Guess Who: The Top 10 MLB Players Immortalized in Obscure Trivia
More than any other sport, spectators in baseball are expected to know an awful lot about the game's history before they can be considered true fans.
In basketball or football, thinking Willie Mays was the guy Wesley Snipes played in Major League would be forgivable. Not so in America's pasttime.
You won't be taken seriously unless you know that the Pittsburgh Pirates won the 1960 World Series, or that Ted Williams is the last player to hit .400 over a full season. And if you can't instantly recite how many RBI Tris Speaker racked up in each of his 22 seasons without looking it up—well, maybe you should just go back to watching Jersey Shore.
That's why stumping a real fan with an obscure bit of trivia is so satisfying.
In this slideshow are 10 fairly boring players and groups of players who will be remembered only in the footnotes of thick record books for a fluke event that changed baseball forever. But don't let me oversell it.
No. 10: Kevin Kouzmanoff
Long before he drew yawns from fans in San Diego or became the poster child for the Athletics' anemic offense, Kevin Kouzmanoff was hailed as the Indians' third baseman of the future.
His minor league numbers weren't just good—they were insane. In the 94 minor league games he played in 2006 before getting promoted, he posted a Pujolsian .379/.437//656 slashline with 22 homers and 75 RBI.
It's no wonder Cleveland fans were excited when he stepped to the plate for the first time in his MLB career on September 2nd, 2006 with the bases loaded and two outs in the first inning.
When Edinson Volquez's first pitch landed in the bleachers, it made history; Kouzmanoff became the first player in the history of Major League Baseball to hit a grand slam on the first big-league pitch he ever saw.
Unfortunately, his career pretty much seems to have peaked there.
No. 9: Ray Chapman
One of the most beautiful places and historic places in Cleveland, Lakeview Cemetery is known for such notable grave markers as Garfield's Monument, the Wade Chapel, and John D. Rockefeller's obelisk.
But to Tribe fans, the most important person to be spending eternity buried at Lakeview is Ray Chapman.
One of only two players to have ever suffered a fatal accident in an MLB game, Chapman's tragic death in the summer of 1920 (less than two months before the Indians won their first World Series) has made him something of a martyr in the eyes of the Cleveland faithful. But the tragedy had two direct effects on how the game was played.
First, the accident was the straw that broke the camel's back in the decision to ban the spitball—it illustrated that the trick pitch wasn't just cheap, but unsafe. In addition to being difficult to aim, the ball that struck Chapman's temple was discolored and misshapen; he couldn't see that it was heading for his skull.
Of course, Chapman's death also sparked the first serious consideration of the use of batting helmets (though it took more than 50 years for a league-wide mandate to that effect).
No. 8: Carroll Hardy
September 20, 1960. With Pete Runnels on first and one out in the first inning, Ted Williams fouls a ball off his foot and is forced to exit the game—˘one of the last of his prolific, 19-season career.
When Carroll Hardy stepped to the batter's box in Williams' place, he was making history.
As he grounded into an inning-ending double play, Hardy became the first and only person ever to pinch-hit for the Splendid Splinter.
Williams was by far the best player Hardy ever subbed for, but that's not to say he didn't have any other big shoes to fill; the next year, he pinch-hit for Williams' replacement, Carl Yastrzemski.
And when he smashed his first career home run in 1958—a game-winning, three-run blast off of seven-time All-Star Billy Pierce—he was hitting for Roger Maris.
No. 7: Bill Singer
The year was 1969. Jimi Hendrix played Woodstock, Neil Armstrong made a giant leap for mankind, and the use of relief pitching was changed forever (some would say ruined) when Major League Baseball officially adopted a statistic called "saves."
While many fans still consider pitchers' win-loss records or batters' RBI totals to be accurate barometers of skill, just about everyone who follows baseball knows to take saves with a grain of salt. Heck, the guy on the left here, Trevor Hoffman, has almost 600 of them, and he's far from a lock for the Hall of Fame.
But I digress. While sportswriter Jerome Holtzman first thought up the metric that changed how managers used their relief pitchers in 1959, it wasn't until after Richard Nixon took office that MLB started keeping track of them.
And so, when Bill Singer pitched three scoreless innings (let's see Hoffman do that!) to preserve the Dodgers' 3-2 lead over the Reds on Opening Day 1969, he became the first pitcher in the history of the game to record a save.
No. 6: 1940 Chicago White Sox
A fan glimpsing through the Chicago White Sox stats sheet before their game on April 17, 1940 would have noticed something peculiar as he skimmed each column. You see, the Pale Hose of MCMXV had done something no other team had ever accomplished before—one that the baseball world may never see again.
When the dust had settled after the Sox's loss the day before, every single player's batting averages were exactly the same as they had been before the first pitch.
How was it possible? Well, on April 16, 1940—Opening Day—Bob Feller no-hit the White Sox as they fell to the Indians, 1-0.
With a clean slate to start the season, every Chicago player entered that game with an average of .000. Nine innings later, none of them had changed.
No. 5: Ernie Shore
Whenever someone pitches a perfect game, it's noteworthy no matter what. There's no shortage of trivia to be found about pitchers who've gone 27 up, 27 down.
Don Larsen was the only pitcher to throw one in the postseason. Randy Johnson was the oldest to have ever pulled it off. And Armando Galarraga was the only person to have had one ripped out of his hands by a blown call.
It's a shame that so little attention is given to Ernie Shore.
On June 23, 1917, the Red Sox's starting pitcher, Babe Ruth, walked the first batter of the game, then was ejected after arguing the call and punching the umpire.
In one of the most ridiculous calls to the bullpen ever, Shore took the mound in Ruth's place. The runner Ruth had allowed was caught stealing, and Shore retired the next 26 batters in order.
Officially, the two were credited with a shared no-hitter. But off the record, Shore is the only pitcher to ever throw a perfect game in relief.
No. 4: David Aardsma
In 2004, a record Hank Aaron had set some 50 years ago fell at the hands of a San Francisco Giant.
Of course, I speak not of Barry Bonds—he surpassed Aaron's 755 career homers in 2007, and that mark stood for only 31 years.
For five decades, Aaron was the first name listed in any baseball encyclopedia—not because he'd hit more balls over the fence than anyone else, but because his last name started with "Aa."
Aaron still has alphabetical priority over every hitter in the history of baseball, but on lists where pitchers and positional players are integrated, he's now second to David Aardsma.
No. 3: Goose Goslin and Edgar Renteria
Not many players know what it's like to be both the hero and the goat.
When Edgar Renteria hit a weak grounder to Keith Foulke to end the 2004 World Series, it was Deja Vu. Sort of.
It wasn't the first time Renteria had ended a World Series—it was he who drove in the winning run to end the 1997 Fall Classic. That gives him the distinction of being the only player in baseball history to get a walk-off hit in one World Series, and then make the last out in another.
The only other player to have done both is Goose Goslin, who struck out in the last at-bat of the 1925 World Series, then got a walk-off single to end the 1935 Fall Classic.
No. 2: Adam Dunn
In cartoons, when baseball players hit home runs, they're never 370-foot glorified pop-ups that barely clear the fences. They're fantastic athletic feats that defy the laws of physics and give viewers pause before ever again casually describing real big flies as "moonshots."
I don't know if I've ever actually seen Bugs Bunny or Mickey Mouse step to the plate against Daffy or Goofy, but it's an easy scene to visualize. There's an impractical batting stance, a superfluous windup, and a thunderous POW! as the bat hits the ball.
You don't need to watch the rest to know how this ends. It's not a double in the gap or a liner that caroms off the foul pole. The ball isn't just out of the park—it's still rising as it fades into the clear blue sky.
But this is the real world, where players can't just hit home runs into another state.
Oh wait, yes they can. In 2005, Adam Dunn made history when he smashed a long ball out of Cincinnati's Great American Ballpark and into the Ohio River (claimed by Kentucky).
No, 1: Ryan Minor
Unless you're an Orioles or Nationals fan with a good memory, you probably have no idea who Ryan Minor is or why he's staring at you right now.
Basically, he's one of the worst players ever to suit up in an MLB uniform. In 142 games between 1998-2001, Minor hit .158/.234/.242 with five homers and 30 RBI. He was worth negative-2.7 WAR for his career, never once posting a positive mark over a full season.
But when he played the first full game of his career on September 20, 1998, it was perhaps the biggest story of the year that didn't involve Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa.
Why did it matter so much, you might ask? Seriously, why would people care about a 24-year-old nobody filling in at third base for a sub-.500 team?
Like Hardy, Minor's story wasn't so much about what he did as much as it was about who he replaced. In his case, it was Cal Ripken, Jr. He's the one who took Iron Man's place the day his streak ended.
That's what makes Minor the answer to the ultimate trivia question.