The rotation so far (and with so many pitchers, that word seems appropriate) has been Dave Roberts, Sam Fuld (the only non-pitcher), Ken Holtzman, Jason Marquis, and Steve Stone. The only other non-pitcher in this series is featured tonight. And if there’s a sadder tale than Adam Greenberg’s, I don’t know what it is.
Cubs fans probably know all about the story I’m about to revisit, but others might not. When I came upon an Adam Greenberg card a few weeks ago, I was suprised to see it, and glad to have one at the same time. On some level, these things can memorialize a player’s career, however briefly it may have lasted. And briefly is an all too fitting word in this case.
Adam Greenberg was drafted by the Cubs in 2002, and played for the Lansing Lugnuts in single-A that year. I went to a couple of Lugnuts games that season, but I can’t recall whether or not Greenberg played in any of the games I was at. At that level, I don’t really look at the names too closely. So I can’t say that I saw him play with any certainty, but it’s possible. He made his way up to the Cubs’ double-A affiliate, and then to triple-A, during the 2004 season, and then–midway through the 2005 season–he was called up to the majors. At the age of 24, Greenberg seemed to be on his way.
His major league debut came in a Sunday night ESPN telecast. The Cubs had begun their descent in the final half of Dusty Baker’s term as manager, but that night they were ahead 4-2 going into the ninth inning. After a groundout to begin the top of the ninth, and with the pitcher’s spot due up, Baker tried to get the offense going by calling Greenberg’s number (which, for the record, was 17. I still think of it as Mark Grace’s old number).
Greenberg hadn’t yet taken the field, or come in as a pinch-runner, so this was truly his major league debut. He came to the plate and stood in against Valerio de los Santos, who was probably best known for surrendering Sammy Sosa’s 60th homer as a rookie in 1998. De los Santos went into his windup and fired a pitch that came up and in and made a sickening collision with Greenberg’s head.
It was the first and only pitch Greenberg ever saw in the majors, and he probably saw almost none of it. The immediate concern, for Greenberg’s family, de los Santos, and everyone watching in the ballpark and on TV was “is he going to survive this?” A 90+ mile-an-hour fastball is scary enough if it hits the arm or the leg. But in the face? I can’t imagine that.
Greenberg did survive, and Carlos Zambrano was summoned to run in Greenberg’s place. Greenberg suffered severe headaches afterward, and the Cubs–in what might have been a good baseball decision, but seems very cold-hearted otherwise–released Greenberg at the end of the season. He came back in the Cubs’ system in 2006, but was released in the middle of the season. He was subsequently signed by the Dodgers, Royals, and Angels organizations, and for the past three seasons he has played–and played well–for the Bridgeport Bluefish in the independent Atlantic League. Greenberg also received a single at-bat during the 2012 campaign, at the culmination of a campaign by filmmaker Matt Liston. He struck out on three pitches, but received a standing ovation for doing so.
I’m glad to have an Adam Greenberg baseball card. The picture of him in the Cubs hat and jersey, against a sky blue backdrop, seems almost heroic in some way. Here’s the All-American guy, playing the All-American sport, so what could go possibly wrong? But we can’t take anything for granted in life, and what happened to Adam Greenberg is an extreme example of how true that really is.
I’ve reached the limit of my Cubs players in baseball card form, but I do have two more players lined up (both pitchers, if you’re curious) to bring this to its conclusion. I hope you’ll join me over the next two nights. And the full Greenberg card is below: