Sheinin: The long, obscure and bittersweet history of ‘Phantom Big-Leaguers’

From Dave Sheinin at the Washington Post on September 20, 2018, with mention of SABR member Bill Hickman:

On May 23, in need of an additional bullpen arm, the New York Yankees called up reliever Ryan Bollinger from their Class AA team in Trenton, N.J. The news, delivered by his Trenton manager, left the 27-year-old lefty, a veteran of multiple independent leagues and pro ball in Australia and Germany, in tears. When Bollinger met the Yankees in Arlington, Tex., for the finale of a three-game series against the Rangers, the team gave him uniform No. 61, which he wore as he watched from the visitors’ bullpen, never appearing in a game the Yankees would win, 12-10.

The next day he was sent back to Trenton.

And just like that, Bollinger was granted membership — provisional for now — in a strange, little-known and not-exactly-desirable club: that of the “phantom big-leaguers,” a loosely defined group of star-crossed, largely obscure minor-leaguers who, in one way or another, were promoted to the majors but never appeared in a big league game.


In the wake of the [Brian] Mazone story, The Post heard from dozens of readers and tweeters offering the names of players who had met similar fates. And one of those readers, Bill Hickman of Rockville, Md., happens to be a longtime member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) who maintains several databases of what he calls “Near Major-Leaguers” — the entries in which, taken together, number in the thousands.

Two of Hickman’s databases — featuring players who appeared on the spring training rosters of big league clubs, and nonroster invitees in spring training camps between 1950-99, none of whom appeared in a regular-season MLB game — contain the names of more than 6,500 players.

Read the full article here:

Originally published: September 20, 2018. Last Updated: September 20, 2018.