Van Dusen feels Greenberg's pain

Updated: March 16, 2007, 11:45 AM ET
By William Weinbaum | Special to ESPN.com

It's dubious history, but history nonetheless.

Before Adam Greenberg, only one major league player had been hit by a pitch without having another at-bat or spending any time in the field.

In September 1955, Fred Van Dusen, then 18, had been riding the bench for weeks after the Phillies signed the Jackson Heights, N.Y., native out of high school.

Fred Van Dusen
Baseball Hall of FameBefore Adam Greenberg, one major league player had been hit by a pitch without having another at-bat or spending any time in the field. That was the Phillies' Fred Van Dusen in 1955.
As Van Dusen tells it, Philadelphia didn't want to use a green rookie and jeopardize a shot at the small bonus that went with finishing fourth in the eight-team National League. But with the season about to end and fourth place assured, Philly was "playing with house money," Van Dusen says.

In the ninth inning of the second game of a Sept. 11 doubleheader at Milwaukee, Van Dusen went up as a pinch hitter.

"I was numb," he says, "but I told myself to get up there and go down swinging."

A left-handed batter, Van Dusen recalls fouling off the first pitch from rookie right-hander Humberto Robinson, 25. He then took a strike on a fastball he says he should have hit. Then Robinson threw a waste pitch to make the count 1-2.

Next came a sharp-breaking curveball.

Van Dusen had a hard time checking his swing as the bender hit him on the left knee. Braves catcher Del Crandall argued to no avail that Van Dusen swung and should be called out.

"I was relieved," Van Dusen says, recounting the culmination of a tense teenager's four-pitch debut that left him with a perfect on-base percentage.

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Van Dusen was on first base as the next batter popped to third for the third out, and the end of the game.

For five years, Van Dusen spent spring training with the Phillies and the regular season in the minors. The second of those springs, he says, the Phillies had him slotted to start in their outfield until "a night of martinis" and a fender bender wrecked the opportunity.

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More than half a century later, Van Dusen laments not making the most of major league ability.

"'Too much, too soon' happens to a lot of guys, including me," he says.

"I was a character. I was delivering groceries and then I was in the majors with these big leaguers and their lifestyle, and it went to my head."

Recently retired after 43 years in the insurance business, Van Dusen moved from Connecticut to Tennessee last month. He says he gets autograph requests once or twice a week and Googles himself once in a while. When he can't sleep, he says it's often because he's thinking about hanging curveballs and the 0-1 fastball he didn't hit in his only big league plate appearance.

Unlucky 7
Players who have been hit by a pitch in their only major league plate appearance:
NAME, TEAM, YEAR, GAMES PLAYED • Abraham Wade, N.Y. Giants, 1907, 1
• Charlie Faust, N.Y. Giants, 1911, 2
• Harvey Grubb, Cleveland, 1912, 1
• Cyrus Sol Malis, Phi., 1934, 1
• Fred Van Dusen, Phi., 1955, 1
• Adam Greenberg, Chi. Cubs, 2005, 1
• John Rheinecker, Texas, 2006, 21

Source: Elias Sports Bureau

A month ago was the first time Van Dusen heard about Greenberg and their connection.

He's the only other man who had an HBP in his only action in the big leagues, but the differences are not lost on Van Dusen.

"There's no quit in this kid," the 1955 Phillie says of the 2005 Cub. "He has burning desire.

"I admire his courage and that he's following his dream. God bless him."

William Weinbaum is an ESPN producer.