Gimme an X! MLB’s 20,000th player reminds us what baseball desperately needs

The 20,000th player in MLB history is the Mariners José Godoy.
The 20,000th player in MLB history is the Mariners José Godoy.
Image: AP

In 1975, Bob Watson scored Major League Baseball’s one millionth run, an achievement which earned him one million Tootsie Rolls and one million pennies from the candy company, all of which Watson donated to charity.

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There was no such fanfare on Friday night in San Diego for José Godoy, who made his major league debut in the seventh inning of the Mariners’ 16-1 loss. Entering in the sixth inning as a defensive replacement for Tom Murphy behind the plate, the 26-year-old Venezuelan became the 20,000th player in major league history.

A caveat is that Godoy, who went 0-for-1 with a walk on his big night, may not actually be the 20,000th major leaguer. Made famous by Field of Dreams, Archibald “Moonlight” Graham played one inning of one game for the 1905 New York Giants, standing in right field without a ball hit to him.

What the movie changed about Graham’s story is that it wasn’t the last day of the season, but a random game on June 29 in Brooklyn, an 11-1 Giants win. Also, he didn’t just retire at the end of 1905, but played three more years in the minors, with the Memphis Egyptians and Scranton Miners.

According to Baseball Reference, Graham hit .336 for Scranton in 1906… but the only information we have is how many hits (149) and at-bats (444) he had. For other years of his career, there’s little to no information at all on his stat lines.

Graham is listed as the 2.730th player in major league history, but we also don’t know that for sure, in part because, as the Society for American Baseball Research notes, it depends “on which leagues and years are counted.”

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The other reason is that, as diving into the bizarre start to Patrick Mazeika’s career showed, record-keeping in the dead ball era was not the most meticulous thing in the world. It’s not unfathomable that there was a Moonlight Graham scenario that really did play out on the last day of a season or some other time, and the one-inning defensive replacement who never touched a ball just didn’t get his name written down.

What we know for sure is that, of MLB’s 20,000 all-time players, as listed by Baseball Reference, the roster goes from Biff Wysong to Keiichi Yabu, with not a single player having a last name that began with X.

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At the moment, it does not appear that the first major league X-Man will be debuting anytime soon. It’s only ever been really close to happening once.

Joe Xavier, the A’s 13th-round pick in 1985, is the only X-surnamed player ever selected in the MLB draft, and the Fresno State product made it as high as Triple-A in the Oakland system, batting .282 for Tacoma in 1988. Maybe if Carney Lansford had tweaked a hamstring, Xavier could have gotten a shot, although Oakland also had Tony Phillips, Mike Gallego, and even Terry Steinbach take some turns at the hot corner that year.

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In 1989, Xavier managed to find an even tougher Triple-A assignment as far as possible promotion to the majors, as he played for the Brewers’ top affiliate in Denver, and Paul Molitor was the third baseman in Milwaukee. Xavier, playing a mile high in a non-humidor era, put up a .650 OPS, was even worse in 1990, caught on with Double-A Greenville in the Atlanta system, and was out of baseball after that.

The only other X prospects to appear in affiliated ball are Puerto Rican catcher Ramon Xiques, who caught for the Giants’ Class D affiliate in Kingsport, Tennessee, in 1952, and outfielder Gui Yuan Xu, who played with low-level Orioles farm teams from 2016-18.

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Xu is from China, and given the growth of the Chinese Professional Baseball League, you can imagine that being where the first major leaguer with an X last name might wind up coming from, either directly or by heritage. There are about 40,000 people in the U.S. with the last name Xiong or Xu, the two most common X surnames. Get some of those kids out on the diamond.

Things can change, though. Not a single one of the first 15,265 major league players was named Brandon. Then, on May 12, 2000, Brandon Kolb debuted for the Padres against the Diamondbacks. Eleven days later, Brandon Villafuerte became the first American League Brandon when he got the final out of Detroit’s 10-4 win over Cleveland.

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Of the last 4,735 major league players to debut, 1.09 percent have been Brandons, and there are more coming all the time. There are dozens of Brandons in the minor leagues right now. But still no X’s to mark their spot in history.

Sorry to all the other Jesse Spectors for ruining your Google results.