Of the thousands of players to wear a major-league uniform, Fred Van Dusen and Adam Greenberg — separated by more than half a century — share a bond. They are the only two big-leaguers to be hit with a pitch in their one and only plate appearance, and without ever taking the field defensively.
That shared distinction will end Tuesday, however, when the Marlins give Greenberg a second chance, seven years after one of their own hurlers hit him with a pitch in the back of his head, to record an official at-bat.
Van Dusen couldn’t be happier.
“It’s a good human-interest story,’’ said Van Dusen, who has never met Greenberg or spoken with him. “It’s a positive thing, and a lot of people who don’t understand baseball, they’ll applaud it greatly.”
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Van Dusen was 18 when he was called up by the Philadelphia Phillies late in the 1955 season. Now 75, retired and living in Tennessee, Van Dusen said he spent about a month on the Phillies bench before he was finally given a chance to play. It was on Sept. 11 of that season, in the ninth inning of a game against the Milwaukee Braves, that Van Dusen was sent in to pinch-hit.
On the fourth pitch of the at bat, and with Milwaukee’s Henry Aaron and Eddie Mathews looking on from the field for the Braves, Van Dusen was hit by a Humberto Robinson pitch. Van Dusen took his base and was left standing at first when the inning ended.
Though considered to be a top prospect, Van Dusen would not play again in another major-league game.
“I thought I had 10 or 15 years ahead of me at the time,” Van Dusen said. “I was a prospect, and I thought I had the world ahead of me. I was hit by a pitch, and I thought it was no big deal, that it was just a moment in the process.”
But Van Dusen spent what remained of his professional career toiling in the minors, including part of the 1958 season with the Miami Marlins, a team that had Satchel Paige on its roster.
“I was very immature,” Van Dusen said. “You have to keep in mind that I went from delivering groceries on my bike for tips to rooming with all these major-league players and flying all over America. It all happened so quick and it all went to my head, and I couldn’t handle it."
For 50 years, Van Dusen was a baseball footnote all to himself.
That changed during the 2005 season when the Chicago Cubs promoted Greenberg from the minors and manager Dusty Baker sent him to pinch-hit in the ninth inning of a game at Pro Player Stadium on July 9. Greenberg was struck in the helmet on the very first pitch thrown to him by Valerio de los Santos. He slumped to the ground, was helped off the field and never made it back to the majors.
Because a player who is hit by a pitch does not receive an official at-bat, a campaign was started recently to find a major-league team that would give Greenberg a second shot.
After hearing about it, the Marlins agreed.
Manager Ozzie Guillen said he would likely use Greenberg as pinch-hitter during the middle of Tuesday’s game against the New York Mets at Marlins Park.
Van Dusen will be on hand to witness it. The Marlins are flying him in to be a part of the festivities.
Van Dusen said he still thinks back to his lone plate appearance from time to time and wishes he had swung at the first pitch thrown to him — “a strike down the middle of the plate.”
Instead, he took it for a strike and fouled off another pitch before being plunked in the leg.
“I should have been more aggressive,” Van Dusen said. “I had a pitch to hit.”
But Van Dusen never thought his major-league career would end there. He said that because he was so young, he didn’t apply himself to the sport the way he should have, and he never received another opportunity.
“I was emotionally and mentally immature, didn’t appreciate what I had at my fingertips,” Van Dusen said. “It was a learning curve for life, but it was a heavy price to pay. I felt like I was a failure in baseball because I never lived up to my potential. I still have melancholy feelings about it.”
Van Dusen said he will be cheering for Greenberg on Tuesday. And when Greenberg gets his at-bat, Van Dusen’s name will stand alone in the record books once again.
“I didn’t like sharing it,” Van Dusen said jokingly. “But I’m happy for Adam. It’s his dream to get up there and maybe get a hit. It would be nice.”