If you riffle past
the Alous and just beyond the Boyers in The Baseball Encyclopedia, pausing
before the Conigliaros and the DiMaggios, you'll find a major league baseball
family almost as big as any of them, the two sets of Boyle brothers: Jack and
Eddie and their nephews Buzz and Jim. Of those Cincinnatians, Jimmie Boyle had
the shortest professional career--indeed, the shortest possible professional
career--playing a single inning of a single game for the New York Giants at the
Polo Grounds 80 years ago this summer.
And while more
than 900 men have appeared in one--and only one--game in the majors, Boyle did
so without ever setting foot in the minors. "Not on the way up," says
his son, Patrick, "and not on the way down."
extraordinary trick, like painting one fresco on the Sistine ceiling without a
ladder, but Jimmie Boyle remains an elusive figure, a less-celebrated version
of Moonlight Graham, who made one appearance for the same Giants--and the same
manager, John McGraw--in 1905.
global fame when Burt Lancaster played him in Field of Dreams. Boyle was
fleetingly famous after graduating from Xavier in 1926, when he promptly joined
the Giants for $250 a month, his every workout breathlessly chronicled in The
New York Times, in which Boyle shared the sports pages with Ty Cobb and Babe
Ruth, Bobby Jones and Bill Tilden.
There were 40,000
fans at the Polo Grounds on June 20, 1926, to see the Giants host the Pirates.
Before the top of the ninth, with the home team down 8--0 and Sunday-afternoon
shadows playing across the field, McGraw removed catcher Paul Florence. As the
Times reported the next day, " Jim Boyle from Xavier College got behind the
bat." It was after 5 p.m. when Boyle crouched to catch Chick Davies, a
lefty who would lead the National League in saves that season. The Pirates went
down without a score, and Boyle didn't bat in the bottom of the inning. And yet
that three-out career was less a cup of coffee than a shot of espresso: It
never left his system.
In July, still
moldering on the bench behind Florence, Boyle wrote to his parents from St.
Louis. "To the best mother in all this big world," he began, before
marveling at his good fortune to "realize an ambition that I have harbored
since birth." That ambition was to play in the big leagues. The letter was
signed "James" and dated July 24, 1926. Beneath the date, in impeccable
script, Boyle proudly affixed, " New York Giants."
You can almost see
him in his room, fountain pen in hand. Boyle's roommate on the road was Heinie
Mueller. Twenty-five seasons later, Heinie's nephew Don would break his ankle
sliding into third just before Bobby Thomson hit the Shot Heard Round the World
at those same Polo Grounds.
Patrick, now 65 and retired in Reno, says, "Dad was a typical Cincinnatian.
They go away for two weeks and get homesick. I think he knew he'd be assigned
to the minors the next season, and the minors were not his thing." Jimmie
Boyle wore bespoke suits and buffed his nails. He'd play in the big leagues or
not at all.
A dozen years ago
Patrick bought a ball signed by 25 members of the '26 Giants from a New York
dealer for $1,500. There were six Hall of Famers on that baseball, but Patrick
treasured only one signature: jimmie boyle in a clear, bold hand.
"We get lots
of calls from folks looking for Mel Ott and John McGraw autographs," owner
John Brigandi of Brigandi Coin Co. told Sports Collectors Digest in 1994,
"but this has to be the first one looking for a Jimmie Boyle