A phantom ballplayer is either a baseball player who is incorrectly listed in source materials as playing in a Major League Baseball (MLB) game, often the result of typographical or clerical errors, or a player who spent time on an MLB active roster without ever appearing in an MLB contest during his career. Most of the first form of phantom players date from the 19th or early 20th century, with at least one showing up as late as World War II.
A modern-day phantom ballplayer is generally caused by the player being removed from the active roster by a subsequent action (such as being optioned to a minor league team) or the team reaching the end of their season, and the player not having later opportunity to play in a major league game. Many of these phantom players were September call-ups in backup roles.
Phantoms who never were
- Edward L. Thayer supposedly played one game for the 1876 New York Mutuals; he was listed in The Official Encyclopedia of Baseball as having been born in Mechanic Falls, Maine.:333 The player was actually George Fair, who adopted a pseudonym that, coincidentally, resembled the name of then-12-year-old Ernest Lawrence Thayer, who would later go on to become a poet and write "Casey at the Bat." (Some 19th and early 20th century players sometimes played under assumed names in an attempt to circumvent contractual obligations with another club.)
- An outfielder named Turbot (no first name given) was listed in The Official Encyclopedia of Baseball as playing one game for the 1902 St. Louis Cardinals.:339 In the 1971 anthology This Great Game, writer and humorist Roy Blount Jr. included him on his "all-time fish team" (as turbot is also the name of a fish) and bemoaned that Turbot had been dropped from the encyclopedia; "I don't know what happened to him, but we need him in the outfield."
- Lou Proctor was listed as playing one game for the 1912 St. Louis Browns, drawing a walk in his only plate appearance. He appeared in The Official Encyclopedia of Baseball as a pinch hitter named "L. Proctor".:284 Research in the 1980s, however, revealed that the appearance belonged to the Browns' Pete Compton. According to legend, Proctor was a Western Union operator who inserted his name into the box score as a prank. However, whether Proctor existed—even as a prankish telegraph operator—is unknown.
- A catcher named Deniens (no first name given) was listed in The Official Encyclopedia of Baseball as having played one game for the 1914 Chicago Chi-Feds of the Federal League.:125 Later research showed that the game was caught by the Chi-Feds regular second-string catcher Clem Clemens—historians reading a handwritten scorecard of the game had incorrectly deciphered "Clemens" as "Deniens".
Real players who never played
Research by the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) has identified over 400 players who appeared on major league rosters, but did not appear in a major league game, since 1884. A number of examples are presented here.
- Pitcher Bill Stewart was on the roster of the 1919 Chicago White Sox, but was sent to the minor leagues without playing for the team. It is unclear whether he was on the team's active roster, as he had been injured the previous winter. Stewart would go on to be an umpire in the National League and an ice hockey referee in the NHL.
- First baseman Jeff Jones was briefly on the roster of the 1920 Philadelphia Athletics, but did not play. As with several other players of this era, it is not established if Jones was on the A's active roster during the season.
- Outfielder Lou Almada made the major league roster of the 1927 New York Giants out of spring training, but was hurt as the season began, and did not reach the majors again. In 1933, his brother Mel Almada became the first Mexican to play in the majors.
- Minor league pitching legend Jake Levy was reported in at least one contemporary account to have signed with the 1927 New York Giants in mid-September, without getting into a game. Peter and Joachim Horvitz' The Big Book of Jewish Baseball list Levy's stint on the Giants bench as having occurred in 1932. However, whether Levy spent any time at all on a Giants' active roster is a matter of dispute.
- Al Olsen is an unusual example of a verifiable real-life person who did not play in the major leagues, but was included in official major league records for many years. Olsen, a career minor league pitcher, was credited as appearing in the first game of a doubleheader on May 16, 1943, as a pinch hitter (walking, and then stealing a base) for the Boston Red Sox against the Chicago White Sox. However, research by SABR in the 1980s showed that while Olsen had been with the 1943 Boston Red Sox during spring training, he was sent to San Diego of the Pacific Coast League before the 1943 season began. Olsen pitched on May 15 for San Diego, and given wartime travel restrictions, could not have arrived in Chicago for the game the following day. Olsen himself said, "It wasn't me. I was a left-handed pitcher. I couldn't hit my hat. Besides, I never played a game in the major leagues." The pinch hitting appearance probably, but not definitely, belongs to Leon Culberson; it also could have been Johnny Lazor, who wore uniform number 14, the same number Olsen wore in spring training. Official records now credit Culberson with the walk and stolen base—though Culberson himself swears he did not play in what would have been his major league debut game (he was the starting center fielder in the second game of the doubleheader, thus his debut date is not in question).
- Outfielder Bill Sharman spent time on the roster of the 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers when he was called up in mid-September; he did not appear in a game. Sharman is often cited as the only player to be ejected from an MLB game without playing in one, when umpire Frank Dascoli cleared the entire Dodgers bench for arguing with a call at home plate on September 27, 1951. However, Sharman was not ejected; those who had to leave the bench were still eligible to be brought into the game. Sharman is far more notable as a professional basketball player and coach than as a baseball player; he is one of only four individuals to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach.
- Pitcher Ed Nottle spent a few days on the 1963 Chicago White Sox active roster. He pitched in a mid-season exhibition game against the Chicago Cubs,[dubious ] and then was returned to the minors.
- The 1964 New York Yankees named middle infielder Chet Trail their "designated player" for the season under baseball's pre-draft era bonus rule, which allowed him to be assigned to a minor league club while still counting against (and being considered part of) the team's 25-man active roster. Additionally, Commissioner of Baseball Ford Frick ruled that Trail was eligible for the Yankees' 1964 World Series roster. However, Trail never played in an MLB game. Trail is the only player to have appeared on a World Series eligibility list without ever appearing in a major league game.
- Infielder Ike Futch was added to the active roster of the 1966 Houston Astros, when Joe Morgan suffered a broken kneecap on June 25—however, Futch himself sustained a knee injury in a Triple-A game on June 26, which ended his season.
- Pitcher Maurice "Moe" Ogier was on the opening day roster for the 1968 Minnesota Twins, but he did not get into a game and was optioned to the Twins' farm team in Charlotte in late April to make room for Jim Kaat, who had injured his elbow in his final start of the 1967 season and was coming off the disabled list. Ogier had an ailing shoulder, which may have been the reason he did not get into a game.
- Catcher-outfielder Lee Robinson did not appear in an MLB game, despite spending nearly two months on the roster of the 1974 Los Angeles Dodgers. He was recalled from the Triple-A Albuquerque Dukes on May 11 to replace pitcher Greg Shanahan, and was returned to Albuquerque on July 3 when the Dodgers called up Rick Rhoden. Robinson was later voted $2000 in World Series money by his teammates.
- First baseman Ed Kurpiel was a September call-up for the 1974 St. Louis Cardinals, but did not appear in a game.
- Pitcher Davis May was called up from Tacoma by the 1977 Minnesota Twins, along with fellow pitcher Jeff Holly, on April 25 to replace Mike Pazik and Don Carrithers, who had been seriously injured in a car accident early that morning. Holly pitched for the Twins, but May was sent back to Tacoma on May 16 to make room for Glenn Adams, who was returning from the disabled list. May was not used (or even asked to warm up) by Twins manager Gene Mauch during the time he was on the active roster.
- In September 1977, no fewer than three ballplayers who never played in a major league game served a couple of weeks' time on major league rosters, all of them pitchers: Tom McGough of the Cleveland Indians, Pat Cristelli of the California Angels, and Ed Ricks of the New York Yankees. (Scott McGough, the son of Tom McGough, pitched in six games for the 2015 Miami Marlins.)
- Catcher Harry Saferight was a September call-up for the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates, but failed to appear in a game. He was the on-deck batter on three different occasions, but each time, the batter ahead of him made the final out of the inning. Fellow call-up Gary Hargis narrowly avoided phantom status by making a single MLB appearance, and is listed as an honorable mention.
- The 1983 Kansas City Royals briefly called up two catchers to backup regular backstop John Wathan; Duane Dewey was on the roster from May 16 to June 1, while Russ Stephans spent time on the roster from June 29 to July 5; neither made an MLB appearance.
- Pitcher Mark Leonette was called up by the 1987 Chicago Cubs on July 2, and was sent down on July 6 without making an appearance in a game. He wore number 32 while with the club.
- Infielder Bill Merrifield spent two days on the roster of the 1987 Pittsburgh Pirates in September, but did not appear in a game before being sent to the Florida Instructional League. His son Whit Merrifield made his major league debut with the 2016 Kansas City Royals.
- Pitcher Joe Law spent four days on the active roster of the 1988 Oakland Athletics without making an appearance. He was first called up on July 4, and deactivated after the first game of a doubleheader on July 5. He subsequently was called up on August 8, and sent back down on August 10.
- Infielder Armando Moreno was added to the 1990 Pittsburgh Pirates roster on August 3, and sent back to Triple-A two days later, without appearing in a game.
- Outfielder-first baseman Terrel Hansen was on the active roster for the 1992 New York Mets for two games, April 30 and May 1, without making an appearance.
- Outfielder Bruce Dostal spent four games on active roster of the 1994 Baltimore Orioles; he was called up on June 10, then designated for assignment on June 14. On two occasions, manager Johnny Oates told Dostal he would pinch run if designated hitter Harold Baines reached base; both times, Baines was retired.
- Infielder Joel Chimelis was called up by the 1995 San Francisco Giants on June 4 to replace injured third baseman Matt Williams, who had broken a bone in his foot. Chimelis had been a replacement player during spring training that year, and Giants players grumbled about the idea of welcoming a strikebreaker on the team. After a threat of player revolt, the Giants sent him back to the minor leagues two days later, without Chimelis having appeared in a major league game. He was not called up to the major leagues again.
- Pitcher Billy Percibal was on the active roster of the 1995 Baltimore Orioles for eight days starting on September 21. However, the roster move was simply a favor to Percibal, who was recovering from bone spur surgery he had undergone two days prior.
- Pitcher Jesus Martínez, the younger brother of Pedro and Ramón, was added to the active roster of the 1996 Los Angeles Dodgers on September 2, but did not appear in a game.
- Outfielder Luke Wilcox was briefly called up by the 2000 New York Yankees, July 13–16, but did not appear in a game. He wore number 50 with the Yankees.
- Catcher César King spent five days on the 2001 Kansas City Royals active roster, May 19–23, without making an appearance.
- Pitcher Jeff Urban was on the 2003 San Francisco Giants active roster on April 26–30 and again on August 1–2. He did not make an appearance during either stint.
- Catcher David Parrish, son of Tiger great Lance Parrish, was called up by the 2004 New York Yankees for three days without making an appearance, after regular catcher Jorge Posada was hit in the face with a ball during a game. Parrish wore number 57 during his short stint as a Yankee.
- Pitcher Cory Morris was on the active roster of the 2006 Baltimore Orioles on April 9–12, without making an appearance.
- Catcher Tim Gradoville was on the 2006 Philadelphia Phillies active roster for 18 days in September without making an appearance
- Pitcher Tim Lahey was on the active roster of the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies for the first six days of the season without making an appearance. Lahey spent his entire six-year minor league career pitching for the Minnesota Twins organization. However, in a five-month period from December 2007 to April 2008, he was selected by the Tampa Bay Rays in the Rule 5 draft, sold by the Rays to the Chicago Cubs, released by the Cubs, signed by the Phillies (where he was briefly on their active roster), and then returned to the Twins under conditions of the Rule 5 draft. Lahey managed to do all this without throwing a regular season pitch for anyone other than Minnesota farm teams.
- Pitcher Luis Muñoz spent two games on the active roster of the 2008 Pittsburgh Pirates in July without making an appearance. His fate was probably sealed before he arrived, with Pirates general manager Neal Huntington saying of his call-up to the majors: "I would not anticipate Luis being here for an extended period of time. It was a step short of desperation." Two days after his arrival, Munoz was removed from the Pirates roster and designated for assignment. He was eventually sent to the farm system of the Seattle Mariners.
- Catcher José Yépez was called up by the 2011 Seattle Mariners on June 29, then designated for assignment on July 7, without making an appearance in a game. He wore number 35 while with the Mariners.
- Catcher Brian Jeroloman was on the active roster of the 2011 Toronto Blue Jays for the final 37 days of the season without playing in a game.
- Pitcher Jason Rice was on the active roster of the 2011 Oakland Athletics beginning on September 1, after being acquired from the Boston Red Sox organization. However, he was claimed off of waivers by Cleveland on September 6 and was assigned to the Triple-A Columbus Clippers without making a major league appearance.
- Pitcher Michael Antonini† was on the active roster of the 2012 Los Angeles Dodgers twice during the season, April 24–27 and May 28–29, but did not appear in a game either time.
- Pitcher Frank De Los Santos was on the active roster of the 2014 Chicago White Sox on May 3–4, without making an appearance.
- Pitcher Aaron Northcraft was added to the active roster of the 2014 Atlanta Braves on September 27; their final game of the season was September 28, and he did not have an appearance.
- Outfielder Taylor Dugas was on the 2015 New York Yankees active roster on July 1–3, without making an appearance.
- Relief pitcher Chris Jones was called up by the 2016 Los Angeles Angels on May 30, and demoted two days later, without appearing.
- Outfielder Ronnier Mustelier† was promoted to the major leagues by the 2016 Atlanta Braves on July 3, and demoted the next day, without playing. He was on the Braves' roster due to MLB allowing both teams in the Fort Bragg Game to have a 26th player active.
- Catcher Shawn Zarraga was on the active roster of the 2016 Los Angeles Dodgers on August 25–26, but did not appear.
- Pitcher Ryan Bollinger† was promoted to the major leagues by the 2018 New York Yankees on May 23, and demoted the next day, without appearing.
- Pitcher Clayton Blackburn was called up to the Majors twice, once in 2016 with the San Francisco Giants and another time in 2017 with the Texas Rangers, without getting into a game.
† denotes an active professional baseball player who could lose phantom status if he returns to the major leagues and appears in a game
Baseball-Reference.com maintains lists of players who have appeared in only a single major league game; as of July 2018, there are nearly 1,000 batters and over 500 pitchers listed. This section includes some examples, along with several other notables.
- Outfielder Moonlight Graham played one inning on defense for the 1905 New York Giants on June 29, his only major league appearance, and did not have a plate appearance. His story was featured in the 1989 fantasy movie Field of Dreams, with Frank Whaley playing Graham as a young ballplayer and Burt Lancaster playing Graham as an older adult.
- The Sporting Life of February 24, 1906, reported that pitcher Jimmy Whalen sent in a contract to the New York Highlanders, although it is unclear if Whalen made the team's active roster once the season was underway. Whalen never appeared in a major league game, although he won over 250 games in the minors.
- Tom Burr, a pitcher, played one inning in center field for the New York Yankees on April 21, 1914. He had no fielding chances and the game was won before he came to bat. In October 1918, Burr died in France while serving in World War I.
- Shortstop Frank Verdi played one inning on defense for the 1953 New York Yankees on May 10, his only major league appearance, and did not have a plate appearance.
- Pitcher Larry Yount, older brother of Hall of Famer Robin Yount, suffered an injury while throwing warmup pitches after being summoned as a reliever during a September 15 game for the 1971 Houston Astros. He did not face a batter and did not appear in any other MLB game. Under MLB rules, Larry Yount is credited with an appearance in that game—because he had been announced—despite not actually playing in the game.
- Infielder Gary Hargis made his lone MLB appearance as a pinch runner in an extra-innings game for the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates on the next-to-last day of the season, September 29.
- Second baseman Bob Hegman played a single inning in the major leagues, as a defensive replacement for the 1985 Kansas City Royals on August 8.
- Pitcher Brian Mazone was to start a game for the 2006 Philadelphia Phillies on September 5, but the game was rained out and the Phillies did not activate him to their roster. He spent the rest of his career, which ended in 2010, in the minors. "That's a tough thing to shake", Mazone said. "I was getting called up by the Phillies in 2006 to make a start [replacing Randy Wolf], and the game got rained out and they sent me back down without activating me. Randy came up to me here and apologized. Not that he did anything wrong, he just felt bad."[permanent dead link]
- Infielder Mark Kiger never appeared in an MLB regular season game, but he holds the distinction of being the only player whose major league career consists only of postseason games. Kiger was activated by the 2006 Oakland Athletics for the ALCS due to an injury to Mark Ellis. Kiger made two one-inning defensive appearances during the series, without having a plate appearance, and without ever playing in another MLB game. The only players to have made their major league debuts in the postseason are Kiger and two others—Bug Holliday in the 1885 championship series, and Adalberto Mondesí in the 2015 World Series; both Holliday and Mondesí later played in regular season major league games.
Former phantom players who made MLB debut in subsequent seasons
- Pitcher Marcus Walden was promoted by the Toronto Blue Jays in April 2014 but did not appear in a game during his 5-day stint. In 2018, he made the Opening Day roster of the Boston Red Sox and made his MLB debut on April 1.
- Pitcher Ryne Harper was promoted by the Seattle Mariners in May 2017 but did not appear in any games before being optioned back to the minor leagues. He made the 2019 Opening Day roster of the Minnesota Twins and made his MLB debut on March 31.
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