Moonlight Graham has become part of baseball lore following the portrayals of him in the novel “Shoeless Joe” by W.P. Kinsella and the movie based on it, “Field of Dreams”.
He became a part of the book because of the noteworthy-ness of unfortunate nature of his baseball career. Graham came in to play the field late in a game, and never got the chance to bat. He was due up to bat next when the last out of the inning was made in the ninth.
Most non-pitcher baseball players will get at least one at bat in their major league career. However, Graham is not the only non-pitcher to have played, but never stepped up to the plate. There are actually three Yankees whose careers have gone like that.
In 1912, a pitcher named Tommy Thompson made his debut for the then New York Highlanders. He was mostly unsuccessful, putting up a 6.06 ERA in 32.2 innings across seven games. Thompson had a brother named Homer, who would also play for the Highlanders in 1912.
October 5th, 1912 would be the final game the Highlanders would play at Hilltop Park before moving to the Polo Grounds. It would also the final game before the team was christened “the Yankees”. It would be the only game Homer Thompson would play.
Thompson played catcher for the Highlanders that day, making an error in an 8-6 win over the Senators. He did not get an at bat that day, and he wouldn’t play another major league game after that.
Tom Burr was signed by the Yankees as a pitcher, and made the team to start the season in 1914. On April 19th, Burr pitched in a 4-2 exhibition loss to the Newark Indians.
Two days later, Burr was forced to play the outfield after manager Frank Chance emptied his bench, using several pinch runners in an attempt to beat the Senators. Burr was capable of playing the field, and was inserted into center field in the tenth. He played one inning, didn’t catch or field anything, and then didn’t come to the plate after the Yankees won the game in the bottom of the tenth.
Sometime after that game, Burr was sent to the minor leagues and played the rest of 1914 there. He wouldn’t play professional baseball again after 1914. Following his baseball career, he served in World War I and was killed in action in 1918.
After playing seven minor league season, Frank Verdi came in as a defensive replacement at shortstop on May 10, 1953 against the Red Sox. Joe Collins was sent up as a pinch-hitter for Phil Rizzuto in the sixth. After Collins grounded out to end the inning, Verdi came into play shortstop, replacing Collins.
After just one inning in the field, the Yankees batted around in the seventh, and Bill Renna was sent up to pinch hit for Verdi. The Yankees won 7-3, but Verdi didn’t and wouldn’t get a chance to bat in a major league game.
After playing for the Yankees, he would play another 10 minor league seasons, but never made it back to the majors. He was also famously struck by a stray bullet while taking part in a game in Havana, Cuba in 1959. After his playing career, he managed for 22 years in the minor leagues.
Those three Yankees will probably never have the recognition of Moonlight Graham. However, they will all go down with him in the unfortunate club of never getting a major league at bat.