See if you can guess what the following players who left this island earth for the Elysian Fields in 2022 have in common, other than having particular moments in very brief major league playing careers.
These are only a few such players. Some had exemplary moments; some had moments they might have preferred to forget; but they, too, cracked the Show, however briefly.
Mike Adamson (RHP; died 7 May.) A relief pitcher who went directly from college to the Orioles after they drafted him in July 1967. He went directly from there to two innings’ relief against the Indians with the Orioles down four. A scoreless debut inning led to a pair of runs the next, including Indians outfielder Chuck Hinton stealing home. Two more very short up and down seasons before a shoulder injury wrecked his pro career.
Ed Bauta (RHP; died 6 July.) A Pirate signing who went to the Cardinals in the 1960 deal landing the Cardinals their second baseman of the ’60s, Julián Javier. Knee issues got in his way; his lone full season was 1963. Bauta was the only player to appear in both the final major league game in the Polo Grounds and the first game in Shea Stadium, as a Met. The Mets sent him down for keeps in 1964; he pitched in the minors and the Mexican League until 1973.
Ethan Blackaby (OF-PH; d. 16 January.) He signed with the Braves in 1961, played in six 1962 games and nine 1964 games. He pinch hit for catcher/flake/broadcast legend Bob Uecker and swatted a double in his first major league plate appearance in September 1962, but he picked up only two singles the rest of his Show time.
Blackaby also played 1,073 games in the minors. Later, he was the part-owner and general manager of the Triple-A Phoenix Giants.
Carl Boles (LF-PH; died 8 April.) Major league career begun and ended in 1962. He came up to the Giants 2 August; he pinch ran for veteran catcher Ed Bailey and scored a tying run in the second game of a three-game pennant playoff between the Giants and the Dodgers. (The Giants lost the game 8-7.) Boles went from there back to the minors before playing in Japan from 1966-1971 and showed himself a power hitter, but never got another Show shot.
Bill Burbach (RHP; died 20 July.) The first player picked by the Yankees in the first amateur draft in 1965. In the minors he faced ageless pitching legend Satchel Paige; Paige pitched one inning, Burbach struck out twelve—but walked eleven. Often pitching in hard luck, Burbach finally reached the Yankees in spring 1969. Second major league start: a five-hit shutout against Denny McLain and the Tigers on 20 April that year.
He pitched the first no-hitter ever delivered in Puerto Rico’s Hiram Bithorn Stadium that coming winter, but he only totaled 37 Show appearances (28 starts)—including a mere four in 1970 and two in 1971. Traded twice from there before deciding his baseball future had passed, he retired to work in the industrial lubricant business.
Leo Posada (OF; died 23 June.) A multi-sport star in Cuba before the Castro takeover. He arrived with the 1960 Kansas City Athletics and nailed his first major league base hit against Hall of Famer Jim Bunning, followed by a pair of three-hit games before the season ended. Had a somewhat solid 1961 (including leading the entire Show with twelve sacrifice flies), but manager Hank Bauer sent him down to the minors in 1962.
Posada never returned to the Show. But he played a few more years in the minors before becoming a respected minor league coach and manager whose charges including such future major league presences as Cesar Cedeño, Cliff Johnson, and John Mayberry. He also went on to spend sixteen years in the Dodger organisation . . . and, in due course, he became his more fabled nephew’s personal swing doctor. You may have heard of that nephew: Yankee catching bellwether Jorge Posada.
Costen Shockley (1B; died 30 May.) If he’s remembered at all, Shockley is remembered for being sent (with pitcher Rudy May) from the Phillies to the Angels in the deal that sent legendary lefthanded pitcher/playboy Bo Belinsky to Philadelphia after the 1964 season . . . and for leaving baseball rather than keeping his wife and young child uprooted and nomadic on the West Coast.
“I took my family over baseball,” Shockley once said. “Do I think I could have played in the big leagues? Sure, I think I would have done well.”
Sad irony: 17 July was also the 1964 date Shockley made his first Show appearance, as a Phillie against the Reds, singling and scoring later in the seventh against Joey Jay. The following day, he hit his first of three major league home runs off John Tsitouris. After surviving the infamous Phillie Phlop, but realising the Angels planned to make him a minor league nomad, Shockley left the game in 1965 to work in construction and coach his son’s team to the Senior Little League World Series championship in 1981.
Bill Short (LHP; died 2 February.) The International League (AAA) Most Valuable Pitcher award winner, Short had an up-and-down, all-or-parts six-season Show life, including his only major league shutout (as an Oriole) on 1 July 1966, in the nightcap of a doubleheader against the Twins. That was the highlight of a 73-game Show career . . . but Short was inducted into the International League’s Hall of Fame in 2009.
What did those gentlemen have in common? They were among what are now about 505 short-career major leaguers who were frozen out of the 1980 pension plan realignment, a realignment that vested players for pension benefits after a mere 43 days’ major league service time and health benefits after a single day’s worth.
Various such pre-1980 short-career players to whom I’ve spoken over the past few years have told me the reason for their freeze-out may have been the perception that they were nothing more than September call-ups. As if that should have mattered, but these players saw major league time in months prior to September, even making teams out of spring training.
The only thing Adamson, Bauta, Blackaby, Boles, Burbach, Posada, Shockley, and Short received for their Show time while alive was a stipend swung between then-Major League Baseball Players Association director Michael Weiner and then-commissioner Bud Selig in 2011. It gave them and their fellow pre-1980 short-career men $625 per 43 days’ major league service time, up to $10,000 a year before taxes.
Last year’s owners’ lockout ended with those former players getting a fifteen-percent hike over five years to come in the Weiner-Selig stipend. Not only is it still insufficient, however grateful those players were to receive something, anything, but none of them—not Adamson, not Bauta, not Blackaby, not Boles, not Burbach, not Posada, not Shockley, not Short, not any of the remaining such short-career players, or others who went to the Elysian Fields this year—could pass the dollars on to their families upon their deaths.
The Major League Baseball Players Association continues to act as though those players no longer exist. The Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association continues to act likewise. Most of today’s major league players, several of whom earn the equivalent of a small island nation’s economy, are unaware of those pre-1980 short-career players and their freeze-out.
Legally, neither the MLBPA nor the MLBPAA are required to do a blessed thing. (Don’t get me started on the owners, most of whom didn’t own their teams in 1980.) Morally, of course, is another matter entirely.