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Moonlight Graham, Eddie Phillips and the Designated Pinch Runner

Eddie Phillips played in nine games for the Cardinals, but never made a plate appearance and never played the field.

From the 1953 Cardinals team photo
From the 1953 Cardinals team photo
Dead Ball Era

There is a memorable moment in Field of Dreams when Archie "Moonlight" Graham, a ballplayer who made the majors but never got an at-bat, gets a chance to go back and step up to the plate. The real-life Graham came into one game as a defensive sub for the New York Giants in 1905. He never took the field again.

It’s a poignant idea: Achieving a dream but also just missing it. I wondered, have the Cardinals ever had their own "Moonlight" Graham? As it turns out, five non-pitchers have played for El Birdos without ever making a plate appearance.

Cardinals Position Players with Zero Career Plate Appearances




Eddie Phillips



Johnny Echols



Bart Zeller



Fred Marolewski



Chip Marshall



Most of these, like Graham, were defensive replacements who simply never got a turn to bat and never got into another game. But with nine games played and four runs scored, one name stands out: Eddie Phillips.

So how could a player get into nine games and score four runs without ever getting a plate appearance? Eddie Phillips was used only as a pinch runner.


Eddie Phillips via Baseball Reference

Howard "Eddie" Phillips was born in Hannibal, MO in 1930. According to Phillips obituary (he died in 2010), a Cardinals scout signed him in 1950 after seeing him play "a handful of sandlot games." He was assigned to a Class D team in West Frankfort, IL. By 1952, he had moved up to A-ball and won the Western League batting title with a .320 average. In 1953, he was hitting .306 in Double-A when he got the call to join the big club.

The Cardinals were mired in a stretch of mediocrity in 1953. The club would finish the year in 3rd place with 86 wins, but when Phillips made his major league debut on Sept. 10, the Cardinals were already well out of the race. Just two days later, they would be eliminated by the 105-win juggernaut, the Brooklyn Dodgers.

It was the 8th inning of a game against the New York Giants when manager Eddie Stanky first employed his Designated Runner. With the Cardinals holding a narrow 5-4 lead, Ray Jablonski reached on an error. Phillips made his major league debut by trotting out onto the field to take Jablonski's place at first. The Cardinals called up Eddie Phillips to capitalize on his speed on the base paths, and he delivered. Steve Bilko doubled, and Phillips hustled all the way around to score.

Three days later, Phillips got onto the field again as a pinch-runner, and again scored from first base. This time he replaced Red Schoendienst and scored on a double by The Man himself. That was in the 8th inning. When the Cardinals took the field for the top of the 9th, ahead 17-1 on the Phillies, Phillips was left on the bench for a double-switch.

If it hadn’t already been made clear to Phillips, it must have been clear at that moment: He would only be used as a pinch runner. He would not bat; he would not play the field.

Phillips wasn’t quite the first player to be used in such a role. In 1949, the Pirates’ Jack "Scat" Cassini appeared only as a pinch-runner in eight games during the first month of the season. Back then, rosters expanded to 40 at both the beginning and end of the season, so both the Pirates and Cardinals only experimented with the specialty role at a time they had extra slots to play around with.

The longest experiment with the Designated Pinch Runner was done by Charlie Finley’s A’s in the early 1970s. For several seasons, the A’s filled a roster spot with a player whose only job was to run - most famously, sprinter Herb Washington. In 1974, Washington would get into 92 games, score 29 runs and steal 29 bases.

But aside from Washington, Finley’s other Designated Runners were at least baseball players, and made occasional appearances in the field. Washington is the only player in history to surpass the Cardinals' Eddie Phillips in terms of games played as only a pinch-runner. Of course, Washington was a sprinter by trade who never intended to play the other parts of the game. Phillips was a ballplayer who hit over .300 multiple times in the minors. But in the end, only his speed was ever to be deemed Major League ready.

Eddie Phillips stepped onto a major league field for the final time at Wrigley Field, on the second-to-last day of the 1953 season. Down 4-3 in the top of the 9th, with two outs, Bilko rapped a base hit. With the potential tying run on first base, Cards Manager Eddie Stanky again turned to his Designated Runner. Phillips took Bilko’s spot at first, but Rip Repulski made the final out of the game, and Phillips walked from first base off a major league field for the last time.

Of course, Phillips couldn’t have known that at the time. For a 22-year-old called up for a late-season cup of coffee, even in a unique and limited role, this probably seemed like only the beginning. Tim Raines would later start his career much the same way, as a September pinch runner, before going on to greatness.

Phillips was invited to Spring Training the next season, and again in 1955, but ultimately assigned to AAA. He would continue to bounce around the minors until 1960, never again getting the call. After hanging up his spikes, he returned to Hannibal and worked at the American Cyanamid plant for 25 years, retiring as a foreman. He died in 2010.

Like "Moonlight" Graham, Phillips career must have been a little bittersweet. He did get to step on the field. He did get to run. Four times, he got to touch home plate. But he never got to play in the field, and he never got to bat.