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Happy 35th Birthday, Ron Wright

Via Baseball-Almanac
Via Baseball-Almanac

I was stunned when I saw him on the Baseball-Reference birthday list. Not because I thought Ron Wright didn't have a birthday - he did - but because I didn't think Ron Wright was so young. He's years younger than Ichiro, and he's younger than David Eckstein, and Warren Morris, and Adam Kennedy. I just kind of figured that, when he came up, he came up as one of those AAA lifers like John Lindsey or, I dunno, Mickey Lopez. A guy in his 30s whose promotion was as much a favor as anything else. But when Ron Wright came up, he was 26. A healthy, successful Ron Wright would probably still be in the bigs.

The meat of the Ron Wright story should be familiar to most of you. Wright, as you know, played one game with the Mariners, back in 2002. It was his only game, with anybody. In his first at bat, facing Texas' Kenny Rogers in the second inning, he struck out on three pitches. In his next at bat, in the fourth, he batted with men on the corners and bounced into an unusual triple play. And in his final at bat, in the sixth, he batted with two on and drilled the first pitch to short for a 6-4-3 double play. Lou Piniella would pinch-hit for Wright in the seventh, and he would never again bat in the Major Leagues.

That's what most of us have remembered. That Ron Wright made six outs - in the ways that he did - in his only three at bats already made his story unforgettable. But what a lot of people might be unfamiliar with is the path that Wright took to end up in that position in the first place. It's the rest of the Ron Wright story that takes this from being a Robot Chicken clip to a possible Hollywood movie.

Wright, a first baseman, was a seventh-round pick out of high school by the Braves in 1994. In 1996, at the age of 20, he slugged .517 in his first exposure to AA and was sent with Jason Schmidt to the Pirates in a trade for Denny Neagle. The Pirates saw Wright as a top prospect, and the next season, in AAA at the age of 21, Wright slugged .539 to go with a .304 average. He spent September in the show, although he was strictly an observer; he didn't get into a game.

In 1998, Wright narrowly missed out on winning a big league roster spot out of camp, but reported to AAA knowing that he was close to reaching the next level. And it was then that he collapsed on the field while stretching and had to have a disc removed from his back. The disc was successfully removed, but during the operation the surgeon inadvertently damaged a nerve, which left Wright with a permanent numb sensation in his right leg.

Wright missed most of the 1998 and 1999 seasons trying to recover, and he wound up getting grabbed off waivers by the Reds, his prospect sheen destroyed. He returned to the field on a regular basis in 2000 but found that he was missing some of his power. Weaker than he used to be, Wright floated around for a little while before landing with Tacoma in 2002.

He got off to a good start, and in the middle of April, Edgar Martinez injured his hamstring and went on the 60-day DL. The M's needed a right-handed bat and Tacoma was fairly bare, so Wright got the call. For the second time in his career, up he went to the bigs, and though he was behind Ruben Sierra on the depth chart, this time, there was a chance he'd be able to play.

He sat on the bench for the first two games. He was supposed to sit on the bench for the third one, as well, but during batting practice Mike Cameron hit a ball off the pitcher's screen that nailed Jeff Cirillo in the head (ed. note: lol). One thing led to another, and Wright found himself getting penciled in at DH, while Charles Gipson of all people spent the day at third.

That afternoon, Ron Wright made history. He returned to the bench the next day, and the day after that, he was sent back to Tacoma, as the M's bullpen needed a fresh arm after throwing 16.1 innings during the Texas series. So down went Wright and up came Brian Fitzgerald, who, as it happens, had a similar story, as the 6.1 innings he threw over the subsequent two weeks were the only Major League innings of his career. As with Wright, Fitzgerald's performance was bad, but unlike with Wright, Fitzgerald's wasn't historically so.

Wright played out the season as a moderately productive journeyman bat with Tacoma. While Jose Offerman would get 47 at bats with the Mariners down the stretch, Wright would get zero. He signed elsewhere after the year, and in part due to another injury and in part due to other things, he was out of professional baseball entirely by the time he turned 29. Now he's a pharmacist.

There's a story behind every single player that's ever played the game. Ron Wright's Major League career is historic for its awfulness, but his story - his story's one of the good ones.