The Debut of MLB’s 20,000th Player Exemplifies Everything Great About Baseball

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Major League Baseball hit an astounding milestone on Friday night, as the twenty thousandth player in league history appeared in a game. This truly remarkable achievement signifies the incredible success and staying power of the game of baseball. In just over a century and a half of the league’s existence, the dreams of twenty thousand young men from all corners of the globe have become realities. This number includes all manner of individuals, from the quiet, unsuspecting stars like Christy Mathewson, to the brash, and at times arrogant media hounds like José Canseco, and even one-off oddities like little person Eddie Gaedel

Eddie Gaedel – Society for American Baseball Research
Little person Eddie Gaedel performs a curtain call during his one and only big league game. Photo credit SABR.

Major League Baseball’s long and complex journey throughout American history began on 4 May, 1871, when the upstart Fort Wayne Kekiongas took the field against the heavily favored Cleveland Forest Citys at Grand Duchess Ballpark in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The outcome of the game shocked fans, as the ramshackle Kekiongas triumphed 2-0 over the more professional Forest Citys who were led by Hall of Famer Deacon White. While there was no Major League Baseball at the time, both clubs were members of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, which would go on to become the National League, which in 1901 would morph into what we now know as Major League Baseball.

Throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century, baseball experienced an explosion in popularity, becoming known as America’s pastime. Era-defining stars such as Cap Anson, Nap Lajoie, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams helped propel the game from simply a popular activity to one of the most important aspects of American culture. With far fewer teams and smaller rosters than we see today, it was nearly 100 years after that first game in 1871 when MLB’s 10,000th player debuted in the form of Andy Kosco on 13 August, 1965. Kosco would go on to have a respectable, albeit unspectacular 10-year big league career, but he meant far more to the game than just that. His debut signified a truly remarkable achievement for the game of baseball, as 10,000 men had been given the honor of suiting up for a major league game, carrying the hopes and dreams of fans across the nation with them.

Deacon White – Society for American Baseball Research
One of baseball’s first stars, Hall of Famer Deacon White played in the first officially recognized game of what would become Major League Baseball. Photo credit SABR.

In 2021 we see a much different baseball landscape than in 1871, or even in 1965. Major League Baseball has become a truly international entity, as 28.3% of players on opening day rosters this season were foreign-born. Furthermore, those 256 international players come from a whopping 20 different countries and territories outside the United States. The league features superstars from all corners of the globe, with Mike Trout making headlines alongside Venezuela’s Ronald Acuña Jr., Japan’s Shohei Ohtani, Australia’s Liam Hendriks and Aruba’s Xander Bogaerts. Baseball is no longer just America’s pastime; it has become a global game.

Last night, Major League Baseball reached another highwater mark, as Mariners catcher José Godoy became the 20,000th player in league history. Godoy, a 26-year-old Venezuelan, replaced Tom Murphy behind the plate and went 0-1 with a walk in the team’s 16-1 drubbing by the Padres. While a backup catcher debuting in a blowout is one of the least newsworthy events that can happen, Godoy’s debut represents so much more to the game of baseball. 20,000 players means 20,000 dreams come true, 20,000 young men making history, and 20,000 imprints on the hearts and minds of fans around the world. Baseball is not just entertainment, it’s a way of life. In this upside-down, polarized time we find ourselves in, baseball casts a light upon the best humanity has to offer. Players coming from far and wide on a quest to have their names written in the history books is emblematic of the American way. Never settling for mediocrity and never letting circumstances define who we are. Whether it’s Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier, Lou Brissie overcoming horrific wounds from World War II, or Sean Kazmar Jr. waiting more than 12 years to get another shot, Major League Baseball is a place where men can craft their own legacy, and show fans everywhere that the will to win makes anything possible.

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