was long gone but his ability to hit for a high average disappeared as well – his batting average was .228.

 

      The Dodgers were unimpressed and let him go. After a winter of strenuous workouts, Greenberg accepted a spring training chance with the Kansas City Royals. He made the Royals’ Double-A Wichita team in the Texas League, two rungs below the major league level.

 

      Greenberg showed speed on the bases and patience at the plate; he was among the team leaders in stolen bases and walks. Unfortunately, his batting average remained low.

 

      Greenberg is now 26, so a return to the majors doesn’t seem to be in the cards. My advice to him would be to try to stay in the game as a coach or manager in the lowest rung of the minors and work his way up to the big leagues. Or there’s the new Israel Baseball League – he could be a big star there and capitalize on his fame by opening a baseball training academy.

 

      At any rate, good luck to Adam Greenberg. By the way, he’s not related to Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg. He does, though, have a grandfather named Hank Greenberg.

 

*     *     *

 

      One of the rewards of writing this column is that I get numerous e-mails from readers. They’re from great baseball minds and from people I’d like to meet. Of course, unless they tell me, I don’t know where they’re from or how old they are. I wish they’d include more information about themselves. One recent e-mail that made me put on my thinking cap was from ZF of NYC.

 

      ZF wonders how the career of Babe Ruth might have been affected if the designated hitter rule had been in place back when he played. Perhaps the Babe would have remained a pitcher and bat on days when he wasn’t on the mound. Personally, I think Ruth would have preferred pitching. Ruth loved to be the star – the dominant figure – and as a pitcher he would control each pitch.

 

      Ruth was a great pitcher for the Boston Red Sox (89 wins, 46 losses); with the Yankees he pitched once in 1920, twice the following year, once in 1930 and one last time in 1933. He won all five times for the Yanks, bringing his career stats to 94-46, (2.28 ERA). Ruth pitched in the 1916 and 1918 World Series for the Red Sox, winning three games, losing none and allowing only 19 hits in 31 innings with a super low ERA of 0.87.

 

      With those great-hitting Yankees teams, Ruth should have easily won 300 games, and not having to play the field between starts would have enabled him to improve on his already staggering career stats (.342, 714 home runs). And that doesn’t include the 15 homers he slugged in 41 World Series games.

 

*     *     *

 

      Even if the Red Sox continue to widen their margin over the Yankees, this won’t be a wasted season for the Bronx Bombers. The Yankees never before had five rookie pitchers make their debut in one season, but because of injuries, five rookie pitchers started 20 of the Yanks’ first 42 games. At least the Yankees now know they have some pretty good young pitching, and while prospects for postseason play this year look bleak, the team is in pretty good shape, starting-pitching wise, for the future.

 

      A great place to see future Yankees is at Scranton’s suburban PNC Field, home of the team’s Triple-A farm team. A nice woodsy background is quite a change from New York’s crowded backdrops. Columbus -where the Yankees had their top farm club for decades – was too far from New York. Detroiters are lucky to have the Tigers’ top minor league club in downtown Toledo, only an hour away from most of our shuls.

 

*     *     *

 

      Martin Berger, 40, a trial lawyer from Miami who had been a vital player in setting up the Israel Baseball League, now has the title of president and chief operating officer of the IBL. The six teams in the league boast new colorful caps that can be purchased on the IBL website (www.IsraelBaseballLeague.com).

 

      Three of the team’s managers are former major leaguers – Ron Blomberg, Ken Holtzman and Art Shamsky – while the three other managers also have baseball yichus: Steve Hertz is a college baseball coach in the U.S.; Shaun Smith is well known in Australian baseball circles; and Chicago-born Ami Baran, a legend in softball and baseball coaching in Israel, is also a major in the Israel Police, active in the High Crimes Investigation Unit. It’ll be interesting to see if his team, the Netanya Tigers, leads the league in stolen bases.

 

      Irwin Cohen, the author of seven books, headed a national baseball publication for five years before earning a World Series ring working as a department head in a major league front office. His “Baseball Insider” column appears the second week of each month in The Jewish Press. Cohen, who is president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul, may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.

About the Author: The author of 10 books, Irwin Cohen headed a national baseball publication for five years and interviewed the legendary Hank Greenberg. He went on to work for a major league team and became the first Orthodox Jew to earn a World Series ring. He can be reached in his Detroit area dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.


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