They Never Played in the Minors

This article was written by Ted DiTullio

This article was published in the 1980 Baseball Research Journal


With the nation’s colleges playing a greater role in the training of players for the major leagues, it is possible that we may see an increase in the number of stars who bypass the minor leagues on the way up. And since the days have passed when big leaguers go down to the minors toward the close of their careers, we may have some new members of the rather small group of ten-year players who never participated in a minor league game.

Since Jim “Catfish” Hunter retired after the 1979 season, there is no ten-year player in the majors who has been able to avoid the bush league experience. Hunter was originally assigned by Kansas City to the Daytona Beach club in 1965 but he was placed on the disabled list because of a hunting accident and never got into a game. Dave Winfield of the Padres came right up from the University of Minnesota and is now in his eighth season. Another collegian, Bob Homer, came up directly from Arizona State and is now in his third season with the Atlanta Braves. Early in the 1980 season he was ordered down to the Richmond club to get in shape; however, he successfully resisted that demotion.

Research has revealed that there have been 21 players who spent at least ten years in the majors who never played a game in the minors. We have not gone back before 1900 because the few minor leagues then in existence reduce the significance of this survey. More than one-half of the “pure” major leaguers were pitchers, starting with Eddie Plank in 1901. He got his baseball experience at Gettysburg College before Connie Mack brought him to the Athletics. Jack Coombs, another of Mack’s hurlers, came up from Colby College in 1906.

An even more famous pitcher never made the list because of what appeared to be a token appearance. This was Walter Johnson, who hurled 21 years for the Washington Senators before retiring after the 1927 season. He managed Newark in the International League in 1928 and on Walter Johnson Day in that city on June 23 he went to the mound to face the first Buffalo batter, Maurice Archdeacon. The Big Train walked him and then returned to the dugout. That was a token appearance on the mound, but Johnson also appeared in six games as a pinch hitter that season.

Another player whose published record would make him eligible for the “major league only” list is Frank Chance, who played from 1898 to 1914 with the Chicago Cubs and briefly the New York Yankees. However, while managing the Los Angeles club in the Pacific Coast League in 1916 he made several brief appearances in the lineup. This wasn’t noted until his centennial in 1977 and the SABR Minor League Committee called attention to it.

On the other hand, Ernie Banks is included on the list even though he played, not in the minors, but with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League in the period 1950-53.

The two who played longest in the majors without a minor league game to mar their O.B. records were Mel Ott, with the New York Giants 1926-47, and Al Kaline with the Detroit Tigers 1953-74, each playing 22 years with one club. Next in the seniority line were Eppa Rixey and Ted Lyons, both with 21 years in the majors. Rixey came up from the University of Virginia and Lyons from Baylor University.

Only about one-half of the players on the list had college backgrounds. A number of others were signed very young, some as “bonus babies” after World War II. Carl Scheib started in the majors when he was only 16; Mel Ott, Bob Feller and Eddie Yost were 17; and Johnny Antonelli and Al Kaline were 18.

 

Ten-Year Men Who Never Played in the Minors
(1900-1979)

Years

Player and Position(s)

Period

Clubs

       

22

Melvin Ott, OF

1926-47

New York Giants

22

Al Kaline, OF

1953-74

Detroit Tigers

21

Eppa Rixey, P

1912-33

Phils-Reds

21

Ted Lyons, P

1923-46

Chicago White Sox

19

Tom Zachary, P

19 18-36

Seven Clubs

19

Frank Frisch, 2B-3B

1919-37

Giants-Cards

19

Ernie Banks, SS-1B

1953-71

Chicago Cubs

18

Bob Feller, P

1936-56

Cleveland Indians

18

Eddie Yost, 3B

1944-62

Three clubs

17

Eddie Plank, P

1901-17

Three clubs

17

Danny MacFayden, P

1926-43

Six clubs

15

Jack Coombs, P

1906-20

A’s-Dodgers

15

Catfish Hunter, P

1965-79

A’s-Yankees

14

Dick Groat, SS

1952-67

Four clubs

13

Ethan Allen, OF

1926-38

Six clubs

13

Billy O’Dell, P

1954-67

Five clubs

12

John Antonelli, P

1948-61

Five clubs

12

Sandy Koufax, P

1955-66

Dodgers

11

Jack Barry, SS

1908-19

A’s-Red Sox

11

Milt Gaston, P

1924-34

Five clubs

11

Carl Scheib, P

1943-54

A’s-Cards

© SABR. All Rights Reserved