Adam Greenberg: Feel-Good Story or Publicity Stunt?

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Updated: October 2, 2012
Greenberg

Seven years after his only Major League at-bat ended in tragedy, Miami Marlin Adam Greenberg recorded his first official at-bat in the Big Leagues when he struck out on three pitches from R.A. Dickey of the Mets tonight.

Greenberg’s story is, by now, well-known.  In his first Major League at-bat on July 9, 2005 in Miami, Greenberg was struck in the head by a pitch from Marlins’ hurler Valerio de los Santos.  Greenberg had to be helped off the field and never appeared in the Majors again until tonight.  Greenberg returned to play the next three seasons in Double-A ball in the Cubs, Dodgers, Royals and Angels systems, but was not signed by a Major League club after the 2008 season.  He went to play independent baseball in the Atlantic League between 2009 and 2011.  He certainly wasn’t the only former Major Leaguer grinding it out in Independent Baseball.

His only baseball experience in 2012 was a single plate appearance for Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic qualifying tournament last month.  An online petition was started this year seeking to get Greenberg another at bat in MLB, and gathered over 25,000 signatures.  After receiving special permission from the Commissioner, the Marlins signed Greenberg to a one day contract last week.

At first glance, it’s hard to criticize any aspect of this story.  Greenberg got a chance to swing a bat in the Majors, and everyone stood and applauded the Marlins for letting him do it.  But the burning question is why was it necessary for Adam Greenberg to get one “official” at bat?

It certainly was not necessary for the Marlins to sign Greenberg to a contract.  De los Santos did not intentionally hit Greenberg and the Marlins did not, therefore, have to “right a wrong”.  As Miami manager Ozzie Guillen pointed out earlier this week, the Marlins play every game to win.  The fact that the Marlins only guaranteed and provided Greenberg with a single at-bat in a meaningless part of a meaningless game shows that Miami did not sign Greenberg to help them win a ballgame.  Greenberg had almost no competitive game experience in 2012 to justify a contract based on performance, and no matter what happened in his at bat, Greenberg was done with the Marlins after tonight. Therefore, the only plausible reasons for the Marlins to hand out the contract to Greenberg were because they felt sympathy for him or wanted the positive attention that his plate appearance brought.  Neither reason is a particularly good one, and the latter reason seems more likely given the way the 2012 season has gone for the Marlins, and given the fact that the Marlins only offered Greenberg a contract to play in a home game in Miami.

Greenberg’s at bat has morphed into one of the biggest feel-good stories of the season and drew a lot of media coverage to the Marlins, and may have even brought more people to Marlins Park tonight.  The big question is why did the Marlins give Greenberg the opportunity now, after seven years?  Why not invite him to spring training this season, or any of the past six seasons when he was still playing baseball regularly?  Why not offer him a full-term minor league contract?  Other than the petition, what about Greenberg changed this year from the Marlins’ perspective?

It was not necessary for Adam Greenberg to record an official at bat in order to prove anything to himself or anyone else.  He proved that he was a good ballplayer when he earned his first trip to the Majors in 2005.  The fact that he was hit by the only pitch he saw did not diminish his accomplishment of making the best baseball league in the world.  Greenberg’s reputation was not built on his beaning or his strikeout tonight at Marlins Park, it was built in the six seasons following his injury when he fought through his pain, nausea and vertigo to continue his professional baseball career.  Those six seasons proved that his determination and character are nothing less than admirable.

Greenberg has stated that he wants to attend Major League spring training in 2013 with the hope of sticking in the Show or at least played affiliated minor league baseball.  Like most young ball players, Greenberg’s dream was not to make fleeting appearances in MLB but rather to stay in the Big Leagues.  If the Marlins truly care about giving Adam Greenberg a chance to resume his Big League career, they would offer him an invitation to spring training next year.  The prevailing sentiment in the media and amongst some of the Marlins is that Greenberg’s at bat is proof positive that perseverance pays off.  If Greenberg isn’t given an invite to spring training, the real message will be that perseverance may only get you one fleeting, hollow chance to follow your dreams.

I am very happy for Adam Greenberg and I wish him continued success in his quest to become a permanent Big Leaguer, but the timing of his latest Big League appearance reeks of a publicity stunt by the Marlins.  Yes, Greenberg can say that he got to swing the bat in the Big Leagues, but his on base percentage just dropped from .1000 to .500.

Follow me on Twiter: @MaxWarnerMLB

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